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On The Job: Critics

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Features May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

On The Job: The Critics

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

Film Clubbing: Beth Accomando, ’82
by Anders Wright MORE: FILM CLUBBING


Carrie Rickey lives in the historical part of Philadelphia, where horse carriages filled with eager tourists bump along over cobbled streets, and quaint row houses sit next to some of America’s oldest buildings. But it is the movie theaters, including the Ritz East and Ritz at the Bourse—both within walking distance of her home—that also endear Rickey to the area.

One theater, the Ritz Five, was where the Philadelphia Inquirer film critic interviewed Al Gore after the release of his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. Rickey remembers how the former presidential candidate seemed elated when she showed him the historical plaque celebrating Thomas Paine's seminal book Common Sense. Interviewing filmmakers in such a historical environment has its pluses.

On an average year, Rickey sees about 250 films and writes hundreds of articles. To call her a movie geek would be an understatement. Her life seemed destined to center around film. She was born in Los Angeles, and her parents named her after the Jennifer Jones and Laurence Olivier film, Carrie.

Rickey has early memories of going to the movies. As the daughter of immigrants—her mother was Russian and Belgium and her father came from Poland—watching films was part of becoming American. “Movies held the secret of being American for my family,” Rickey says. “So movies were pretty important.”

Rickey’s mother was a sculptor and she grew up surrounded by art from an early age. As an undergraduate and later a master’s student in the visual arts department, Rickey began writing film criticism for the Triton Times student newspaper and the La Jolla Light.

Rickey says it was her UCSD visual arts professor Manny Farber, who taught her how to deconstruct movies and think differently about films. She says her film classes taught her to think independently.

During her years at UCSD, Rickey also worked at a very ’70s “lie-down theater” called Cinema Leo in Pacific Beach. “It was the first lie-down in America,” Rickey says. “You could lie down and see a movie like you could in your own living room.”

The theatre was equipped with blankets for the comfort of clients, while others brought deck and folding chairs. Backed by local millionaires, the theatre showed movies from the 1930s and the 1960s. The part-time job as the manager and programmer of Cinema Leo, was a good deal for Rickey, because she got to watch movies every day of the week.

In the early 1980s, Rickey began writing for the Village Voice, first as an art critic and later as a film critic. “It was a very exciting time,” she says. “The openness of New York audiences to both the Hollywood and the more obscure European and Asian product was very, very powerful.”

When it comes to viewing a film and then writing about it, Rickey describes the process as similar to a pitcher going into the bullpen to warm up. “It’s kind of throwing a couple of balls and getting the arm in gear,” she says. “I look at my notes and I take out stuff. And it comes or if it doesn’t come, its just torture.”

She insists that there is no formula for writing movie criticism. A movie like Syriana, which is complicated and dense and requires knowledge of Middle Eastern politics, needs a different type of writing than a review of Freaky Friday, Rickey says.

These days, Rickey is seeing a big shift in the film industry with advances in technology making movies available outside of movie theaters. “We have technology that lets people listen to music and watch movies when they want to,” she says. But Rickey herself is not completely at ease with this new conflation of media. She is a self-proclaimed purist who believes that watching a movie is all about the experience. “Movies need to be seen in movie theaters with people,” she says. “Sharing that experience with strangers in the dark is a very powerful experience.”

Although Rickey admits that her own children prefer DVDs, where director’s cuts, behind the scenes footage, and alternate endings exist, she would rather not have the added features. “I like the illusion of what I see,” she says. “It’s like sausage, you don’t want to see what it’s made of.”

Marnette Federis, '06, lives in D.C.


Read Rickey's Blog, Flickgirl


Carrie Rickey's Q&A Forum


UCSD Department of Visual Arts


"Movies need to be seen in movie theaters with people...Sharing that experience with strangers in the dark is a very powerful experience."