A Critic Is Born
It was 1983 and my friends and I had just watched Apocalypse Now at the Avon Cinema in Providence. We were all in high school but we were bright-ish and artsy and our conversation bubbled with post-movie opinion. One opinion stood out to me that evening. Tony, who was a year younger than I but headed to Harvard after only three years of high school, was particularly focused in his assessment. “That is a great film,” he said with an authority that seemed beyond his years. “A really great film. And it would have been even greater without all that bullshit philosophy at the end.”
I can still see Tony marching beside me, head down, talking seriously about the film’s strengths and weaknesses. Tony and I were not close friends, but we were a part of the same crowd and saw each other frequently enough—and as well as I knew him this moment seemed uniquely Tony. That same summer I had dropped by his house to visit a mutual friend who was staying with him, and I began singing “Boys,” a David Bowie song with which I had just become familiar.
“That’s a great song,” Tony said, again with that same preternatural authority. I felt vaguely proud that I liked a song that Tony identified as great. It mattered to Tony that a song or a movie was great. It mattered to Tony that he say so. “Why does it matter to him so much?” I wondered.
Years went by, and Tony went to Harvard and I did not. I lost track of him. I moved to Seattle and started writing books. One of those books got published and one day I found myself at Northwest Bookfest at a table for local authors when who should stop by but Beth C. Beth was also a part of that old high school crowd and I hadn’t seen her in forever.
“Have you heard about Tony?” she asked.
“What happened to him?” I had always liked Tony and I hoped he was all right.
“He’s A. O. Scott.”
“Who’s A. O. Scott?”
“The movie critic for the New York Times.”
I can’t say I wasn’t impressed, and I think I would have been more envious of his fancy job if life at that moment did not seem so utterly on purpose.
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