Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Hail and farewell: Philip Wuntch
When I landed a gig as all-purpose writer/critic for the arts and entertainment department of The Dallas Morning News in 1979, Philip Wuntch already was comfortably ensconced as the paper's film critic. Of course, I wanted his job. And, of course, he knew it.
But here's the thing: Philip -- who passed away Monday at age 70 -- was so comfortable and confidant in his position, and with ample reason, that he viewed me not so much as a rival as a resource. And so he was impossibly decent to me, encouraging me to serve more or less as his backup -- when I wasn't busy backing up the theater critic, the TV critic, the dance critic, etc. -- by allowing me to review the movies he had neither time nor interest to review. This meant that, while he concentrated on the major releases by the big studios -- and wrote, among many other memorable pieces, one of the very best reviews of Raging Bull I recall reading during that classic's initial theatrical run -- I got to review the B-movies and exploitation flix at one extreme, and documentaries and other art-house fare at the other. Seriously: It was not uncommon for me to review, say, the original Friday the 13th and then, just a few days later. cover the latest Ingmar Bergman opus. I am not absolutely sure about this, but I think that because of Philip's laissez-faire attitude, my review of Francois Truffaut's The Green Room got bigger play in the Morning News than any other U.S. critic got for his or her review back in the day.
In short: Philip -- who was film critic at the Morning News for a staggering 37 years -- is one of the handful of people I can thank for my having any kind of career as a film critic. And I would like to think he was so kind to me, so supportive of me, because he recognized in me someone who loved movies as much as he did. And trust me: He loved movies. A lot. To pay him the highest compliment I can imagine: He left this world a more entertaining place than it might have been without him in it.