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It had to end sometime. Now’s as bad a time as any. After thirty-eight years of them — commencing with a typo-marred encomium on Hickey and Boggs dated November 2, 1972 — this is to be my final column in these pages. (Brief pause for gasps of disbelief, yelps of jubilation, to die down....) There is, by way of explanation, by way of analogy, an Alain Resnais film called Love unto Death, one of the several unopened locally to which I alluded when addressing his Wild Grass earlier this year, wherein the protagonist drops dead at the outset and then spontaneously, miraculously, comes back to life. For the rest of the film till death reclaims him, however, he feels drawn to the Other Side and never all the way back into the swim. It’s a bit like that with me and my sabbatical of four summers ago. I’m not sure I ever fully recovered from my little taste of freedom and free will, not only my attendance at movies without notepaper and pen in my lap, or my trial membership in Netflix and my guidance by personal preference instead of professional obligation, but even more my increased reading time to make a reacquaintance with Thomas Love Peacock, to make further headway in Henry James, to make a start on Arnold Bennett. It was just a taste, in sober knowledge of the sabbatical’s limits and of the necessity to stay abreast of current releases (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Ocean’s Thirteen, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Live Free or Die Hard — that summer), but it was a taste that ­tantalized.

Any adequate account of my widening alienation would have to go back farther, spending a long time, too long a time, on the birth and growth of the paper’s website, whenever that transpired. It was one thing to work for a weekly periodical, to go into the office every Tuesday to proof the stuff on the page, to hold the newsprint in hand on Thursday, to walk in the footsteps of Mencken and Nathan, Agee and Farber. It was something very different to stand at this new frontier in cyberspace, to have to learn words and concepts such as “bloggers” and “posters,” to observe from afar the fraternity of critics herded into a site under the banner of Rotten Tomatoes and melted down into a consensus score on its Tomatometer, to witness the dilution of the fraternity in the “democratic” forum of the Internet. Something different for certain. What was it, ­exactly?

A brave new universe for some, maybe. In my little corner of it, the new frontier was a frontier undefended. Out of self-preservation, I was loath to tread there at all, and out of the same impulse, I was compelled. It took me years to do something about the ridiculous foot-wide lines of the capsule reviews online, ribbonlike blocks of type. I never could do anything about the unaccountable gap between paragraphs in the full-length reviews. (Was there ever a designer for this layout?) Printing codes that would be correctly translated on the page into diacritical marks, italics, whatnot, would at times — an untold number — show up in the text on the website as senseless clusters of letters and symbols, looking much like what passed for cusswords in the comic books of my youth. The subscription service that provides theater showtimes to the paper also provides, as an inextricable part of the deal, promotional capsules — papsules, let’s call them — on every new film, needing individually to be stopped from appearing online ahead of my own capsule or else overriding my own, an unsubsiding tide, as it were, of alien invaders, turned back by a vigilant but overtaxed gatekeeper. A year ago an “update” of the entire system managed as a side effect to wipe out four months’ worth of capsules. And only recently came a push from within (I dug in my heels) to make online headlines different from in‑paper headlines so they’d be more “searchable” on Google, an objective beyond my ken. Then too, my Firefox browser, or engine, or whatever the hell it is, sees the site quite unlike my Safari (among other things transmuting every black-spot rating into a one-star, making no distinction). I know, for my sanity, to use the latter, but what are other people out there doing and seeing? This was never a battlefront on which I chose to fight. It divided and drained my resources and energies. It ate at me. The website shaped up as a separate and variant publication, unauthorized. Admitting that that’s the way of the future, better to get out while the paper is still a ­paper.

With total awareness that my personal myth, as the couch doctors might call it, is “The Princess and the Pea” (doubtless a common one for the professional faultfinder), I have come to regard SDReader.com as a pea the size of a pumpkin. I make enough flubs of my own without taking on others outside my control. If, mindful of all those, there remains any measure by which my lengthy tenure may be termed a success, it would simply be the incontestable fact that I have gotten to the end of it without literally having died of embarrassment. That, and perhaps the minor point of pride in my scrupulous avoidance, no more contestably, of the critical buzzword “pitch-perfect.” As points of pride go, that belongs right up there with my unblemished lifetime record at tic-tac-toe, 2‑0‑648.

To be sure, a more thorough account of my alienation would have to spend some time, besides, on the emergent parallel world of videos and DVDs, the replacement of the movie palace with the boxy multiplex, the spread of computer graphics, the epidemic of cosmetic surgery, four disparate phenomena that can be yoked together in their unintended consequence of devaluing, deglamorizing, demystifying the movies. But it is not necessary now to chart all the forces at work. In some haphazard fashion, that’s what I’ve been doing for close to four decades. Movies have changed. Periodicals have changed. Critics change, too. The battle, the thirty-eight-year war, was never imagined to be ­winnable.

Annual resolutions to be more accepting, more broad-minded, more in-touch, proved impossible to keep in the face of an entity like The Book of Eli, first film of the new year. And calculating the difference between The A‑Team and The Expendables, let alone between Iron Man and Iron Man 2, seems tantamount to calculating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. What difference is the difference? Things have pretty well settled into a pattern in the past thirty years, no relief in sight. Star Wars, Superman, Halloween, Animal House, and away we went. Same old same old. To shuffle in some high-def video here, some 3‑D there, some computer animation elsewhere, looks unlikely to usher in a renaissance.

