Leonard Maltin Has Something to Say

The legendary film critic on his new memoir and 50 years of covering Hollywood
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Stepping into Leonard Maltin’s San Fernando Valley home feels a bit like taking a wrong turn into a private wing of the new Academy Museum. The place is so chockablock with memorabilia—giant banner ads from the silent era; Mickey Mouse animation cels; a chair from New York’s Paramount Theatre; even a replica of Charles Foster Kane’s old sled, Rosebud—he should charge an admission fee.

But these days, Maltin, whose film reviews and guides are still required reading for any serious cinema buff, has found a different subject to write about: himself. His memoir, Starstruck: My Unlikely Road to Hollywood, now in bookstores, tells the story of a kid from Teaneck, New Jersey, who tapped out his first movie guide while still a student at NYU, spent 28 years on Entertainment Tonight, and ended up making friends (and sometimes enemies) with some of Hollywood’s biggest names. Below, the consummate critic answers a few choice questions.

What made you decide, at 70, to write a memoir?
> I’ve been thinking about it because I had all these stories, and I had a simpatico publisher—so I figured, why not? Then the pandemic came along. I had time.

You’ve been writing film criticism for five decades. How has it changed?
Has the internet killed it?
> Rotten Tomatoes isn’t really new. It’s just an aggregator. I’m a tomato. I don’t see an 82 score on Rotten Tomatoes as any different than that thumbs-up from Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, which was the gold standard for approving or disap-proving of a movie. What it has killed is employment for people who want to do film criticism as a living. That’s been a body blow. I’m lucky that I juggle enough balls that I can survive without writing film reviews. But we’ve moved on from that era. I teach at USC. I tested this: they’ve never heard of Siskel and Ebert.

Let alone Pauline Kael.
> Don’t go there.

On the upside, your reviews are now reaching a lot more people, thanks to the internet.
> Yeah. My daughter, Jessie, and I do a weekly podcast, but we also do a livestream every Sunday. It started as kind of a lark. We talk about what we’ve seen that week and then answer questions. We hear from Dubai, we hear from Ireland, we hear from people all over the world in real time. That blows my mind.

You published your first movie guide while still a student at NYU in the late ’60s. What was that like?
> I’ll always be grateful to my professors at NYU. I just missed having Scorsese as a teacher. An old pal of mine did have Marty as his teacher and said that it was an unforgettable experience.

You famously gave Taxi Driver a bad review. Was Scorsese mad at you for that?
> Everybody was mad at me over Taxi Driver. And Blade Runner. Finally, after years— it took too many years for me to do this—but with Taxi Driver, I added a line: “Although, highly influential.”

But Scorsese never said anything to you about it?
> I don’t know if he was annoyed, but he was aware. I interviewed him and Mr. De Niro when they were promoting The Irishman. They made nine films together. I was determined to get them to say something on each. When I got to New York, New York, Scorsese whispered to the audience, “He liked that one.”

How about Blade Runner?
> I gave it three shots. Every time Ridley Scott recut it
and reissued it, I went and saw it again, and I still didn’t care for it. He’s since done it a fourth time. I said, “Three and I’m out.”

All this memorabilia in your house—what’s it mean to you? Why do you collect?
> A friend of mine says collecting this kind of stuff is buying back your childhood. He may well be right. These items evoke memories of an innocent time in my life when everything was a discovery and moviegoing was fun.


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