Richard Schickel, Veteran Film Critic and Documentary Director, Dies at 84

Schickel’s career in Hollywood spanned five decades

Richard Schickel — veteran film critic for Time magazine, author of 37 books and director of numerous documentaries about film — died in Los Angeles following complications from several strokes, his family told the Los Angeles Times. He was 84.

Schickel’s career spanned five decades through the Golden Age of Hollywood, making him one of the most respected critics in his profession.

“He was one of the fathers of American film criticism,” said his daughter Erika Schickel, a writer. “He had a singular voice. When he wrote or spoke, he had an old-fashioned way of turning a phrase. He was blunt and succinct both on the page and in life.”

Martin Scorsese, who was the topic of Schickel’s book “Conversations With Scorsese,” described him as “a very perceptive critic and a wonderful writer and documentary filmmaker. As a person he was, to use a once popular term, ‘crusty,’ and he could be brutally funny.

“But it’s his deep and abiding love of movies that I’ll always remember about him,” the “Silence” filmmaker said in a statement to TheWrap. His early 70s PBS series ‘The Men Who Made the Movies,’ his 2004 restoration of Sam Fuller’s ‘The Big Red One,’ his wonderful little book about ‘Double Indemnity,’ his biographies of Chaplin and Cary Grant … this is a man who gave his life to the thing he loved.”

Schickel served as film critic for Life magazine from 1965 to 1972, when it folded, and then moved to Time magazine for the next 38 years. His voice remained distinct, articulate and frequently harsh, not only when reviewing, but also when defending the art of a critic.

“Let me put this bluntly, in language even a busy blogger can understand: Criticism — and its humble cousin, reviewing — is not a democratic activity,” he wrote in response to an op-ed in a 2007 Los Angeles Times piece. “It is, or should be, an elite enterprise, ideally undertaken by individuals who bring something to the party beyond their hasty, instinctive opinions of a book (or any other cultural object). It is work that requires disciplined taste, historical and theoretical knowledge and a fairly deep sense of the author’s (or filmmaker’s or painter’s) entire body of work, among other qualities.”

Among his filmmaking credits are more than 30 documentaries, including the Emmy-nominated “Life Goes to the Movies,” “Minnelli on Minnelli: Liza Remembers Vincent,” “Hollywood on Hollywood” and “From ‘Star Wars’ to ‘Jedi': The Making of a Saga.”

His 2003 memoir “Good Morning, Mr. Zip Zip Zip: Movies, Memory and World War II” was a look back at his childhood growing up with a love of movies.

His prolific knowledge of film was put to use in nearly 30 commentary track on DVDs for classics like “East of Eden,” “On the Waterfront” and “Titanic.” He also penned scores of film history books and star biographies from Cary Grant to Lena Horne to Woody Allen.

Schickel is survived by two daughters, Erika and Jessica.