Wednesday, August 27, 2014

In Memory of The Maltin

When the news broke last week that the next edition of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide –to be published next month – would be the last, I wasn’t surprised, but I was slightly saddened. It is certainly an end of an era. I have had various copies of the Guide dating back nearly 20 years – from the time I was a young teenager and a cinephile in the making. For the first 10 of those 20 years I not only bought every edition of the book – I needed to buy each edition. The reason was simple – by the time I had the book for year, it was pretty much destroyed. There was rarely a day that went by when I didn’t pick up the guide to look up a title or two – and often many more. Whenever I first got the book, I went through it searching for the new reviews to see if I agreed with Maltin or not. He also often had various movie lists in the front of the book – which gave me more titles to try and track down and watch. The Roger Ebert Video Yearbooks had full length reviews, which I loved, but for obvious reasons they were nowhere near definitive or complete. Maltin was. He had mini-reviews of practically everything you could want.

I always had some problems with the book. Two stars for Taxi Driver? One and a half for Blade Runner? If Cronenberg ever hit 3 stars, it was an event. And as Mike D’Angelo pointed out in his remembrance last week, as the years went on, Maltin became increasingly strange. He rarely gave 4 stars to any new movies – and some of the ones he did (The Cider House Rules? Songcatcher?) seemed like odd choices. In many ways, Maltin became one of those old fuddy-duddy critics who claim that everything for yesteryear was brilliant, and these young whipper snapper directors couldn’t hold a candle to them. D’Angelo posits that it was that, as much as the internet that killed the Maltin. I don’t know if I agree with that – to a certain extent, Maltin was like that 20 years ago when I started reading it and it continued on for quite some time. But it certainly didn’t help.

No, the internet killed the Maltin. I mentioned that for the first 10 – roughly 1994-2004 – I bought the new Maltin every year because my copy got destroyed. For the next few years, I still bought the new Maltin every year, more out of force of habit than anything, and the books became increasingly less dog eared every year. For the past 6 or 7 years, I’ve probably one purchased one out of every two or three. I’m looking at the most recent one I bought right now – the 2013 guide, published in 2012, and it’s still in very good condition. The reason is simple – it mainly sits on a shelf now, and I pick it up maybe once a month – if that. For the most part when I want to look up an old movie now, I whip out my iPhone, open the IMDB ap, and look it up. That allows me instant access to the complete cast and crew – and all the work they’ve done before and since, the runtime – and any number of reviews – from both contemporary sources, and those written at the time of the movies release. What the Maltin has in terms of information looks rather quaint by comparison.

So in many ways, the death of the Maltin was inevitable – and perhaps even overdue. There were numerous competitors with the Maltin over the years, and I think for the most part, they all gave up years ago. But it’s still sad to see the Maltin go for a number of reasons. One is the simply joy of browsing through an edition. I can find a lot more information about a lot more movies on IMDB, but simply browsing, and picking one at random just isn’t feasible. I read reviews of movies I had never heard of before, and probably never would have, in the Maltin. I rented some, if they sounded interesting, and loved some of them. This is the same problem I have with the death of Video Stores – it’s harder to browse the streaming sites or iTunes, than it was a video store.

The other reason it’s sad is because I always thought of the Maltin as the definitive opinion on a movie – even if, as D’Angelo points out that became increasingly not the case over the years. But still, the Maltin was the official word on a movie – so whether you agreed or disagreed with a review, you felt like you were either going against the grain, or were a part of the larger contingent. I don’t think such a thing is possible anymore. There will be no definitive opinion on movies once the Maltin goes away. In some ways, that’s good, in some ways not.

The death of the Maltin is another sign of changing times in movie culture – and another thing that makes me question whether or not I would become a film buff if I was a teenager today instead of 20 years ago. The Maltin was a one stop shop for both novice and experienced cinephiles – and helped to open up a whole new world of film for me. Today, I’m not sure where I would have gone to get this information in one place, easily findable, sortable and browsable. The death of the Maltin was inevitable – but it’s still sad.

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