Wait’s over. My feeling at the movies of late has reminded me often of my feeling at Tower Records (but how I miss it now it’s gone!) when I would be trying to browse the DVDs, maybe buy some Brahms, and the speakers would be blasting some ghastly shrieking metal racket that would say to me: We don’t want you here, Pops. Bug off. Old Hollywood, it would not be mere nostalgia to recall, always strove to be inclusive. Not with every movie, but with the aggregate. These days I find myself asking after a movie — a gestating new critical criterion now aborted before its public debut — whether, if I were not a critic, I’d have gone to it, and whether, having gone, I was glad I went. The declining percentage of affirmative answers translates into a declining percentage of hope. So I find myself, behind the wheel in the well-worn groove to the AMC Mission Valley 20 to see the likes of Hot Tub Time Machine, feeling an awful fool. The foot wants to ease up on the gas ­pedal.

With the flow of foreign films down to a dribble, the legion of independent filmmakers keen to sell out, digital talking-heads documentaries a dime a dozen, I’m more and more inclined, induced, inspired, to pursue some solitary line of inquiry such as why Jason Robards in the role of Doc Holliday doesn’t in my eyes damage or diminish Hour of the Gun, doesn’t dislodge it as my preferred version of the Wyatt Earp legend despite the better Hollidays in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and Tombstone. Why (or when) is it that such an apparent weakness doesn’t weaken? I could churn out a few hundred words on the topic, but not without consciousness of slipping into a state of ­solipsism.

Attractive alternatives are fewer and farther between. Appaloosa, a thickly disguised reworking of the Earp-Holliday tale, was a chewable bone thrown to us Western bitter-enders two years ago, but we would have to dig back five more years for another such bone, Open Range. A healthy movie industry ought to be hatching five of those every year, not one of those every five. It goes against my sense of the fitness of things. Could Hickey and Boggs or its equivalent come out today, a pair of marginal L.A. private eyes on a case that embodies E.M. Forster’s slogan of “only connect,” it would be by a mile the year’s peak pleasure. An inconceivability. The long and short of it is that what seems nowadays to fire up other people (3‑D, CGI, comic books, video games, Brangelina, the weekend box-office) seems unable to fire up me. That was always true to some extent, given the disparity between a casual interest and a vocational one. But the extent has yawningly ­widened.

No leave-taking would be quite proper without some paltry expression of gratitude to an understanding and uninterfering publisher who for reasons of his own, reasons unknown, left me pretty much unsupervised for pretty near the whole of my working life. I couldn’t have asked for less. Another such expression should go to any reader who ever sent back an encouraging word. It seems almost as if there were not so many of them that I couldn’t thank each of them by name. Almost. One encouraging word weighed more than a thousand discouraging, and went far to alleviate any feeling of futility and absurdity. I appreciated them all, and, self-motivated though I am or was, I needed them. I suppose in some way I needed the discouraging as well — the way the Red Sox need the Yankees — although I concede they were seldom so ­appreciated.

The timing is such that Harry Potter and the Twilight people will have to finish their respective courses without me. But that’s one of the benefits. I won’t be standing in line to find out how it all turns out. This is, for me, virgin territory. Up to now, and for a lot longer than thirty-eight years, my goal has been to go to as many movies as possible. First it was a habit, then a job, finally a slog. All of a sudden the goal requires adjustment. My romance with movies, if that’s what it was, has cooled. Hasn’t, heaven forbid, ended. And it will be interesting indeed to discover how often I am willing to fork over the price of a ticket, brave the cellphones and the iPods, endure the preludial advertisements, attempt to blend in with the crowds of kids, etc. We shall see. Correction: I shall see. Franchisewise, it is with somewhat greater regret that I’ll miss out on writing about the forthcoming chapter in The Chronicles of Narnia, but I’ll not miss out on seeing it (in 2‑D if given a choice). There will always be, would always have been, ­something.

More agonizingly, I won’t be sharing any thoughts on the new treatment of True Grit come Christmastime. It’s the Coen brothers. It’s a Western. How could I resist? Oh, I can resist, even if this would have at least afforded me an opportunity to voice my dismay at an edit in the Henry Hathaway original, which I not long ago watched again on TCM. When Rooster has recounted the anecdote of how he once chased off the remnants of a posse on his tail by rounding on them with his reins in his teeth and a gun in each hand, Little Mattie ought to respond, “That’s a big story,” meaning a bunch of hooey, and Rooster in turn ought to toss back words to the effect that, well, she can believe it or not, but that’s how it happened. A crucial exchange — missing from the Turner print (the official DVD also?) — to set up one of the glorious moments in John Wayne’s career, when right before Mattie’s bugging eyes the “one-eyed fat man” hauls out the same tactic against Lucky Ned Pepper and three confederates in the mountain meadow. But there. I’ve already taken the opportunity, and I’m highly dubious about any re‑do of True Grit (though it won’t be too hard for Matt Damon to improve on Glen Campbell), and the year-end glut never allows time to do justice to any movie anyway. And what I’d really rather do is to step into a time machine and re-see the original at the Orpheum theater in downtown Minneapolis in the summer of ’69. How did Tennyson put it? “So sad, so fresh, the days that are no ­more.”

Enough ­said. ■

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MsGrant Nov. 10, 2010 @ 1:43 p.m.

I'll miss you, Duncan. I really hope you make a guest appearance for True Grit.


