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Dick Arneson
La Jolla


At breakfast on Friday, I was distressed to read that I was in fact to be reading Duncan Shepherd’s last movie column. While I know it is inevitable that he would sooner or later retire, I have to say that you ought to try to talk him out of it, for your sake as much as anyone else’s: the rest of the Reader — the political muckraking, the human-interest pieces, the restaurant reviews, etc. — are all very well and good, but it is only Shepherd’s column that has made me make certain to pick up a copy each week.

I know the initial impression he tends to make is that he is the Mr. Crankshaft of cinema, but that’s because he holds films to the highest of standards. Many people who criticize him go to movies with the attitude of “How can I kill two hours?” Shepherd’s main criterion seems to be, “If you knew you had a month left to live, would this film be worth your time?” It’s not surprising that the answer is usually no. Shepherd demands of films that they be sincere, that they are genuinely human and humane. You can learn a lot about movies from reading his columns, regardless of whether he was writing about instantly forgettable junk or a masterpiece.

It never bothered me that he didn’t think much (at all) of my two all-time favorite films or that I have zero interest in French cinema or that I’m mystified by his enthusiasm for Tombstone. His reviews operate on a very different level from those of other reviewers. Reviews from other reviewers seem to me more or less interchangeable, but you’d never mistake one of Shepherd’s columns for someone else’s. His are an art in themselves.

I write in present tense, not only to avoid sounding like an obituary but in hopes that he won’t completely retire. I have been meaning to write in and suggest that a book be made of his best columns: your website only has the brief blurbs of his old reviews, and I for one would like to see the actual essays.

Parke Troutman
via email

Slangy Lingo, No Verbs

Notwithstanding the fact — obvious to all but the most casual of Reader readers — that Duncan Shepherd’s impending (and much deserved, after 38 years of suffering — his as well as perhaps ours) retirement will provoke yelps of jubilation on the parts of many — those who do not agree with the self-evident principle that 90 percent of anything (film, music, art, literature) is bad and therefore deserving of the “black spot” (his ubiquitous awardance of which I have always personally been very pleased with)…

A different view. My gripe is that after a lifetime of writing, Duncan Shepherd never could write English. The lack of a main verb his most obvious flaw. Random use of “hip,” slangy lingo pretty much totally incongruous with the largely passive, stilted mode. Much more annoying, lists, separated only with commas, all other punctuation (save for the frequent intrusions, bracketings, and hyphenations, of references accessible not even to film buffs, only film obsessives, non sequiturs — or whatever the plural is) being eschewed, running on, possessing the quality of computer translations from German, the reader’s attention (even one who can stomach Proust) wandering, splitting, finally to plunge into a grammatical mélange the likes of which reading past without entertaining the idea the man has no idea what he’s talking about, is scarcely possible.

Still, nobody’s perfect. All the best, Duncan!

Justin Roberts
via email

Hope For The Future

I was sorry to read of Duncan Shepherd’s retirement. Though I didn’t agree with everything he liked and didn’t like, I always enjoyed reading his columns. I hope in the future the column will maintain the level of writing Mr. Shepherd established and upheld.

Paul Slayton
via email

Essays? Perhaps Books?

Duncan Shepherd, you have decided to quit writing your column. This is sad news for me. You have always been my favorite columnist at the Reader. My enjoyment of your column has never been based on personally agreeing with your opinions about individual movies. I find that Leonard Maltin better reflects my cinematic tastes but definitely not my tastes in literature about the cinema.

Your column was refreshing, singular, challenging, erudite, at times maddening, and at all times entertaining and thought provoking. Indeed, I have often derived more enjoyment from reading your column than I have from seeing some of the films you gave three stars to. I hope you continue to publish new essays, maybe even some books. I hope you enjoy your new freedom to indulge in your love for cinema.

Now that you have more free time, I recommend that some of your time would be well spent revisiting the films of Howard Hawks, George Stevens, and Vincente Minnelli. As is the case with Frank Capra and Alfred Hitchcock, the entertainment value of their films multiplies with increased familiarity. This cannot be said for 99 percent of narrative cinema. You may discover that you have often underrated Howard Hawks, George Stevens, and Vincente Minnelli. Someday you may even realize that Bringing Up Baby merits no less than five stars.

Best wishes for continued prosperity, and whatever you do, don’t stop writing.

John Pertle

Lots Of Proof

Had I read Mr. Deegan’s article “Einstein, That Clown” (“City Lights,” November 11) a year ago, I would have been shocked both at Mr. Iaquinta’s ignorance and his willingness to broadcast it. After all, while (special and or general) relativity may be tough concepts to grasp for a layperson like Mr. Iaquinta, you would expect that the fact that the GPS system in his car would not be functioning properly if not for the corrections made to account for relativity would be at least partly convincing to him. Maybe the now-numerous experiments showing light curving around the sun during eclipses would have sealed it for him. Or maybe the wobble of the planet Mercury as it hits its perihelion, a phenomenon that is predicted by and unexplainable without general relativity, might sway him. Maybe the fact that the basis for atomic weapons and nuclear power are contained within that one beautiful equation that tells us the amount of energy held within matter: E=MC2. Or how about the most damning evidence of all: the fact that for the better part of a century, physicists of much greater education and intelligence than Mr. Iaquinta have been investigating and testing relativity all around the world and there hasn’t been a single published paper that contradicts relativity.

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