Meet a Critic: Former Village Voice Critic Nathan Lee, Part One
The first of a two-part correspondence with the former Village Voice scribe.
Name: Nathan Lee
Hometown: My own private Idaho.
Years reviewing film: 7
For better or worse, recently departed Village Voice writer Nathan Lee has become something of a poster boy for the disappearance of the film critic. The irony is that Lee is far from the stodgy old cineaste that some denounce as irrelevant, out of touch, or replaceable; to the contrary, he's one of a few late-Generation X critics in a position of major media influence, having written for the New York Sun, the New York Times, Film Comment and the Village Voice, and all by the tender age of 33.
In the first of our two-part interview with Lee, the equally intelligent and profane writer (who parted ways with the Voice last month) answers our Meet a Critic questionnaire. Check in next week for our more in-depth conversation with Lee about his exit from the celebrated alt-weekly and his surprising thoughts on the future of film criticism.
Why and how did you become a critic?
Nathan Lee: Randomly, fortuitously.
Fill in the blank: "If I wasn't a professional film critic, I'd be ..."
NL: ...a wealthier man than I am now.
What is your favorite film and who is your favorite director?
NL: I'm dying to answer Southland Tales just to watch a number of heads explode. The honest answer would circle around Rio Bravo, North By Northwest, Flowers of Shanghai, The Docks of New York, M, Au Hasard Balthazar, and a half-dozen films by either Jean-Luc Godard or Andy Warhol or Robert Beavers or Jean Renoir or...But if I had to zoom in on just one, my gut says David Cronenberg's Crash, the most inexhaustible movie I know, and one whose tone and meaning change every time I see it -- ten and counting.
What's the worst movie you've ever seen, and why?
NL: I'm dying to answer The Diving Bell and the Butterfly just to watch a number of heads explode.
What other film critics/bloggers/entertainment journalists do you read regularly?
NL: I dip into lots of folks, both in print and online, although the longer I write about movies the less useful I find movie writing. The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross's amazing chronicle of 20th century classical music, opened up richer avenues of thought than all the film criticism I read last year. That said, I read every word penned by Amy Taubin, Kent Jones, J. Hoberman, and James Quandt.
What does a film need to achieve to earn a perfect rating from Nathan Lee?
NL: Generally, it needs to be directed by either Robert Bresson or Robert Beavers.
What is the state of current film criticism?
NL: Slightly better than the State of the Union.
What is the state of modern cinema?
NL: Fascinating, frustrating, enthused, enervated, joyous, despondent, inspired, idiotic -- in short, the same as it's always been.
What's the biggest misconception about film critics?
NL: That our job is to see movies. I wish. The job is to write.
What word or phrase do you over-use?
NL: "Improbable." "Bitches."
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
NL: Luke Skywalker.
What is your most common concession stand purchase?
NL: Imaginary cigarettes.
What has been your most bizarre movie-going experience?
NL: Watching a 3-D IMAX underwater documentary while on LSD.
Editor's extra -- We've assembled some of our favorite recent Nathan Lee reviews below for your perusal. Check back next week for Part II of our interview.
George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead (2008): "Please. Everyone knows you can't trust The Man, and while you might find a more or less rational zombie infestation in a civilized place like England, traceable to an outbreak of the rage virus (28 Days Later), here in America that shit just happens"..."Diary climaxes as a kind of Zombie Year at Marienbad." (Full review here.)
Cloverfield (2008): " The mechanism is the message in Cloverfield, a movie so aluminum-sleek, ultra-portable, and itsy-bitsy sexy, it's amazing Steve Jobs didn't pull it out of an envelope at Macworld." (Full review here.)
The Hottie and the Nottie (2008): "Scripted by Heidi Ferrer and shat onscreen by director Tom Putnam, this strong contender for The Worst Movie I've Ever Seen follows Nate's attempt to woo the "hottie" while suffering the rancid foot fungus, oozing facial blisters, and hideous tooth decay of her best friend, June Phigg (Christine Lakin)." (Full review here.)