TedBurke Nov. 10, 2010 @ 3:08 p.m.

I am sorry to see you leave the pages of the Reader, web or otherwise. You've been one of very few to not be swayed to the chorus of fluctuating fashion. Although I have to say that I disagreed with your judgements more than half the time, I respected and look forward to your knowledge, your wit and the elegance of your prose. It was a good bet that if I wanted to defend a film you found wanting, I would have to "up my game". You have my gratitude that you kept up the good fight as long as you had; I hope someday soon I might again be able to read you again, when it's on your times, about what you find engaging.


nan shartel Nov. 10, 2010 @ 3:35 p.m.

oh Duncan...say it isn't so!!!

and don't give Don Bauder any ideas!!!

what will our DVD's do without ur insightful meanderings...i mean when u didn't like them u were a pleasure to read...maybe even more then when u did...hahahahahahaha ;-)


rickeysays Nov. 10, 2010 @ 4:46 p.m.

Good riddance to pretentious windbags. Now how 'bout bringing Josh back. He's doing movie reviews for Fox 5 and SanDiego.com. I've been missing his party crashers, and he could do movies too.


neuronet Nov. 11, 2010 @ 8:03 p.m.

I'm sure the Reader will provide you some monosyllabic grunts, maybe a nice thumb up or down, so that you can finally understand the reviews in its pages. Those of us that appreciate substance have lost a great resource.


rickeysays Nov. 12, 2010 @ 4:37 p.m.

You confuse bloviation for substance, pomposity for insight. (grunt grunt)


neuronet Nov. 16, 2010 @ 6:39 a.m.

You confuse intelligence with pomposity, and are one of those incapable of using the word 'intellectual' without placing a 'pseudo' in front of it.

Can you provide a single example of pomposity without substance in one of his full reviews? Perhaps you could find it in his review of Friday the 13th Part 23, or one of your other favorites.


David Dodd Nov. 10, 2010 @ 5:55 p.m.

Duncan, you're a throwback reviewer; yet, quite a master of adjectives and adverbs. I'll also miss it. And I was - I admit - looking forward to your review of the True Grit remake. When I first read of the impending release I was dumbfounded, the original was too good to touch. But I'll give you something to look forward to, based on the script:

It isn't a carbon copy of the original, but sticks very well to it; surprisingly well by Coen brothers standards. Some scenes have been altered (the original had Cogburn bringing in a bad guy when Mattie first found him to attempt to hire him, the scene now involves a commode and I'll leave it at that), and Damon's role is far different than that of Campbell, and so on, I don't want to give it away. With your retirement, perhaps you will become less dubious and so, like the rest of us movie-loving mortals, you'll rather become quite hopeful concerning such a brave gamble.

Success at what you decide to do next.


Founder Nov. 10, 2010 @ 6:08 p.m.

I hope you move to someplace safe and cool (Colorado?) like Don B. and continue to submit "guest" reviews from afar...

I'm sure you will continue to contribute in your own special way!



nan shartel Nov. 10, 2010 @ 9:50 p.m.

Don lives in Colorado??!!

that wily ole coyote!!!


monaghan Nov. 11, 2010 @ 9:57 a.m.

Duncan, I wish you well, though I have never forgiven your misogynistic description of the brilliant, beautiful performance of an aging Simone Signoret in "Madame Rosa." I always read your reviews, though I ususally discounted your quirky ratings.

Your leave-taking touches on the wrenching changes in life over the last 38 years -- I have lived in San Diego for 40 -- and it IS the equivalent of our losing Tower Records where, unlike you, I always loved whatever music was playing and the swabbies browsing the aisle with me.

Most notable for me was your columnist's funny description of the complete editorial freedom you have had from your publisher -- a rare and high tribute to a remarkable self-effacing person who personally manages a truly alternative weekly newspaper that survives in a town where other journals struggle, fade or fail.


nan shartel Nov. 11, 2010 @ 1:34 p.m.

please don't bring up Tower Records monaghan...now i'll have to find my Kleenex again :-{


Filibuster Nov. 11, 2010 @ 1:39 p.m.

Truly sad news for me, Duncan, but all good things must come to an end. I grew up in San Diego, and though I left nearly two decades ago, I continued to read your insightful, beautifully crafted essays in the online Reader on a weekly basis. None of the reviewers "aggregated" on Rotten Tomatoes, including the so-called "top critics" (says who?), offer the kind of contextually rich analysis you have always provided, and seriously assess films as works of art rather than as mere vehicles of entertainment. I once lamented your absence on Rotten Tomatoes, and found it inexplicable that you were being ignored or shut out, but I have come to realize that most reviewers aren't even fit to be in your company. Ironically, I have rarely accepted your starred ratings, which are so low or inflated as to make me seriously wonder whether their intent is mischievous rather than informative, but your words have always been truthful, witty, and engaging. While I will no longer be able to hear your voice in the Reader, I will continue to ask myself every time I leave the theater, "What would Duncan think of that?" Is there a greater tribute one can pay? Take care, and a long and happy life to you.


Derzu Nov. 11, 2010 @ 2:33 p.m.

