A chat with ... movie guide guru Leonard Maltin
05:00 AM, Aug 29, 2013
Back in the early ’80s, when everyone was discovering the magic of VCRs, one book proved indispensable: Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide.
The guide offered hundreds of movie reviews and was quite handy if you couldn’t decide what to take home from the video store. In the years since, it has grown to include more than 16,000 entries, gotten its own mobile app and become a weekly reference on Doug Benson’s popular podcast.
The 2014 edition of the guide arrived in stores this week. I was excited to ask to Leonard Maltin about the book’s long and surprising history, the current moviegoing experience, his Oscar predictions, “Batfleck” and other items of interest:
Hi, Leonard. It’s a pleasure to talk to you, particularly since I grew up with your movie guide in the ’80s. Were you the first person to compile a book like this?
Well, to be accurate, I was the second. When I was 17 years old, I was introduced to an editor at Signet Books by an English teacher at my high school in New Jersey. She said, “I think the two of you would just hit it off.”
She knew I was publishing a fanzine for movie buffs. And I didn’t know what this might lead to, but I was thrilled to meet an editor. When we met, he said, “Oh, I already know your magazine. I love it. Do you know this book called Movies on TV?”
I said, “Sure, I use it every day.” It was the only one of its kind. He said, “What do you think of it?” I said, “I think it’s pretty good, as far as it goes.” He said, “What would you do differently?”
I said, “Well, I’d give more cast names. I’d list the director, and I’d say whether the movie was in color or black and white. And the original running time, so if you know if the TV station is cutting the movie.” I rattled off all these ideas, because I really lived with that book every day.
He said, “We’re looking for someone to do a rival book. How would you like to do it?” I said, “Well, yeah.” (Laughs) And he signed a 17-year-old kid to compete with that book, and that’s the book I’m still doing.
Wow, I didn’t realize that. What year was that?
That meeting took place in the spring of 1968, and the book came out in the fall of 1969. I was 18.
I remember the book from the early ’80s. Is the home video revolution what made it such a massive success?
Yes. Two things happened simultaneously: One was that home video came along in the early ’80s, and the other was that I got hired by Entertainment Tonight, when the show was brand new, red-hot and the only program of its kind. It gave me tremendous exposure and recognizability, and that’s when my publisher, to my astonishment, said, “We want to put your name above the title and your photo on the cover.”
I know you must go to screenings most of the time, but do you ever just go to the movies with the regular folks?
I do, but I go at off hours. I like seeing a film with people, but not necessarily with a horde of people.
What do you think about the current moviegoing experience? Every time I go there are at least a couple people texting, some people talking …
Exactly, which is another reason I go at off hours, to try to avoid the slings and arrows of contemporary audiences.
A couple weeks ago I read an argument for allowing texting in movie theaters. What’s your take on that issue?
No. If it could be done invisibly with no light so that I was unaware of it, fine. But as soon as it intrudes upon my concentration, it’s a no-no.
What’s the last movie you saw and absolutely loved?
Short Term 12, which just opened last Friday. It’s a terrific movie.
I know Brie Larson is getting a lot of attention for that. Are there any performances you’ve seen this year that you think might lead to Oscar nominations?
Matthew McConaughey in Mud. Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine for sure. Also, I must say Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker in Lee Daniels’ The Butler. I think it’s a marvelous performance (by Oprah) and an amazingly unself-conscious performance. She has to make you forget she’s Oprah Winfrey, which she can’t completely do, but she creates a real character there, and it’s not a simple character, either.
Are there any fall movies you can recommend?
No, because I haven’t seen them! That’s one of the reasons I come to the Telluride Film Festival, because this weekend we’re going to see some of the top fall entries. The only one I’ve seen is Nebraska, and there’s another potential Oscar nominee in Bruce Dern.
I also want to ask you about the recent Batman news. Do you have any thoughts on the casting of Ben Affleck?
Yeah, I’ll make up my mind when I see him in the movie, unlike everyone else in the Twitterverse. Also, I have a long memory. I remember when Michael Keaton was announced as Batman. The Net didn’t even exist then, but fandom went crazy.
I’m sorry, you can’t judge something you haven’t seen. You’re allowed to express your opinion, but give the guy a chance.
I was speaking to Roger Corman the other day, and he suggested the trend of superhero blockbusters might be fading.
Wouldn’t that be nice? (Laughs)
Would you like to see that happen?
Only because there are so many. Speaking as someone who just about my favorite film last year was The Avengers. I’ve got nothing against superhero comic movies. I like chocolate too, but I can’t eat it all the time.
And one more question: I’m a fan of Doug Loves Movies. How has the popularity of Doug Benson’s “Leonard Maltin Game” affected your career?
Oh, very simply, it has given me street cred with young people who might not be interested in me otherwise. People will stop me now and say, “I love Doug Loves Movies,” or “I love when you go on Doug Loves Movies.” It’s a nice ego boost.
You know, you should start your own podcast.
Well, I’m thinking about it. I certainly wouldn’t want to compete with what Doug does.
Note: Leonard Maltin’s 2014 Movie Guide is on sale now.