Time Magazine film critic Richard Corliss died Thursday night after suffering a stroke. "The magazine, along with all lovers of film and great critical writing, will have a hard time recovering," Time says in a tribute posted on its website. He was the magazine's film critic for 35 years.
"For TIME, he was an indestructible, inexhaustible resource. He wrote some 2,500 reviews and other articles for the magazine, including more than two dozen cover stories," the story says. "He covered, at various times, theater and television, wrote about theme parks and Las Vegas shows, contributed cover stories on topics as far afield as yoga and Rush Limbaugh. And as TIME’s longest-serving movie critic (and perhaps the magazine’s most quoted writer of all time), he was a perceptive, invaluable guide through three and a half decades of Hollywood films, stars and trends."
As a movie critic, his tastes were populist but eclectic. He was a fan of Chinese kung-fu movies and Disney animation (he put Finding Nemo on his list of the 100 greatest films of all time, along with Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master II), but also the more demanding works of filmmakers like Ingmar Bergman, Werner Herzog and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. He revered the classical storytelling of Hollywood greats like David Lean, but was also drawn to dazzling, over-the-top stylists like Baz Lurhmann. Before coming to TIME he wrote a dismissive review of a surprise hit called Star Wars (“The movie’s ‘legs’ will prove as vulnerable as C-3PO’s,” he sniffed), but he quickly became a champion of the fantasy-adventure films of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. “Not since the glory days of the Walt Disney Productions — 40 years ago, when Fantasia and Pinocchio and Dumbo first worked their seductive magic on moviegoers of every age — has a film so acutely evoked the twin senses of everyday wonder and otherworldly awe,” he wrote of Spielberg’s E.T in a 1982 cover story (which, as Corliss was fond of pointing out, was bumped from the cover by the outbreak of the Falklands War). “The movie is a perfectly poised mixture of sweet comedy and ten-speed melodrama, of death and resurrection, of a friendship so pure and powerful it seems like an idealized love.”
His reviews were authoritative but never intimidating; he had an encyclopedic knowledge of film, but never flaunted it. His prose was zestful and sparkling — it simply jumped off the page. He loved wordplay. The violent films of Quentin Tarantino, he once wrote, “allow for no idle bystanders; you either get with the pogrom or get out of the way.” Steve Martin, an early exemplar of what he dubbed the “post-funny” school of comedy, “filters laugh-a-minute zaniness through Redford good looks: goy meets Berle.”
Corliss joined TIME in 1980, dividing the film beat with the formidable Richard Schickel, and two made a collegial, perfectly simpatico team. But Corliss quickly proved himself a jack of all trades. He filled in for a time as the magazine’s theater critic (hailing, among other shows, the hot new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical in London, Cats) and wrote television reviews too (penning TIME’s 1980 cover story on Dallas’s “Who Shot J.R.?” frenzy). Over the years he grabbed any and every opportunity to write about his many wide-ranging passions: Cirque du Soleil spectacles, new rides at Disney World, the pop singers and songwriters of the Brill Building era.