Duncan, Duncan, Duncan, I'm floored. I count myself amongst your most loyal and adoring supporters. (See my comment to your column on Manny, 8/27/08.) I have treasured and anticipated and relied upon your reviews since 1975. (Before that, they weren't so hot....Now I jest.) (After watching it, I actually didn't realize Hereafter was a two star movie--I'd foolishly given it three--until I read your review last week.) How the bloody heck am I going to know what I think about True Grit when it comes out, without reading your review? How am I going to know if I like it? Reading you was half the fun of a Coen Bros. release. Sort of like a drum roll before and cymbal crash after. And I'll really miss you. And greatly. And what will you do? And what was your personal record for intentional consecutive sentences starting with the word And? Seems like such a simple thing, but who else does that? And all the very best of luck to you. You're simply the best, Derzu


bt5 Nov. 11, 2010 @ 3:03 p.m.

oh man! this is sad news. i ways looked forward to reading your reviews thursdays - then wednesdays went they went on line. i hope for posterity's sake they'll all be online still (somewhere[?]) - it's been so great to search through the thousands and thousands. you never sold out - a long-time fan


Donald Nov. 11, 2010 @ 6:22 p.m.

I've been reading Duncan Shepherd's reviews for the last twenty-five years, and I've always been floored by the sheer quality of his prose. He's a first-class critic, and San Diego is losing a local treasure. I wish him the best in whatever he does in the future, and I hope it involves writing.


neuronet Nov. 11, 2010 @ 7:56 p.m.

Duncan Shepherd is a San Diego institution, so this is a sad day. I have enjoyed his idiosyncrasies and erudition for almost fifteen years. This is a great loss to San Diego.

The Reader should have made a much bigger deal out of this, with a cover story, an interview, the web site should feature this as a headline story.

Duncan is the only reason I have continued reading the Reader these past years. How very sad to see him go.

After seeing a movie with my wife, one of the most enjoyable topics of discussion was "What do you think Duncan would say?" and trying to predict how many stars (or the dreaded spot of antipathy) he would bestow. It's so sad we will no longer be able to follow up on our predictions.

I hope they keep all of his reviews up, I am presently watching all of his five-star movies.


olderit Nov. 11, 2010 @ 9:46 p.m.

I absolutely agree with the last writer   neuronet.

Shepherd has been the best part of The Reader and consistently so.

SShepherd Nov. 11, 2010 @ 10:25 p.m.

Duncan, I've been enjoying your reviews for thirty-some years and I'm crushed that you're quitting. I wish you the best in your next adventures.

A fellow Shepherd and UCSD alum.


sd_rider Nov. 12, 2010 @ 8:56 a.m.

You will be missed. I've been reading your reviews since I moved to SD more than 20 years ago and have always enjoyed them, particularly when you disliked a film. I wish you all the best. Happy retirement!


bee1000 Nov. 12, 2010 @ 1:18 p.m.

Duncan, there are few people in any profession with the dedication and passion you had for yours. When your views failed to mesh with mine it could be frustrating, but understandable and, especially, respectable. Congratulations on your retirement!


jharry Nov. 12, 2010 @ 1:32 p.m.

Duncan, Very sad to read your last column. Ever since I came to San Diego 24 years ago I have spent countless lunches reading your reviews. I haven't always agreed of course -- my tastes are far more pedestrian than yours -- but it was the one thing in the Reader I never missed. J. Harry Jones, San Diego Union-Tribune.


sdnative1 Nov. 12, 2010 @ 4:08 p.m.

An existential fissure has opened in the universe.

The thought of your retirement rattles the tectonic plates of my own mortality.

I’ve been reading your reviews since a time when a southern Democrat without public marital issues occupied the White House and I could still ink a “1” on the left side of the digits when I wrote out my age.

I’d like to say that the disquiet I have is some sort of empathy for you and your confrontation of your life’s passage, but that would be a lie. My discomfort is nothing but straight-up self-centered sympathy for my own loss: the loss of a cinematic North Star. Something has gone that I took for granted, and films will never be the same for me.

In truth, I used you Duncan. I used you and your reviews. I used them to save me time and disappointment. I have never been much bothered by the loss of $2-$4-$6-$9.50 in going to see a bad film. It has always been the lost hours that truly griped me.

Life’s too short to spend watching bad films.

(Unless, of course, it was you watching those films so that I wouldn’t have to.)

But now that’s over. And I’m left adrift to attempt to discern the quality of films I haven’t seen from the writing of other film critics.

Suddenly, I feel nauseous.

Maybe some reminiscences will calm my stomach.

I remember first reading your column and being perplexed and annoyed, but, for some reason, I kept reading anyway.

I remember trying to figure out your non-standard rating system until it dawned on me that maybe, just maybe, one star was not an indictment of awfulness but simply meant “mediocre”—worth seeing, but not worth going to see.

I remember opening the Reader to your column first for many years.

I remember the post card you sent me with Clint Eastwood on the front in a response to a letter I wrote to you about how I wrote to Jules Feiffer in regards to his script for Resnais’ "I Want to Go Home".

I remember your strong appreciation for Robert Wise and his work, an appreciation so strong that it inspired me to go meet him when I had the chance to do so and being glad I had done so.

I remember many times sitting in a darkened theater as the startling pop of an old soundtrack announced the scratchy black-and-white opening credits to a film I would never, ever, have gone to see without your recommendation—and that I would have missed out on forever.

In short, Duncan, you ruined movies for me by showing me what films could be.

I don’t think I can ever repay you for that.

Bon voyage, DS.


JasonA Nov. 12, 2010 @ 4:13 p.m.

