Leonard Maltin, whom I interviewed here in 2011, recently announced that his annual paperback volume Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, which has been produced in some form for 45 years, will cease publication. He explains in the new introduction to the final edition, on sale next week, that today’s market precludes a profitable production.
I interviewed Leonard Maltin almost three years ago to the day and, though I am saddened to lose the rich and treasured Movie Guide, I look forward to reading this one, last edition, the new, forthcoming edition of his Classic Movie Guide, his Web site, and whatever he creates in the future. I know I’ll see Leonard Maltin soon at the movies. Until then, I am glad to know that one of the world’s most serious and knowledgeable film scholars is here in Hollywood where he belongs.
This is an edited transcript. To purchase the book, click on the cover image.
Scott Holleran: Would the story of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide make a good movie?
Leonard Maltin: I don’t think so. The real story of the guide—of how I came to be hired at 17—would make an amusing sequence but not a movie. The story of actually producing the guide day to day, from year to year, is the story of doing drudge-like research, confirming spelling, facts, and it’s not the stuff of great drama.
Scott Holleran: You write that it was created to offer “terse, telegraphic-style reviews” yet each entry also captures a movie’s essential facts—year of release, cast, director, plot, characters—too. Which does the reader seek more: facts or analysis?
Leonard Maltin: I’ve been told both. People ignore the opinion and focus on facts and I’ve heard the opposite, too.
Scott Holleran: Is it possible to be objective about film?
Leonard Maltin: Oh, no. It’s not objective at all—it’s completely subjective. As I remind people who rant [about a review] it’s just an opinion. Movies matter to me a great deal, but an opinion on a movie is just an opinion. We try very hard [in the Movie Guide] to convey the essence of each movie. There are critics who are much smarter, more articulate and more analytical than me. I think of myself as a kind of middle-brow person and critic. I hope I’m a good communicator.
Scott Holleran: Are there plans to release your out of print books on iBooks?
Leonard Maltin: I’m not at liberty to say [yet] but we’re working on [Amazon’s] Kindle versions of [previously released books by Maltin such as] Selected Short Subjects, The Real Stars and The Great Movie Comedians.
Scott Holleran: Among your peers of movie critics, pundits and scholars of our time—Ebert, Siskel, Pete Hammond, James Lipton, Robert Osborne, Rex Reed, Vincent Canby, Gene Shalit—who is your favorite and why?
Leonard Maltin: I’m a huge admirer of Todd McCarthy who was at Variety for 35 years and is now at the Hollywood Reporter. I think he’s brilliant and incisive. He has a tremendous film knowledge and he’s a great communicator. I also love reading Roger Ebert’s old reviews online because I never got to read him. I’ve really come to appreciate him as a writer. He’s really an essayist. Now I can access his vast library of reviews online.
Scott Holleran: Given the culture’s current trajectory, what sort of movie—if you think that movies will exist—do you think will dominate in the future?
Leonard Maltin: The evidence seems to point to the blockbuster continuing to dominate the world movie scene except at awards time when more intelligent, challenging and daring movies come to the fore which may be the best thing about awards season—to throw a spotlight on movies that need the notoriety that awards hype gives them. People are finding new business models for film all the time and that’s very encouraging. In a year that contains Boyhood and Captain America: The Winter Soldier—one of the best in the comic book series I’ve ever seen—there’s a reason for optimism.
Scott Holleran: Please discuss your approach to reviews. How do you track what happens in the plot—do you take notes during a film? Does your wife Alice assist? Do you call the studio or rely on press notes?
Leonard Maltin: Press notes are always useful but more for background information. But I don’t write lengthy reviews, so I don’t have to worry about outlining and recapitulation and I’ve fallen out of the habit of taking notes [during the film]. My wife Alice and I love watching and discussing film and she’s very perceptive, so she often opens my eyes. But we do disagree.
Scott Holleran: Do you read other reviews before you write your own?
Leonard Maltin: No.
Scott Holleran: Do you subscribe to Netflix?
Leonard Maltin: The household does, though I haven’t really taken advantage of it.
Scott Holleran: Is the press—including the movie press—too close to those in power?
Leonard Maltin: I don’t think so. I’m more concerned that during awards season here in L.A. both the trades and the L.A. Times have to generate so much copy to just sell the [awards] ads they want to sell.
Scott Holleran: A movie was initially and wrongly blamed by the U.S. government for the Islamic terrorist attack at Benghazi. Do you see any danger of censorship in the near future?
Leonard Maltin: I don’t think so.
Leonard Maltin: I missed it.
Scott Holleran: Jersey Boys.
Leonard Maltin: Pretty good, but I’m not yet convinced that the story is the stuff of great drama.
Scott Holleran: Lovelace.
Leonard Maltin: What an interesting story; I don’t know why the film wasn’t better received.
Scott Holleran: Frozen.
Leonard Maltin: I enjoyed it but didn’t fall in love with it as other people have.
