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Features May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

On The Job: The Critics

Film Clubbing: Beth Accomando, ’82
by Anders Wright

Philly Films: Carrie Rickey, '74, M.F.A. '76
by Marnette Federis, '06 MORE: PHILLY FILMS


Beth Accomando is the voice of film in San Diego—literally. Since 1987, Accomando, has reviewed movies for the city’s National Public Radio affiliate, KPBS, a job that taps skills and insight cultivated as one of UCSD’s first film graduates.

Accomando’s class were both pioneers and guinea pigs—this was the first time the UCSD Department of Visual Arts offered a degree with film as its singular focus. “You felt like you had a lot of freedom,” she says. And even though the technology of filmmaking has taken great strides since then, some of the faces in the film department are still the same. “Babette [Mangolte] is still there. So is Jean-Pierre Gorin. I took a lot of classes from them,” she says. “Cinematography and sound editing from her, editing from JP, and film
theory from Manny Farber.”

And being part of that debut class had its advantages as well as its disadvantages. “While there was always a line of kids waiting to use the video gear, there were four movie cameras and only five of us making movies,” Accomando recalls. They didn’t really know what classes to make us take, so we all got to kind of fashion our own curriculum.”

Her offbeat studies soon segued into an unusual, albeit educational, film-industry gig. In the late 1980s, Accomando met other alums who were working on a sequel to Attack of the Killer Tomatoes [See Article]. They needed an editor, she needed a job. She ended up working on three Tomato films, and still works as a video editor and producer on a freelance basis. Those skills help inform her film criticism at KPBS, where she records and cuts her own pieces. “You’re writing for the ear. I love crafting a radio review where you have clips from the film and maybe sound bites from interviews with the filmmakers.”

Accomando says that people don’t always understand what being a critic is all about. “When people read a review, they want someone to agree with how they felt about a film,” she says. “So if a critic doesn’t agree with them, the immediate response is, ‘What an idiot.’ Critics are like anyone else, they just see a lot more movies.”

In fact, Accomando’s own tastes run counter to the film critic stereotype. She would much rather see a bad horror
film than a romantic comedy and that’s probably why she became an expert in the unlikely field of extreme Asian cinema—those hyper violent films exported from Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea. “I saw a double-bill of Police Story and Hard Boiled at a Hong Kong Festival that stopped here for four days in 1990,” she says. (Police Story directed by and starring Jackie Chan is a detective thriller set in Hong Kong and Hard Boiled directed by John Woo, stars Chow Yun-Fat as a cop determined to avenge his partner’s murder.)

“My jaw dropped when I saw them,” Accomando says. “They were unabash-edly over-the-top, wildly energetic, and just had an irresistible and joyous sense of action.” She started building a collection, and the more she saw, the more she found herself hooked.

Her interests led her to start interviewing the new Asian stars. Back in the early ’90s, folks like John Woo, Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh were happy to have any media attention from the United States, and Accomando began pitching freelance stories directly to NPR and to the American Public Media show The World. That niche and those contacts have served her well in recent years, as many of those players have made the move to Hollywood.

She generally reviews two films a week, putting together a mix of mainstream and independent fare. By necessity she covers the mainstream Hollywood movies, but Accomando also keeps an eye out for smaller films or programs that might get overlooked. “That’s part of what I like to think of as film activism,” she says. And though she’s been on the air for 20 years, it’s only recently that her signature radio show, Film Club of the Air, has settled into a unique and comfortable groove. Along with another local critic, Accomando takes calls from the film-obsessed in radio land, letting listeners share their own critiques of current films or of the critics themselves. “It’s the old ‘everybody’s a critic,’” says Accomando. “But it’s true. Reviews are one-sided, and Film Club opens it up as a dialogue. Lots of people have really strong opinions, but I enjoy having the discussion. I come from a big family where we argue a lot.”

Anders Wright is a freelance journalist in San Diego.

Past shows and Accomando’s reviews are available online at kpbs.org.

10 Gotta-See South Korean Films
Film critic Beth Accomando is a huge fan of South Korean films and offers this handy cheat sheet. But she warns that many of these aren't for the faint of heart.
1. Shiri: "The film that beat Titanic at the Korean box office and launched the Korean new wave."

2. Tell Me Something: "A lyrical love story wrapped in a 'hardgore' murder tale."

3. Joint Security Area: "Goes to the divided soul of a divided country."

4. Nowhere to Hide: "One of the greatest scenes cut to music, a murder taking place to the Bee Gees' 'Throwing Stones.'"

5. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance: "The first of Park Chan- Wook's extraordinary revenge trilogy (Oldboy and Lady Vengeance are also worth watching)."

6. Bichunmoo: "Just a spectacular action film."

7. Peppermint Candy: "Heartbreaking. It takes us on a personal journey through Korea's tumultuous past."

8. My Wife is a Gangster: "A mix of slapstick comedy and brutal violence."

9. A Tale of Two Sisters: "A psychological horror that looks at both sides of Korea's divided nature."

10. 3 Iron: "Kim Ki-Duk's beguiling romance is really strange—but all his films have an element of strangeness."



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"When people read a review, they want someone to agree with how they felt about a film...So if a critic doesn't agree with them, the immediate response is, 'What an idiot.'"