Duncan, you do what all great writers do - provoke, inspire, anger, challenge. Thanks for giving us a piece of your mind, and I mean that in the best possible way.


Edward Nov. 12, 2010 @ 6:03 p.m.

Duncan's reviews are always a pleasure to read. Regarding the ratings, those who haven't read it before should check out "Duncan Shepherd Replies to His Critics" at "http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/19..."


MarkScha Dec. 5, 2010 @ 7:04 p.m.

I re-read it. If I were his editor, it would have gone out as "Duncan Shepherd Replies to the Least of His Critics." If he had replied to the greatest of his critics, I would have been impressed.


kdraines Nov. 12, 2010 @ 7:37 p.m.

Mr. Shepherd, like many when I first read your reviews I despised you. Not for your opinions but the way you expressed them. I gradually came to realize I simply despised my own lack of compositional artistry. You taught me to be a better writer, or at least aspire to be. You're the only professional cinephile whose singular review truly matters to me anymore.

You will be missed greatly.


AFan Nov. 12, 2010 @ 10 p.m.

I've been reading your column ever since moving to San Diego 20 years ago. As others have said, it was the best part of the Reader. I wasn't so interested in the question of whether or not I'd agree with you, especially since I never saw so many of the films that you reviewed (and thanks for letting me know that it was safe to skip so many of them, and unsafe, at least for my emotional state, to attend). Instead, I loved your writing. Not just the devastating bits (which so often made my laugh out loud), but also your expressions of deep cinephilia, and the overall sensibility you conveyed. When you cared about something (or someone -- I remember how moving you were on Manny Farber), you were able to make me care. Just a pleasure to read, every week (except when you were unaccountably missing). Which is not to say, of course, that I didn't learn about movies from you. I thought of specific films, and think of films in general, in new ways because of you, and I learned about, and went to see, wonderful films that I'd have never known about if not for you.

Your departure from the Reader is a great loss, and you'll be missed. I don't suppose there's any point in asking you to reconsider?

All the best, and thanks so much for everything!


user12 Nov. 13, 2010 @ 10:12 a.m.

I first opened up a Reader in the late 90s and was immediately hooked after reading your reference to Cameron Diaz as "a smile-on-a-stick". Mr. Shepherd, yours are the most articulate, witty and observant film reviews I've ever read. Though I don't always agree with your lower ratings, I feel I cannot go too far wrong by giving a try those films highly recommended by you. Thank you, sir, and have a wonderful life!


sandiegocynic Nov. 13, 2010 @ 12:12 p.m.

You will be missed, Mr. Shepherd, for your passion about your subject; for your belief that cinema can be as profound as literature, music, art, or theater, and your conviction in holding films to that high standard; for your fearless vocabulary, which sent me running to my dictionary on many occasions; for your concise, humorous observations; for your fascinating digressions away from your topic sentences; and perhaps most of all, for being an unapologetic intellectual in a city full of yahoos, poseurs, and scam artists.

Thank you for introducing me to Kiarostami, Resnais, and Melville. Your recommendations on Westerns and detective/crime films were always in line with my own tastes. As I read your final column, a copy of Dmytryck's Mirage arrived from Netflix, which I probably would not have sought without one of your rare 5-star ratings attached to it.

Best wishes to you, and I hope you'll consider maintaining a blog just to air your thoughts occasionally!


OldAcquaintance Nov. 13, 2010 @ 5:38 p.m.

I'll never forget your personal recommendation of "Babe" as the "Citizen Kane" of talking pig movies...and it was. You'll be missed.


Lang Nov. 13, 2010 @ 5:56 p.m.

I could tell that Mr. Shepherd didn't enjoy his work. How could he attend film after film that he totally hated. He seemed to hate almost anything made in America. But he had to go to see them even though he knew he would hate them. His comment about dreading to continue driving to see "Hot Tub Time Machine" shows that he would sometimes pre-judge based on the title.

I never looked to him as a guide to what I would watch since he hated just about everything. I appreciate the more "popular" critic that actually tells me what a film is about and then gives his opinion. After reading many of his critiques I had no idea what they were about or if I would enjoy seeing them. I'm suprised he lasted that long without going a little batty.


michaelt Nov. 13, 2010 @ 9:33 p.m.

Duncan, I've read every one of your weekly reviews since 1993. I've also probably read 95% of your archived blurbs.

Like many readers I was initially taken aback by your criticisms (the first one that I remember being struck by was Schindler's List).

Over time it became clear that you were writing from a higher vantage point than I'd ever encountered in a reviewer - your knowledge of movie history, your perceptiveness, and your ability to tersely express complex ideas were overwhelming. You treated movies as art, and those willing to follow along came here to learn.

It was wonderful to see or rent a movie with no other recommendation than that you'd starred it - samurai, eyes without a face, everything Mike Leigh.

And I could not wait for a new Kurt Russell movie to come out, knowing that it would likely get more stars than anything else that year. Him, and Clint, the Coens, Sissy Spacek, Alexander Payne, Michael Moore...

I am one of thousands of readers who desperately want your long-form reviews to be published - from the beginning - without edits or redaction. Please consider going so.


mike1 Nov. 14, 2010 @ 10:10 a.m.

