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RIP Film Critic Elliott Stein

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood November 9, 2012 at 8:28PM

When I worked at my first journalism gig as associate editor at Film Comment Magazine back in the 80s, Elliott Stein was one of my favorite regular contributors. He was erudite about world cinema, an omnivorous global cinephile and historian who knew more about Asian cinema than anyone I knew.

In his Paris years, Elliott visited the Cinémathèque Française nearly daily (and remarked the only person he saw there every time he went, even if the house was otherwise empty, was Jacques Rivette), and befriended many important intellectual figures of the time; he is mentioned in the memoirs of Edmund White, John Ashbery, Susan Sontag, Ned Rorem, and Richard Olney. He also became a film critic for the Financial Times and an opera critic for Opera (he wrote the libretto for his friend Ned Rorem’s first opera 'A Childhood Miracle'), worked with Kenneth Anger on 'Hollywood Babylon,' managed a literary review, taught English to Yves Montand, and acted in a few films, most notably Edouard Luntz’s 'Les coeurs verts.' Later, Elliott wrote and acted in Antony Balch’s 'Bizarre' and played a character named Ficletoes in Edgardo Cozarinsky’s 'The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,' opposite Zouzou, Marie-France Pisier, Dennis Hopper, Pierre Clémenti, Raoul Ruiz, and others. He also lived in 'Giovanni’s Room' (he was friends with James Baldwin) and his friendship and intellectual rapport with Susan Sontag was a source of her landmark essay 'Notes on Camp.'

Elliott then worked uncredited as a co-scriptwriter on several films made in France and England, moved to Brazil in the early 70s taking a job as FT’s South American culture reporter, and then went back to his hometown in the mid-70s. And during this time, he revised and edited the American edition of Léon Barsacq’s 'Caligari’s Cabinet and Other Grand Illusions,' the earliest history of art direction in the cinema.  

Since BAMcinématek’s inception in 1999, Elliott programmed, hosted, and presented over 120 'Cinemachats' at which he’d host a post-film talk peppered with his one-of-a-kind erudition. His first-ever chat was for John Brahm’s 'Hangover Square' in December 1999, and his last was just weeks ago on October 8 where he showed André De Toth’s 'Ramrod' with friend and fellow film historian Howard Mandelbaum.

Elliott defined eclectic taste, programming silent classics (Hitchcock’s 'The Lodger'), 30s rough-and-tumble pictures (Lang’s 'Fury'), mid-century art house hits (De Santis’ 'Bitter Rice' and Kalatozov’s 'Letter Never Sent'), recent auterist work (Verhoeven’s 'Starship Troopers' and Cronenberg’s 'Spider'), and everything in between, from 'Mandingo' to 'Monkey Shines.' Elliott also presented 'Gertrud,' Dreyer’s film maudit, which he resolutely championed for its original 1964 release in Paris, penning a seminal review of it in Sight and Sound. He possessed a deep reservoir of knowledge of great, overlooked films -- from Roland West’s 'The Bat Whispers' to Curtis Harrington’s 'The Killing Kind' -- which he brought to BAMcinématek audiences; they were revelations to many, baffling to others. He even made a compelling case for John Boorman’s 'Exorcist II: The Heretic' -- the making of a classic Cinemachat.

In December, we will screen one of his favorite films, Valerio Zurlini’s 'The Desert of the Tartars.' In 2000 Elliott wrote a beautiful appreciation of the Italian director for the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s retrospective in The Village Voice.

Elliott Stein was a true film lover, a remarkable story teller, a walking encyclopedia, a living Zelig, and one of the warmest and kindest people we’ve ever known. It was an honor to work so closely with him. We will miss him dearly.

Details of a memorial film program to be announced.

The BAMcinématek team"

This article is related to: Obit, Stuck In Love, Critics, Reviews

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.