John Simon: Now That He’s Gone, the Image of the Critic as Hater May Have Died Out Too (Column)

Variety | 11/30/2019 | Owen Gleiberman
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For Simon, toxic negativity wasn‘t a tool for reviewing an art form; it was the art form. At New York magazine, where he was ensconced as the theater critic from 1968 to 2005, and at the National Review, where he reviewed movies for decades (often favoring the sort of decorous art films, like “The Lacemaker,” that were markedly inferior to many of the things he excoriated), he pushed the role of critical hanging judge as far as it could go, to the point that it was the driving force of his identity. In 1967, he was fired from New York’s Channel 13 for writing reviews that were deemed too “misanthropic,” but misanthropy was already becoming his eternal guitar solo.

John Simon used the writer’s equivalent of weapons of war because, in his own mind, he was engaged in a larger battle: the fight to uphold “standards,” to defend the timeless quality of certain art forms against the scourge of mealy modernity. By his logic, if a black actor played Hamlet, civilization would crumble. But with Simon, the tail of highbrow valor and “erudition” was always wagging an angry (and bigoted) junkyard dog. The truth is that Simon never felt more alive than when he was drawing blood.

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Simon was most infamous as a theater reviewer, but I got to know him, as a writer and colleague, in the role of film critic, and something that strikes me about his passing is that he was one of the last of the formative tidal wave of...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Variety
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