I knew this day would have to come. My Thursdays will never be the same. Your reviews were always interesting and insightful. I would especially get a kick from reading a black dot review while on the next page an ad for the same movie would have the usual thumbs up from Roger Ebert, the "one hell of a thrill ride" from Peter Travers, and the like. And then the letters to the Reader asking for a different critic from the same pool. I hope they don't get their wish. I've made a point to see your 3 star and higher reviewed movies and taken a printout of your 4 and 5 star reviews into Kensington video (and use it with, yes, netflix.) I know I speak for many when I say I hope there will be a place where you will post your thoughts/reviews on upcoming films that you choose to see and recommend. Either through the Reader site or somewhere else. Thank you Mr. Shepherd


robgilley Nov. 14, 2010 @ 3:08 p.m.

With the departure of Duncan Shepherd's column, I can only imagine a future where we will be force fed thinly-veiled corporate drivel of vapid boot-lickers, Clockwork Orange-style. Gone will be the days of The Great Hollywood Ego Crusher, The Foreign Film Majorette, the man that could wield a pen like a poleax.

Questionable antipathies not withstanding, Duncan's reviews were the one thing I depended on. His columns were used as a Tombstone  ace-in-the-sleeve, a trump card that could slide across the table and say, "Look, dude, intelligent life does too exist in San Diego".

God, how that man could piss me off. I can still barely talk about the time he gave one star to my favorite film of all time, Network, and three to Star Trek 3.


Disagreements with Mr. Shepherd were quickly forgotten, though. About two sentences in. His writing could debilitate me like few others, and when he hated a movie that I didn't like either I would get all hyped-up and cheer him on like Seabiscuit on the home stretch.

That's one dude that could turn a paragraph. He will be sorely missed.

  • rob gilley

GeorgeM Nov. 14, 2010 @ 8:20 p.m.


Thank you for the many years of consummate professionalism. Here on the Left Coast, where far too many people with the attention span of a gnat cannot discriminate between a problem and an inconvenience, your scintillating command of the English Language and uncompromisingly professional reviews often challenged me to improve my vocabulary, whist saving me from what would have resulted in some senseless expense of time and resources.

While not personally acquainted, your work has commanded my respect for more than 30 years. It would be a pleasure to make your acquaintance and thank you for a job extremely well done Sir.

I do hope the Reader has the good sense to bid you a fond farewell and would be moved by my suggestion to hold a reception in your honor, whereby your fans could say hello, thank you, and be able to place a face with a name. THERE would be an "eclectic group!"

Hell, finding the common ground of uncommon commonsense, we Coen Bros afficianados might make some new friends!

Regardless, thank you again for providing a great sign of intelligent life within our community. You have been a decided asset to us all. May God bless you and keep you well. Best regards. GeorgeM


clarkjohnsen Nov. 15, 2010 @ 11:53 a.m.


Why don't you try asking for a raise? Who knows!


lifer Nov. 15, 2010 @ 2:09 p.m.

Through the many years, I have loved reading your reviews. You are a human treasure, sadly unappreciated in your own town. Your reviews have consistently made the Reader worth reading. I completely understand your reasons for moving on and I wish you the greatest fulfillment. I hope you will continue to write about topics of your own choosing and make them available to us. San Diego has lost another unique pleasure. Farewell!


eeebeee Nov. 16, 2010 @ 10:49 a.m.

Wow. And not a good "wow," either.

I've been reading Duncan's movie reviews since I was a teenager (in the Seventies). Every week, without fail, I'd make sure I picked up a Reader, primarily to read the movie review.

Like so many other folks have said, for me it was not because I agreed with everything Duncan said, but rather because I enjoyed his insights and the quality of his writing.

Thanks, Duncan, for helping to keep the quality of San Diego culture higher than it would have been without your work. I will miss your voice.

Note to the Reader publisher: thanks to you, too, for giving Duncan a space to write. Please consider keeping his reviews available, if that is possible.

Ernie Bornheimer


sublimeade Nov. 16, 2010 @ 6:35 p.m.

Always appreciated you, Duncan Shepherd. Especially as I got older and I'd meet new friends who were younger, more into movies, but definitely the wrong age for movies. I've tried to convince them for years they're watching the wrong ones, they have terrible notions about what a movie should have and should be, and they're caught up in the moment. And now it looks like things are set to stay this way. But oftentimes, when I couldn't express myself, your words were the opinions I had swimming around in my head, but couldn't vocalize. I've only been here in SD since 2006, but thanks for 4 great years (and even when I still look up older reviews for classics). It's sad that the American cinemaphiles would rather rely on internet critics from an idiot generation than read the fine print. You're one of the last of your kind. Many thanks.

  • Larey

PhilB Nov. 17, 2010 @ 4:56 p.m.

I always enjoyed your work, even though I almost never even go to the movies. Your reviews were better than most of the movies.

You were also just about the last remaining reason for me to pick up the Reader. Probably won't bother much any more.

Good luck, and enjoy your retirement.


coffinberry Nov. 18, 2010 @ 9:39 a.m.

Add me to the long list of readers who will greatly miss Duncan Shepherd's reviews in the San Diego Reader. As many others have stated, I only sometimes agreed with his reviews, especially the star ratings (I many times wished he hadn't used them at all), but always found him thoughtful, insightful and so obviously a movie fan, a lover of movies, someone who always had something meaningful to add to the conversation.

Duncan, I wish you the best, whatever your future endeavors are and wherever you enjoy them. There will never be another like you.

Larry Coffinberry


xing_xing Nov. 18, 2010 @ 10:26 a.m.

