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Herald Flashback 2001

Mick LaSalle: SF Chronicle Film Critic or the Antichrist? You Decide...

Sorry for the misleading, overdramatic title of this article, but Mick’s such a modest guy he didn’t think anyone would be interested in reading about him so I had to get your attention somehow.

Yessiree, Mick must have thought I was a friggin’ weirdo when I called him up and told him I wanted to write some Vanity Fair-style kiss-ass celebrity profile about him. But why not? Critics like Mick have to write pieces about stars all the time. Why can’t critics get written about once in a while? Besides, I’ve been reading Mick’s reviews in the Chronicle since he started and always enjoyed them. I landed in the Bay Area to attend the College of San Mateo just before he started workin’ for the little man.

You’re probably wondering, Hey -- What’s Mick LaSalle really like?

Well, let’s find out.

I took Mick out to dinner after he finished viewing Pearl Harbor at the Metreon. On the way to Chevy’s (are we classy guys or what?) he told me how much he loved the new Go-Go’s CD and that he played it over and over in his car driving to L.A. and back recently (He’s familiar with ‘80’s rock. As you might recall, Mick filled in for Joel Selvin as Chronicle music critic in ‘87 when Joel took a six month sabbatical to write a book.)
Mick’s been married for seven years to the playwright Amy Freed, who was the 1998 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama (her new play, The Beard of Avon, will have its SF premiere at ACT in January.)

While many people have said unkind words about former Channel 7 News Anchor-babe Terilyn Joe, Mick says she was always very nice to him when he worked there.

Mick’s from Staten Island, and got a B.A. in English from Rutgers and an M.A. in English from the University of North Carolina, where he was a film critic for the school paper. After graduation he taught English, until the Chronicle hired him as their movie critic on September 18, 1985.

Mick enjoys reviewing films, but hates to interview celebrities and always tries to avoid such assignments. What about the stars he has encountered?

"Charlton Heston was a great guy. Some people wouldn’t think it. I kept him waiting for 15 minutes in the Chronicle lobby but he was gracious. No ego."

"I like Shelly Winters a lot. She’s like the old Jewish aunt I never had. I like Faye Dunaway; she was real smart and courteous."

"Rene Russo was really nice. She looked ten years younger than her age. We were in a hotel and she had to use the restroom, so she contined to talk to me, yelling from the bathroom door."

Enough of the nice people. Who didn’t he like?

"Offhand, the only celebrity I really disliked was Richard Gere."

But, Mick, Richard’s got to be a nice guy. I mean, he’s a Buddhist, right?

"Well, he was a sarcastic Buddhist to me. I interviewed him at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. He had three young female publicists around him and was entertaining them at my expense; being a wiseguy to me. He kept saying stuff like ‘How come you guys always wear green suits?’ Although ten minutes into the interview he warmed up to me and put his hands in front of his face, you know how he always does that in the movies, and said something like ‘I’m feeling a connection to you now. That last interviewer who was here, I didn’t like her, but I’m starting to feel a connection here with you." Mick rolls his eyes and smirks as he finishes that unfortunate tale.

LaSalle has an upcoming book (on St. Martin’s Press around September 2002) called Dangerous Men, a sequel -- nay -- a "fraternal twin" as he puts it -- to his book last year, Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood. The "code" being the Hayes Code, which monitored "decency" in American movies from 1934 - 1968.

"Before the code, awoman character in a movie didn’t have to take back a cheating husband if he apologized for his affair. The women acted in a way we would recognize as modern. The fact this was seventy years ago says something about the propaganda quotient of those code movies."
"In The Divorcee, from 1930, Norma Shearer finds that her husband has had a one night stand so she goes out that night and has sex with his best friend. When the husband comes back from his business trip, she tells him, ‘I’ve balanced our accounts.’"

"In Free Song, from 1931, Norma Shearer is having a back door affair with a gangster played by Clark Gable. He wants to marry her, but she’s not interested in that. She doesn’t even want him to talk. She just wants to have sex with him. She has an addiction to sex the same way her father, played by Lionel Barrymore, has an addiction to alcohol."

Look for the film festival about pre-Code women at the Castro Theater, July 9th to 18th. It’s a spin-off of the Film Forum Festival in New York and is the first ever pre-code women’s festival in either SF or NY.

Whereas the book about females dealt with marriage, sex, and women in the workplace, the upcoming book on everyone’s least favorite gender deals with politics, crime, and business.

"In Washington Masquerade, from 1932, Lionel Barrymore plays a senator. The first issue in the senate debate he’s in is whether the government should take over the utility companies. Sixty-nine years later it’s still a radical idea. Barrymore makes this impassioned speech that they should -- it isn’t communist, it’s American. And he’s the good guy. That’s typical of the mind-set of the pre-code men’s films; very left-of-center politically."

At that point, the waitress threw the bill at me without asking if we wanted anything else, so I paid it and we left.

Walking past Yerba Buena Gardens, I asked Mr. LaSalle what this world is coming to when the publisher of the SF Herald and the movie critic of the SF Chronicle can walk down the street without being mobbed by adoring fans, or at least recognized.

"I used to get recognized in public when I was on TV," he replies. "I’d be in a restaurant with my wife and people wouldn’t even say something like ‘Excuse me, are you Mick LaSalle?’ before they started talking to me, they’d just approach me like I knew them and would say stuff like ‘How could you have not liked that movie? I thought it was great!’ Then I got fired from Channel 7 News and quit being recognized in public the very next day."

Well here’s some recognition, Mick baby -- keep writing those reviews. SF loves ya.###

All contents © 2011 by Gene Mahoney