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News: Duncan Shepherd Retires

An Appreciation for ‘The Reader’s‘ Film Critic

Film critic Duncan Shepherd was a fan of the Coen brothers. Here is John Turt...

Above: Film critic Duncan Shepherd was a fan of the Coen brothers. Here is John Turturo in "Barton Fink."

I didn't always agree with "The Reader's" film critic Duncan Shepherd but I never doubted his passion for film and I appreciated the high standard he set for cinema.

I have been reading Duncan Shepherd's reviews for decades. Sometimes I scratched my head as he praised "Star Trek Voyager" or "Somewhere in Time." Other times I chuckled with delight as he pondered where to place the emphasis in the title "Prick Up Your Ears." On some occasions I actually agreed with him and was happy to share his passion for Alain Resnais, Preston Sturges, and the Coen Brothers among others. Then there were the times when I was envious of the way he could turn a phrase as in describing Alan Arkin in "The In Laws" as displaying "freeze-dried hysteria" or calling"Days of Heaven" a "coffee table book" film. I never read his reviews to find out if a film was good or bad. I read his reviews because I could count on him for a different perspective and he could provide insights that maybe I hadn't considered.

He had a gift for provoking readers and I did not envy the kind of hate mail (and later hate comments) he sometimes received. Getting more than a black dot or a single star from Shepherd was a daunting task for a film but I think people were wrong to say he hated everything. I think he loved movies too much and just wanted everything he saw to live up to his highest standard. I admired that and I can understand how the flood of hollow and uninspired films of late could make him long to go to only movies of his own choosing.

The image of Shepherd that I will always remember is of him arriving for a Coen Brothers film, I can't remember which one but I think it was "The Big Lebowski." He arrived at the Hillcrest with a rosy glow on his cheeks and a bounce in his step; he was like a kid on Christmas morning unable to contain his anticipation and excitement over a gift he was about to open. That kind of passion for film is rare. Shepherd's high standards and intelligent writing will be deeply missed in San Diego.

Here's a link to his final column.

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