By William Wolf

MISSING JUDITH CRIST  Send This Review to a Friend

This is a sad time in the world of film criticism. Only recently the death of Andrew Sarris reminded us of how important a film critic he was. Now the recent death of Judith Crist is another loss. She was a film critic who won fame for her populist reach that in her most productive years brought sharp opinions to millions via The Today Show, TV Guide and other publications, including the New York Herald Tribune. Apart from admiring her accomplishments, I had a personal affection for Judith as a colleague.

There was a wonderful celebration of her life on November 12th at the Graduate School of Journalism School at Columbia University, where she taught for more than 50 years. A retinue of those who knew her from various perspectives spoke, and it was all very moving, although the nature of her personality gave rise to plentiful humor as well. The tribute added up to a view of a remarkable, one-of-a-kind woman of stature and influence. The affection for her was reflected in remarks by the series of speakers, including Nicholas Lemann, Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism; Judith’s son Steven Crist, who chaired the memorial; theater producer Jeffrey Richards; friends Stephen Silverman and Shirley Sealy; actor Simon Jones; Laurel Holland, her assistant extraordinaire, among others.

Crist’s sense of humor was reflected by the choice as speakers of actors Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, who brought merriment to the occasion, including Meara's ribald description of Judith’s Riverside Drive apartment as a place that “would have made a good cat house.” Now that’s the kind of celebration of life that I like.

I knew Judy as a colleague with whom I sat at many a screening. I enjoyed her crisp comments afterward when we sometimes shared a cab uptown. Judy liked to sit in the back row of the screening rooms we frequented. So did several others. Someone once referred to the occupants of those seats as murderers' row. An exaggeration. But it was a perspective from which we endured great films and dogs.

I also recall Judy's effective participation in the New York Film Critics Circle, in which she served as chairman. (In those days it was not chairperson.) She had a special presence by virtue of her positions and experience. Also, in talking with Judy, it was clear that she relished her journalistic roots, still very much a part of her.

I remember one rare and amusing occasion when Judy, for whatever unusual reason, arrived ten minutes after a screening had started. On her way out a fledgling press agent approached her and innocently noted her lateness ( a definite no-no) and offered to fill her in on what occurred at the beginning of the film, which happened to be a terribly awful one. Judy restrained her temper and gently replied, “I think I can figure it out for myself."

Whenever I found myself with Judy there was always a friendly interplay, and my wife Lillian and I recall fondly a night when after a screening we had dinner with her and her husband Bill a few years before his death.

And then there were Judy's annual parties which she arranged along with her son Steven and his wife Robin. Judy called them "Survivor" parties, the annual bashes attended by friends and colleagues who, while reminiscing about past experiences, would have fun in an atmosphere very much of the present. Notables of film and theater among Judy’s entourage of acquaintances would also attend.

A stroll through Judy's Riverside Drive apartment would reveal posters and signed photographs reflecting her activities and acquaintances through the years and the respect she had earned in the film community.

I recall conversations with former students of her film classes at Columbia University. They all sang praises for her as a teacher who had inspired them, and they talked about what they had learned as having been important in their ensuing careers.

At her final Survivor party last year, she was frail from the cumulative effects of illness, but just as spunky and spirited as always. Her various obituaries referred to her witty lines in her reviews. Those will stand permanently. But for me the personal memories of Judy are foremost as I ponder her loss. She was surely an original and one of the most accomplished women I have known. I miss her personally as well as professionally. Posted November 26, 2012.


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