In the fall of 1983 I had one of those phone calls that pop up out of nowhere and nudge your life onto a new track. I was at work — an office job at the University of Washington — and the call was from Mike Henderson, the movie reviewer for The Herald.
Mike was going to switch out of movies and into writing a Sunday column. The Herald would need film reviews. Would I like to meet with section editor Nancy Erickson and talk about it?
I said I would.
I had the UW job to make money while I tried to be a writer. I was volunteering for the nonprofit Seattle Film Society and running my reviews in the SFS newsletter, which is where Mike had read my stuff.
The Herald took me on as a freelancer in October of ‘83, and I’ve been writing about movies here ever since. This phase is coming to an end, as I filed my final movie review for The Herald last week, with the Pixar film, “Onward.”
It’s been a great gig, which brought me enormous personal satisfaction and got me elected to the National Society of Film Critics. If you have a chance to do something you absolutely love for more than 36 years, I strongly suggest you take it.
My first review was “The Right Stuff.” Aside from being a cool movie to start with, that title has sometimes reminded me to try to achieve the right stuff in my writing.
For me, writing and thinking about the cinema has been a way of thinking about life. That’s because movies cover every topic imaginable, from every corner of the world — the provocative, the mindless, the unexpected.
Being a film critic took me to the rest of the world, literally. When people began asking me to talk to classrooms or speak to a group, I had to get over my stage fright about public speaking.
Now, you can’t shut me up. I’ve been a speaker with Smithsonian Journeys and Humanities Washington, given lectures on cruise ships from South Africa to Argentina to Italy, and been on the radio a lot. Talking about movies got me involved with the Port Townsend Film Festival 20 years ago, and sent me off to Romania on a Fulbright Specialist grant.
I couldn’t count how many reviews I’ve written for The Herald, but it’s been thousands. Lots of interviews, too, especially in the old days, when the studios would send filmmakers and actors to the region. So I can confirm that yes, I am taller than Tom Cruise, and, yes, Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino are just as geeked-out about movies as you suspected.
I’ve been around long enough to have caught the tail end of old Hollywood. I’m grateful to have once interviewed the elegant star Don Ameche, who made his first movie in 1935. And I met some people at the beginnings of their careers, like the time a publicist begged me to fill an hour in the schedule of an obscure Canadian actor promoting a nothing 1985 film called “Once Bitten.” That was Jim Carrey, who seemed like a very nice fellow.
By writing about movies I seek to inspire people to be active watchers of film, not passive viewers. I hope you’ve found my Herald reviews entertaining and thought-provoking. You didn’t have to agree with me, though — that was never the point. My goal, to use a favorite quote from H.L. Mencken, was to “make an articulate noise in the world,” and to encourage people to think critically.
Last weekend, I led a film discussion at Seattle’s Scarecrow Video (yes, I am volunteering for a non-profit again — it’s funny how circular life is). One attendee told me his parents had a subscription to The Herald when he was growing up; he remembered looking forward to turning to the movie reviews every week. He was smiling when he said it, so I’ll take that as a positive review.
Stay tuned, because we’re talking about keeping my hand in at The Daily Herald in some way. Thank you, sincerely, for reading all these years. Onward.
Robert Horton was The Daily Herald’s movie critic for more than 36 years and is a lifetime member of the National Society of Film Critics. Reach him on Twitter @citizenhorton, or visit his website, The Crop Duster, at roberthorton.wordpress.com.