Scott Holleran: Admission with Tina Fey.
Leonard Maltin: Disappointing.
Scott Holleran: Company Men with Ben Affleck.
Leonard Maltin: Good and it got a bum wrap.
Scott Holleran: Dinesh D’Souza’s America.
Leonard Maltin: Didn’t see it. I can’t see every movie.
Scott Holleran: Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Leonard Maltin: Great first half, disappointing clichéd finale.
Scott Holleran: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
Leonard Maltin: Terrifically well made but didn’t win me over completely.
Scott Holleran: Lincoln.
Leonard Maltin: Excellent.
Scott Holleran: Ida.
Leonard Maltin: Intriguing.
Scott Holleran: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.
Leonard Maltin: Pleasant. I was hoping for something more.
Scott Holleran: The Hundred-Foot Journey.
Leonard Maltin: A little too bland for my tastes, though people I meet seem to love it.
Scott Holleran: Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Leonard Maltin: One of the best comic book superhero movies ever made—proof that such a film can be intelligent and compelling without being pretentious.
Scott Holleran: Amazing Spider-Man.
Leonard Maltin: Pointless.
Scott Holleran: Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Leonard Maltin: Didn’t see it.
Scott Holleran: 12 Years a Slave.
Leonard Maltin: Arresting.
Scott Holleran: Gravity.
Leonard Maltin: Phenomenal in every way.
Scott Holleran: Mud.
Leonard Maltin: My favorite film of 2013. Matthew McConaughey’s best performance, deeply felt by writer and director Jeff Nichols, who I think is one of our brightest young talents.
Scott Holleran: Philomena.
Leonard Maltin: Awfully good.
Scott Holleran: Dallas Buyers Club.
Leonard Maltin: Terrific.
Scott Holleran: Nebraska.
Leonard Maltin: I liked it even better the second time—because it’s a rich and resonant film.
Scott Holleran: Her.
Leonard Maltin: I loved the first hour. Then, it petered out.
Scott Holleran: Emperor, the movie about Douglas MacArthur in Japan.
Leonard Maltin: Misfire.
Scott Holleran: 42.
Leonard Maltin: Well meaning and it’s an important story to tell. I wish it were a better movie.
Scott Holleran: Prisoners.
Leonard Maltin: Well done but too dark for my taste.
Scott Holleran: Man of Steel.
Leonard Maltin: Frustrating because the first half works so well. If only they’d quit while they were ahead; you lose sight of the characters and it became a slugfest.
Scott Holleran: Let’s talk about actors. Charles Durning?
Leonard Maltin: Great presence.
Scott Holleran: James Garner.
Leonard Maltin: Irresistible.
Scott Holleran: Robin Williams.
Leonard Maltin: Unique and wonderful.
Scott Holleran: Richard Attenborough.
Leonard Maltin: What a fantastic career—on both sides of the camera.
Scott Holleran: Lauren Bacall.
Leonard Maltin: Great with Bogart but really came into her own as a character actress in such movies as Birth, The Mirror Has Two Faces, even Dogville.
Scott Holleran: Doris Day.
Leonard Maltin: Can I say irresistible again? She makes me smile.
Scott Holleran: John Wayne.
Leonard Maltin: One of a kind. Still underrated.
Scott Holleran: Barbara Stanwyck.
Leonard Maltin: Always compelling.
Scott Holleran: Bob Hope.
Leonard Maltin: Underappreciated as a film comedian.
Scott Holleran: Katharine Hepburn.
Leonard Maltin: Indomitable.
Scott Holleran: Thelma Ritter.
Leonard Maltin: She elevates every film she’s in.
Scott Holleran: Eli Wallach.
Leonard Maltin: Versatile and reliable.
Scott Holleran: Mickey Rooney.
Leonard Maltin: One and only—a career like no other and still somewhat unappreciated for his versatility and dramatic skill. I think of him in Drive a Crooked Road (1954) a little film out on DVD, a very minor film noir but he’s so convincing in it—you believe that he really is that car mechanic.
Scott Holleran: Shirley Temple.
Leonard Maltin: Still adorable.
Scott Holleran: In the introduction to your Classic Movie Guide, why do you write that “old movies are better than ever”?
Leonard Maltin: They give me a kind of satisfaction and joy that few contemporary movies do. A great old movie can lift my spirits and make me feel better. What higher achievement can there be for any work of art?
Scott Holleran: What movie are you most looking forward to?
Leonard Maltin: The whole fall lineup looks good—Mr. Turner, Birdman, Foxcatcher.
Scott Holleran: What book would you like to see adapted as a movie?
Leonard Maltin: If I love a book, I don’t want to see the movie. Richard Attenborough learned in trying to adapt A Chorus Line that it was meant to be a theater piece, though there are great exceptions. If I read a book and love it, I don’t want to have that experience recreated or altered in any way. I’m completely satisfied with it.