Stephen Farber


How did you get started as a film critic?

When I was in high school in Cleveland, Ohio, one of the local newspapers (now defunct, of course) sponsored a movie reviewing contest for the city's high school journalists. We went to 8 screenings over the course of the year and wrote reviews. I ended up winning the contest. The prize was a week's trip to Hollywood, where I visited studios and met stars like Elvis and Sidney Poitier. So I guess that hooked me on movies as well as reviewing.


What was your first meaningful moviegoing experience?

My father took me to see a revival of "The Wizard of Oz" when I was about 5 years old. It terrified me.


What was your first published review?

Aside from high school and college reviews, my first professionally published review was for Film Quarterly when I was in graduate school: an article called "New American Gothic," which discussed such movies as "Inside Daisy Clover" and "Bunny Lake Is Missing."


Name a film you think everybody should see.

"Lawrence of Arabia"


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

"What's your favorite movie?"


What’s the most controversial review you’ve written?

My review of "Jaws" for The New York Times was one of the only negative reviews the movie received. Needless to say, I took a lot of heat for that.


Is there a genre or era you have a particular affinity for?

I generally like older movies (1940s-1960s) rather than the movies being made today. In terms of genre, I find thrillers to be the most reliable. I loved Hitchcock when I was growing up, and I still find that even a mediocre thriller will be more watchable than middling films in most other genres.


What is your process in approaching a review?

I try not to make too many notes while watching the movie. I prefer to
immerse myself in the experience. Then I will make some notes after seeing the film and begin to organize my thoughts. I do a lot of editing and rewriting, even when I'm on a tight deadline.


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

I usually do not discuss movies with other critics, though I'm not opposed to the idea on principle.



What other film critics, past or present, do you admire?

Critics like Pauline Kael and Stanley Kauffmann (still going strong!)
had an important influence on me when I was first starting to notice reviews. There are some contemporary critics I admire, but I'd rather not stoke controversy by naming names.


What’s the worst film you’ve ever seen?

"The Towering Inferno"


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

I've always felt that a critic's main role is not just to give a thumbs
up or down but to offer a perspective on the film that the reader might not
have thought about.


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

The best part is that you get to see a lot of movies. The worst part
is that you have to see a lot of movies.


Name the worst sequel ever.

"The Evening Star," sequel to "Terms of Endearment."


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

Most critics actually prefer waxing enthusiastically about a film they love to demolishing a film they hate. So I don't buy the idea that we're punishing people who do something that we're not doing.


Are movies better because of film critics?

Of course we'd like to believe that we have a positive impact on the quality of movies, but I'm not sure there is any way to verify that.


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

John Boorman told me that he felt I had really "discovered" "Point Blank" in articles I wrote for Film Quarterly and Sight and Sound in 1968. The movie wasn't really taken seriously when it came out, and now many people regard it as a seminal movie. Peter Weir also said that a review I wrote of "The Last Wave" for New West magazine after the film's showing at Filmex in 1978 helped to bring him to the attention of Hollywood studios and helped in some small way to launch his American career.


What advice do you have for aspiring film critics?

My advice to aspiring film critics has always been to write as much as possible. When I was starting out, I didn't wait to get assignments. I wrote articles and reviews on my own and sent them out to any publications I could find. Of course there are many fewer publications today, but there are online outlets, so I still recommend writing when you feel passionately about a movie and sending your words out to any and all sources. Not everyone will read an unsolicited article, but some will.


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