Schickel was one of the heavyweight lions of film criticism amid the second half of the 20th Century, rougly at par in terms of eloquence, insight and importance with Andrew Sarris, Pauline Kael, Richard Corliss, Joe Morgenstern, Molly Haskell, Stanley Kauffman, Judith Crist, et. al. He was one of the lordly big boys, a prodigious professional, and certainly a fellow I’ve looked up to with considerable respect (if not affection) for my entire professional life.
Schickel’s principal berth was as Time‘s film critic from 1965 to 2010 — oh, what a time that was for movie scholars, fanatics and devotees, especially from the late ’60s to the downturn period of the ’80s/’90s/you tell me. Schickel’s gradual deflation began when the online thing began to eat into the rule of snooty, harumphy, Moses-speaking-to-the-Hebrews movie critics starting around 15 years ago.
Schickel also wrote for Life (’65 to ’72) and the Los Angeles Times Book Review. His last regular reviewing gig was for Truthdig. He wrote something close to 35 books about film industry trends and movie stars (James Cagney, Clint Eastwood, Cary Grant, Elia Kazan, Walt Disney, Myrna Loy, Barbara Stanwyck, Charlie Chaplin) and directed, wrote or significantly contributed to over 20 documentaries about this realm.
The lack of affection alludes to my impression (and that of at least a few others) that Schickel, for all his devotion and brilliance as a writer, was always a bit of a scowling grump and a snob, at least as far as his attitude towards the online blogaroo generation of film journalists was concerned. He made it abundantly clear over the last 15 or so years that the scholastic world that Schickel knew, built and had contributed to so mightily was going straight to hell with online journalism.
Corliss, who passed from a stroke at age 71 nearly two years ago, was similar to Schickel in this regard. A line from my Corliss obit — “He was a nice enough guy socially and he certainly knew his stuff like few others, but for whatever reason he could be a bit snooty with freelancers and anyone he didn’t regard as his kind of film maven, or someone who wasn’t on his level” — could also apply to Schickel.
I’ll never forget that Sarris was always friendly with me when I was a relative nobody in the late ’70s and early ’80s, but Corliss and Schickel never gave me the time of day.
I’ve always adored his filmed conversations with Elia Kazan.
In Variety‘s obit a Schickel remark about online film criticism appears: “Let me put this bluntly, in language even a busy blogger can understand: Criticism — and its humble cousin, reviewing — is not a democratic activity. It is, or should be, an elite enterprise, ideally undertaken by individuals who bring something to the party beyond their hasty, instinctive opinions of a book (or any other cultural object).
“It is work that requires disciplined taste, historical and theoretical knowledge and a fairly deep sense of the author’s (or filmmaker’s or painter’s) entire body of work, among other qualities.”
In a 1973 Atlantic piece that sought to puncture the reputation of Gone With the Wind, Schickel said that “one measure of a movie’s quality is to ask yourself what you retain from it years after seeing it”; for him, when it came to GWTW, the answer was ‘not much.'”
Also from Variety: Schickel shared a 1977 Emmy nomination for the documentary Life Goes to the Movies and received two nominations in 1987 for the documentary Minnelli on Minnelli: Liza Remembers Vincente, which Schickel directed.
Schickel was involved in the restoration of 40 minutes of material cut from Samuel Fuller’s The Big Red One (’80), for which he received awards from the Los Angles Film Critics Association and the National Society of Film Critics.
Schickel received the National Board of Review’s William K. Everson Film History Award in 2004, and the Maurice Bessy Award for film criticism in 2001.
He lectured at Yale University and at USC’s School of Film and Television.