Thursday, 18 September 2008

Great writers

We all have our favourites, at least I do, those writers — and I'm talking journalists and critics here not novelists or screenwriters — whose byline in a magazine or newspaper is enough to get me to buy it. Writers whose work is so good, you know no matter how long you do what you do, you'll never get close to them.

Anthony Lane is one. I know he's not everyone's cup of tea but when he was working for the Independent On Sunday, Lane was my go-to critic. While I still read his stuff in The New Yorker, it was his weekly column in the IOS that made me sit up and take note. His style, his wit, his attitude was like manna from heaven to me when I started writing. I would cut out his reviews, collecting them all in a large brown envelope. I still have them and do occasionally flick through those early writings. (It's a shame his terrific book, Nobody's Perfect, only includes his New Yorker work.)

Then there was Chris Heath whose interviews in Details and Rolling Stone I would read over and over again, examining every sentence or turn of phrase, trying to grasp the secret of his deceptively simple but oh so smart writing. Heath gave me my first break in journalism when he worked at Smash Hits and I got to commission him in turn when I worked at Empire. If you've never read his work, then google his name, sit back and enjoy. Or buy his books on the Pet Shop Boys or Robbie Williams. You won't be disappointed.

And then there was John H Richardson whose writings for Premiere set the benchmark for on set reporting and investigative film journalism as far as I'm concerned. During Premiere's heyday, Richardson was one of a number of exceptionally talented writers but he was always top dog. (He later wrote a chapter a month for Premiere of a Hollywood set novel that, from what I understand, was one of the reasons why he gave up film journalism.) Alas, very little of what Richardson wrote has been archived online (it's the same sorry story for almost all of what Premiere published during its near 20-year lifetime, and if it doesn't exist online these days, it's as if it never did). Richardson now writes for Esquire specialising in crime reporting, and some of his work can be found here although there are only two Premiere pieces. His interview with Paul Thomas Anderson in the latest Esquire is his first film piece in a decade and should be well worth reading.

I've been reading a lot of novelist and essayist David Foster Wallace's articles in the last few days following his death last week. I confess I haven't read his acknowledged masterpiece Infinite Jest but I remember his David Lynch piece that Premiere published and an article on the adults video awards that he also wrote for Premiere under a pseudonym and being bowled over. There have been a number of touching tributes to him but may I direct you to this one written by Glenn Kenny who edited him at Premiere and was a friend.

6 comments:

Gerard said...

Cool post.

And for what it's worth, Burton on Burton was my teenage bible :)

Mark Salisbury said...

Flattery will get you everywhere. But seriously, that's nice of you to say :)

Gerard said...

Hell, all true. I even wrote a paper on Burton's work for my final Extension English project during my last year of highschool, the backbone of which was shaped by the interviews contained in your very book. I still break it out all the time when I'm in need of inspiration (which, lately, if I'm honest, is quite a lot).

Mark Salisbury said...

Now I'm blushing...

J.D. said...

Yeah, kudos to BURTON ON BURTON. When I was writing an article on ED WOOD, the chapter on it was invaluable.

As for film critics that I follow: J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum are tops. The first book of film criticism/history I ever read was MIDNIGHT MOVIES and it changed my life. A great read.

Oddly enough, Harlan Ellison's book of film criticism is incredible. It deals almost entirely with science fiction/fantasy/horror and is so entertaining because of Ellison's balls-out style of writing. When he really hates a film, he HATES it. The same holds true for films he champions. There's a great bit where he spends an entire article dishing dirt about why DUNE bombed at the box office and was destined to fail.

Mark Salisbury said...

Thinking about this some more, it's occurred to me that most of my journalistic heroes are long form guys rather than critics. In addition to the ones I wrote about, there's Martin Amis whose journalism is exceptional. His Moronic Inferno collection was one of my bibles.