Tom Long: A short memoir from a lucky film critic
In the summer of 1981, I was the singer and songwriter for a band in Santa Cruz, California, called Thin Ice. We landed a gig opening for teen pop phenom Rick Springfield at the county fair.
The editor of a local weekly thought it would be fun to have the opening band’s singer write a review of Springfield’s album. I wrote the review. Then the editor asked if I would like to interview Springfield for a feature. I barely caught him in a hotel lobby. After I wrote the article, the editor asked if I wanted to be the weekly’s music writer.
I wrote for that and assorted other publications, the band eventually broke up, and in 1985, at the age of 35, I took my first full-time job at the local daily, The Santa Cruz Sentinel. I started out as an entertainment clerk, but soon became a general assignment reporter, covering crime and courts, doing investigative work, writing editorials, whatever, while all along continuing to review pop culture. My first movie review was “Die Hard” in 1987.
For a few years I was the entertainment editor, then the features editor. I got lucky along the way and won some writing awards. Then The Detroit News came calling.
In 1996, at the age of 46, I moved my family from the beaches of California to Michigan. I started out at The News as pop music writer, then morphed through pop culture writer, lifestyles columnist and TV writer, all the while still reviewing movies. In 2002, I landed my dream job and became the paper’s full-time film critic.
Since that time, I have reviewed literally thousands of films, some wondrous, some awful, most on a scale in between. My opinions have never been right or wrong; they’ve just been my opinions, inevitably colored by my own background and perspective. I think part of a critic’s function is to serve as a marker of sorts; readers get to decide whether I’m generally right or a knucklehead. Either way a service is provided.
More importantly, hopefully, a conversation is started. I have always found popular culture to be a keen and telling reflection of our hopes, our fears, our collective and individual selves. I’ve tried to include that perspective in my writing, tried to get at the bigger picture.
Now, after 19 years at The News, I find myself retiring from the full-time film critic job. I hope to continue writing reviews on a part-time basis for as long as possible.
It has been my honor and privilege to write for this paper’s readers. Thank you so very much for reading.