Thanks, Duncan!

I'm thankful for all your great writing and the movies you've turned me on to - for me it goes all the way back to enjoying the Apu trilogy and other treasures at the Unicorn, thanks to you. And yes, I'll miss your thoughts on upcoming Coen brothers movies - it's always fun to have the "key" to their weird little tropes and phrases that you find.

All the best for your future, Mark Wooton


wggmn3 Nov. 18, 2010 @ 9:10 p.m.

To DS via TB: Just now reading in The Reader your comment on Senor Shepherd's rather sudden announcement of his retirement...as you pointed out one had to "up (one's) game" when one wished to defend a film he had found wanting...ultimately, whether one agreed with him or not, one always saw, heard, felt or thought of things which one had not done so on one's own...in the end the least yet, paradoxically, the most significant thing one could say is that he is a consummate stylist...again, whether one agreed or not, just reading him was not only an insight and a pleasure but was a lesson in the art of writing itself (hmmm? yep! that's what is meant by "a pleasure")...I just hope that he will now compile his best articles in a book, or books, a la Mencken and Nathan, Agee and Farber...


wggmn3 Nov. 18, 2010 @ 9:14 p.m.

To DS via TB: Just now reading in The Reader your comment on Senor Shepherd's rather sudden announcement of his retirement...as you pointed out one had to "up (one's) game" when one wished to defend a film he had found wanting...ultimately, whether one agreed with him or not, one always saw, heard, felt or thought of things which one had not done so on one's own...in the end the least yet, paradoxically, the most significant thing one could say is that he is a consummate stylist...again, whether one agreed or not, just reading him was not only an insight and a pleasure but was a lesson in the art of writing itself (hmmm? yep! that's what is meant by "a pleasure")...I just hope that he will now compile his best articles in a book, or books, a la Mencken and Nathan, Agee and Farber...


SteveBryant Nov. 19, 2010 @ 7:54 p.m.

Farewell, Duncan. As much as you disliked writing for a website, we who moved thousands of miles away from access to a physical copy of the Reader appreciate that you took the trouble. I've trusted only three critical voices in my time -- yours, Pauline Kael's, and Roger Ebert's. Of the three, yours was always the most quotable, and I'll miss your gift for language. Enjoy the NCAAs this year.


Alias_Jabez_Goethe Nov. 20, 2010 @ 2:01 a.m.

"I just hope that he will now compile his best articles in a book, or books, a la Mencken and Nathan, Agee and Farber..." ▬ ▬ ▬Amen to that.


capogue1s Nov. 21, 2010 @ 8:03 p.m.

Apologies in advance if this post is a bit lengthy, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t share a few thoughts regarding your decision to hang up the pen.

First off, a thousand thanks for your contributions over the decades. I’m beginning to realize how much I relied on your reviews to separate the wheat from the chaff. Who knows how much money (and frustration) you saved me over the years. Your critiques included more depth in analysis, more appreciation for the medium, than any other reviews I’ve ever read. I can honestly say that I became better educated about the art of cinema as a result of your work.

You would invariably add to my appreciation of a film that I already cherished, say, for example, “Persepolis” - by crediting features that I had overlooked. And when I would fall in love with a film that you were ho-hum about (“The New World” comes to mind), I would actually enjoy reading how you felt it missed the mark. More often than not, you would point out flaws that I was willing to rationalize away. I think what I’m trying to say is that you were an exceptionally great read for anyone who wanted to learn more about the nuances of film.

It strikes me as odd that readers of movie critiques so often want the author to simply validate the views they already hold, instead of approaching a review with the willingness to genuinely consider an opposing viewpoint. The Dark Knight illustrates my point. I’m not ashamed to admit that I fell for such mainstream fodder, yet I was hardly offended (as so many others were) at your black dot.

Your analogy about the Tower records store hits home. I share your dismay at the commoditization of movies to an extremely low bar. Likewise with a begrudging embrace of technological advancements. But there are flipsides to those coins: inside that sterile warehouse filled with throwaway pop music you were able to find a bin devoted to Brahms; and the Internet introduced your work to individuals who would have never read you otherwise. Case in point: I lived on the tiny Micronesian island of Saipan for over 16 years – my best friend suggested your columns after he had visited San Diego. I, in turn, recommended you to a handful of like-minded friends, and so on…

Which leads to a proposition. It takes nothing to start a blog, and you would be your own boss. No assignments, no deadlines, no pressure. If, and only if, you find the urge to comment on the likes of a “Cairo Time”, please consider sharing those thoughts – even if it amounts to only a couple of submissions a year. This might sound selfish – as if your purpose is to please readers like myself. I hope it does not, because I honestly believe such a side hobby would be immensely gratifying for you. You are, after all, a very gifted writer, and you might end up missing that more than you think. I will not be the only one doing an occasional Google search of your name, to see if you take such bait.


DJoyce Nov. 22, 2010 @ 6:33 a.m.

Many years ago, while in lawschool, it was 1974 I believe, Jim Holman hired me to stand on busy San Diego street corners to see if someone was stealing stacks of Readers. He was amazed at how quickly his publication was disappearing from the drop-off points and thought perhaps malfeasance was at hand. I reported to him that the magazines were simply popular, and taken one at a time by regular folk. I must have looked compeletly lost, hiding in doorways and staring at the stacks. I was constantly approached by Moonies who invited me to dinner. A couple of times I was in the Reader office talking to both Jim Holman and Paul Krueger about nothing in particular. The person I wanted to meet the most was Duncan Shepherd. Even at that early date, I knew that Duncan was special. I wanted for him to walk into the office so that he and I could go have a couple beers and talk about movies. His wonderful passion for good films was evident.

