David Ansen: Examining the Thought-Provoking Critiques

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David Ansen: A Lasting Legacy

Before the advent of the internet, a select few individuals were regarded as the go-to experts for cinematic information and reviews. One of those men was David Ansen, the iconic American film critic who penned reviews for Newsweek, Reuters, The Los Angeles Times, and The Hollywood Reporter for over 40 years. While some media outlets today would label him a “gatekeeper” of sorts, the term arguably sells short the complexity of his discourse. Ansen was above all an insightful, thoughtful commentator. His critique of films were known for their exhaustive detail and extensive analysis. In short, he was a master in the art of critique.

Personal Background and How He Became a Critic

David Ansen was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1945. His parents, both first-generation immigrants, were of Jewish descent. At the age of 13, Ansen became fascinated with films, books, and pop culture. This complex array of interests furthered his education beyond traditional schoolwork and acted as a form of alternate schooling.

By his 20s, Ansen had become an autodidact, reading widely across a multitude of genres. He completed his high school education at the University of Pittsburgh and followed it with a degree in English Literature from Yale. After graduating, Ansen became an editor for the low-budget production company that would eventually become the well-respected firm, Edgar J. Scherick Associates.

During his time at Scherick, Ansen found time to write reviews for The New Republic, Newsweek, The National Catholic Reporter, The New York Times, and The Hollywood Reporter. Following his tenure at the firm, Ansen left to pursue a career in writing full-time. Throughout the remainder of his career, Ansen wrote for a vast number of prestigious publications, including reviews for the Academy Awards and the Cannes Film Festival.

Ansen’s Evaluation Style

Ansen’s evaluation style always embodied a strong influence from his education. He was known for a wide range of critiques that encompassed an impressive variety of cinematic skills.

Here is an overview of the major elements Ansen considered in his critiques:

  1. Cinematic Structure: Ansen’s reviews largely focused on how a movie was structured and how it unfolded in front of the audience. One of his most notable points of critique focused on the use of medium shots and close-ups, examining how their use in certain parts of the movie impacted the overall viewing experience.

  2. Camera Technique: Ansen was known for his expansive knowledge when it came to evaluating camera work. He focused heavily on the use of lighting and color, as well as discovering how a certain shot was framed to elicit certain emotions.

  3. Performance: Ansen was highly interested in the performances of actors on-screen. He conducted in-depth analysis on how the actors delivered their lines, noting the subtle cues and gestures used to evoke certain points of tension.

  4. Editing: Ansen was notable for noting the editing of a particular film, particularly when it came to pacing and overall enjoyment. He watched for moments that might cause the story to slow down, and commented on how this affected the viewing experience.

  5. Story Structure: Ansen was also known for his critiques of story structure. He paid attention to the internal dynamics of a film, particularly where a franchise was involved. He also paid attention to the narrative arcs of individual characters and how their arcs interrelate.

Why Ansen Matters Now

Ansen passed away in 2016, but his legacy in film critique lives on. Since his passing, many within the industry have pointed to Ansen as the leading advocate in film critique. During his career, Ansen valued the power of filmmaking above all else. He wrote thoughtfully and read widely, taking into account the nuances of any given film before offering up his critique. His advocacy of film signifies a shift in the industry’s attitude toward mainstream cinema, one that was built on Ansen’s foundation of in-depth analysis and critical thinking.

The impact of David Ansen’s work was felt far and wide. His influence in the industry brought about a new wave of film critics, who, like Ansen, sought not only to critique a film aesthetically, but to use it as a means to elucidate societal and cultural issues.

David Ansen was an icon in film critique whose lasting contributions still reverberate today. He was a passionate advocate of the craft, who wrote thoughtfully and read widely. Ansen’s probing analysis of the inner workings of a film, as well as his focus on its impact in culture, made him a unique voice in film critique. His influence in the film community continues to set the standard for critical thought. His work will no doubt be remembered for generations to come.

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