Richard Corliss, film critic at Time magazine for 35 years, died Thursday day from complications following a stroke he suffered a week ago. He was 71.
Born in Philadelphia, Corliss received his Master’s degree from Columbia before embarking on a diverse career beginning in the 1960s that included stints with New Times, MacLean’s, Soho Weekly News and four years writing for The National Review, despite his self-avowed liberal beliefs. He also served for a time as Editor in Chief of Film Comment,
But it was at Time, which he joined in 1980, that Corliss made his biggest impact, helping to advance the profile of film criticism as a literary form and along the way coining expressions — including “drop-dead gorgeous” — that made their way into the popular lexicon. He reviewed more than 1,000 films and wrote four books during his career, and was a proponent of serious movies as well as blockbuster fare, in particular praising the films of Jackie Chan and Steven Spielberg (whose E.T. he compared to the golden age of Disney animation).
Corliss was notable for a combative relationship with other film critics, particularly Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. He wrote a notorious takedown in a 1990 issue of Film Comment called “All Thumbs,” using the duo’s famous movie-assessment system as a symbol of television-friendly, ratings-based reviews that he felt had dumbed-down the craft of film criticism. (He eventually would reverse his position, praising Ebert in a 2007 essay.) He also frequently came into conflict with fellow Time writer Richard Schickel, notably disagreeing on the films Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and Moulin Rouge! — the latter of which Schickel ripped as one of the worst of 2001 and Croliss praised as one of the best of the decade.
“It’s painful to try to find words, since Richard was such a master of them,” Time editor Nancy Gibbs said in a statement announcing Corliss’ passing. “They were his tools, his toys, to the point that it felt sometimes as though he had to write, like the rest of us breathe and eat and sleep. It’s not clear that Richard ever slept, for the sheer expanse of his knowledge and writing defies the normal contours of professional life. … Our tributes and a sampling of his writing from his 35 years at Time allow us to savor the immense range and excellence of his work as one of the world’s most important voices on film, and so many other subjects.”
Corliss is survived by his wife of 45 years, Mary, and his brother Paul.