When Judith Moore died, I felt a real tummy punch. Even though Duncan is apparently leaving with good health in hand, his retirement also feels like a terrible loss. Farewell, my friend. I still hope someday to have a beer with you and talk about movies. Maybe we'll have dinner with the Moonies.


mosleylast Nov. 23, 2010 @ 9:09 p.m.

Dear Duncan,

I was a student of yours many years ago at UCSD, and a student of Manny's. I have followed your reviews over the past thirty years or so- -did that much time go by? One has to feel a certain eternal sadness that you have decided enough is enough. No one will replace your insight, which is why I read your column in the first place.

Thank you - Thank you - Thank you.


mateu Nov. 26, 2010 @ 11:04 a.m.

Like Steve Bryant said "Farewell, Duncan. As much as you disliked writing for a website, we who moved thousands of miles away from access to a physical copy of the Reader appreciate that you took the trouble."

I started reading the reader while at UCSD in the late 80's, totally unaware of Manny Farber, moved to Spain in '96, and was thrilled when I returned to the USA in 2000 to find out that ALL the Duncan reviews (okay, capsules, but still) were online.

Despite 1000 miles of distance between us, you are still the only film critic I really read. I enjoy your writing as much as the actual movie reviews. I laughed at the "smile-on-a-stick" line--which I missed when it originally appeared--because it reminded me of the first Duncan line that stuck with me. I can't find the review, but I believe he referred to the lead couple as a "a pair of narcissistic clothes horses".

As many have said, thanks for challenging us all to think more critically about movies, to consider their appearance as much as their scripts and actors, and for setting such a high standard for your quality of writing.

adéu senyor i a reveure, Mateu

PS Another vote for continuing to publish the full text of all Duncan's old reviews. One man wrote about 7000 films! Please make all those words available to everyone.


MillerJones Nov. 26, 2010 @ 9:45 p.m.

Thank you, Mr. Shepard. I read every word you wrote since the early 1980s and I never go to the movies. I did get dragged to “The Perfect Storm” some years ago and fell asleep in the middle. I still don’t know what happened to those guys. But you could have been writing about the ins and outs of anything I wasn’t interested in and I would have still read you. I did learn a lot about films, I loved your cadence, and the stuff between the lines. You never wrote down to us but always wrote up. Your distracters couldn’t reach those heights without stumbling over their own misunderstandings. And aside from your leaving the READER, that’s the saddest thing of all . . .


geneven Dec. 2, 2010 @ 2:22 p.m.

A friend just forwarded this article to me. I don't read this publication regularly, but I have turned to you for honest movie commentary from wherever in the world I have been, from Moscow, Barcelona, Manhattan, San Diego, and Agoura Hills, CA.

There will not be a replacement for Duncan Shepard.


acannell Dec. 3, 2010 @ 8:42 p.m.

this is horrible. there is an emptiness now that cannot be filled. Duncan, please, if possible, put your reviews on another site so they can be easily searched and will not be lost.


MarkScha Dec. 5, 2010 @ 6:37 p.m.

I lived in Poway from 1969 to 1982 and had not even heard of the Reader, let alone Duncan, until I spotted them at UCSD in 1978. I have long believed San Diego should have more than one movie critic-essayist, with more than one vision of what a film should be. One away, I used the LA Times and The New Yorker to fill that need.


MRooney Dec. 19, 2010 @ 11:12 p.m.

Dear Duncan,

Since moving from San Diego, I've slipped into the habit of browsing this webpage only every other month or so. So news of your retirement has traveled to me with a very unweblike sloth. Alas! It had to happen, but like the shuttering of a favorite theater or the death of a parent, it came as a terrible surprise nonetheless -- someone you always expect to be there, abruptly gone, their space occupied by some well-meaning but unfamiliar stranger. Fortunately, you are around to read our farewells. I wish you all the freedom from burden you could want, and give you many happy thanks for all the insights and pleasures. Free archive or no, I would buy a collection of your reviews in a snap.

Thank you.


P.S. If the Chargers don't make the playoffs this year, I will take the unhappy conjunction of these two events as evidence of a metaphysical curse on San Diego.


Creosote Dec. 23, 2010 @ 2:58 p.m.

Ah well. I came here specifically hoping to fund Duncan S's review of "True Grit" and learn instead that he has retired. As I haven't lived in the San Diego area in 25 years I don't look at the Reader more than once in a while, but one of the highlights from my grad school time at UCSD was Duncan's thoroughly justified trashing of Spielberg's E.T., which as I recall earned him death threats from outraged sentimentalists (a more dangerous bunch when aroused than jihadists).


wggmn3 Jan. 26, 2011 @ 8:49 p.m.

Having finally just seen it, and having been mightily impressed, I now miss DS's take on "True Grit"! Why did he have to retire just prior to its release and his observations regarding it? Hopefully, regardless of retirement, he won't be able to resist writing something soon.


Prosperina Oct. 12, 2012 @ 9:31 p.m.

o dear.... o no...... o.......... I hate this..... fare well fare well.


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