Robert Abele


How did you get started as a film critic?

I was a freshman and studying film at Southern Methodist University, and met the editor of the campus paper at a party. I must have geeked out on the topic of movies to her, because she said (or perhaps, cut me off delicately with) “You should write reviews for us.” After four years of doing so, my job prospects in journalism seemed measurably better than those for making films. After getting a job at the Dallas Times Herald right out of college, I never looked back.


What was your first meaningful moviegoing experience?

I developed my love of movies watching old films on television. I wasn’t dragged to theaters by my parents. As a grade schooler in the mid-70s I could have told you more about Edgar Kennedy and Errol Flynn than, say, Burt Reynolds. But of the occasional multiplex trip I did make early on, freaking out at Jaws was certainly scarring.


What was your first published review?

I’ve done some ghost writing in the book world of late, but it technically started in high school, when I convinced a fellow student to let me write her review of “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life” for the school paper, under her byline. Because a rabid Python geek like I was not going to let some Britcom novice handle a job for an expert. My only act of bullying in high school, I’m proud to say.

What movie would you have liked to review had you been a critic upon its initial release?

Blake Edwards’ The Party. First one that popped into my head. Am I supposed to say “Citizen Kane” or “Breathless”? Then again, “Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat” would have been interesting. Might have included something like, “It was difficult to appreciate the Lumieres’ use of moving photography to establish time and place as I was under the panic-inducing impression that a locomotive was about to plow directly into me.”


What movie are you embarrassed to admit you love?

I’ve come to believe that when you love a work of art, there’s no real embarrassment attached. I’ve come to notice, too, that when this question is asked of critics, they tend to virulently argue why the movie they’ve chosen to defend is great, anyway. Even when they start with, “I’m in the minority on this,” you can tell there’s nothing shameful about their passion for it. More likely than not, it’s pride they’re feeling.


What’s the most common question you’re asked when someone discovers you’re a film critic?

The hardest to answer of all: “What should I go see that’s out now?”



What is your process in approaching a review?

As for any pre-watching preparation, a combination of research and willful ignorance. I like to be surprised by a film, but also know something about the filmmaker’s prior work (or if it’s a first film, where he or she comes from). If it’s an adaptation of something well-known, reading the source material helps. I take notes during the film, but scribble in darkness without any light source other than the projected image. Lastly, I review the film in front of me, not what I wish had been made. Or at least I try to.


Do you like to discuss a movie with other critics immediately after a screening or before writing a review?

Long discussions, no. I’m not interested in being influenced by others’ opinions. But sometimes you’ve got that one-liner that must get out before you part. Leave ‘em laughing, I say.


Is there a classic film you’re embarrassed to admit you’ve never seen?

Absolutely. And because of that, I’ll only mention one. How about “Greed”?


If I weren’t a film critic, I’d be a…

Crossword puzzle editor. That includes acrostics. And cryptics.


To the public at large, what purpose does a professional film critic serve?

A film critic offers a point of view that illuminates a film for the reader, and hopefully offers a way of seeing the film that maybe hadn’t been considered. Above all, it should be a piece of writing that’s a pleasure to read. Otherwise, what’s the point?


What’s the best part of being a film critic and the worst part of being a film critic?

The best part of being a film critic: getting to see everything. The worst part: having to see everything.


What’s the biggest misconception people have about film critics?

That we’re beautiful, healthy, and easygoing.


What would you say to the old saw that critics are frustrated artists, punishing those who do for doing?

That if you believe so, the terrorists have won.



In your opinion, have you ever written something that had a measurable impact?

Yes. An unhappy filmmaker showed up at my house to beg me to see his movie again – and, one supposes, reverse my opinion -- but inexplicably decided to bring along his elderly mother, who cried alongside him and screamed “You’ve ruined his life!” Not James Cameron.


What advice do you have for aspiring film critics?

Read. Write. Edit. Read. Write. Edit. Read. Write. Edit. That’s assuming you’re already watching any and all movies you can. But remember, a film critic is a writer. So read. And write. Then please edit.


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