The critic, who died Sunday at 94, worried that critical indifference would give rise to more of it.
On the jacket of my copy of “Acid Test,” a 1963 collection of essays by John Simon, a blurb reads: “When Simon writes about a book, you will want to read it or you will not need to read it.” Praise for a culture critic doesn’t get much higher than that.
Simon died Sunday at the age of 94. We met once, briefly, almost 20 years ago, but I didn’t know him. At the time he was still writing for National Review, among other publications, and I was moonlighting as a film critic for the New York Sun. I enjoyed reading film criticism almost as much as I enjoyed watching films, and Simon was far and away my favorite—not because I necessarily agreed with his opinions but because he made me reflect on my own.
English was Simon’s fifth language, and his knowledge of art, poetry and literature was at least as deep as his knowledge of film. But it wasn’t simply erudition and versatility that distinguished his writing in the 1960s and ’70s, a period widely regarded as the heyday of film criticism. It was also his approach to criticism itself, which included unfailingly high standards and a brutal honesty that wasn’t always appreciated by actors and filmmakers, never mind his fellow critics.
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