"NEVER talk to strangers," my parents admonished me as a child. Occasionally, breaking that rule (as an adult) can bring treasured surprises. Years ago, while standing alone at the sales counter in Barnes and Noble, wanting to share the hauntingly beautiful music I had just discovered, I turned to the 'stranger' standing next to me, Joe Morgenstern, and broke my parents rule.
Thus began our wonderful friendship.
As you, dear reader, will soon see, Joe Morgenstern, winner of the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 2005 (making him only the third film critic to win a Pulitzer for criticism), is one of those rare, multi-talented creative individuals. The range of his genius extends from the written word to the photographic image.
Reading the written word offers opportunities to conjure up images giving life to those words. When one views a photograph, one is also provided with an opportunity to connect that image with something personal. I am astounded at Joe's unique use of both words and images, and what he offers us, the reader/viewer to think about.
Many writers are technically correct and present important information to the reader. Often, for me, their words simply drop off the page into the ether, rarely to be recovered again by my brain. Joe is not one of those writers. He is renowned for his use of vocabulary and humor.
While reading his film reviews in the Wall Street Journal, I stop at some combination of words and wonder, "How did he think of that?" An example of one of his 'Morgenstern zingers' is in his WSJ review of the film HUGO on November 25, 2011. "Visually, Hugo is a marvel, but dramatically it is a clockwork lemon." Only Joe!!!
In viewing his photographs, it is as if his award winning words inform his exquisite images. He seems to see things in the most logical and yet unique ways. He fills your brain with words and images you want to hold onto and remember. At eight years old, when children are beginning to find their passions, Joe fell in love with photography. He began to photograph the world around him with his first camera, a gift from his parents, a Brownie 616.
He moved on to a twin lens reflex drugstore imitation of a Rolleiflex camera offering him the opportunity to look down into viewfinder while photographing things available to him in and around his home in Teaneck, New Jersey. While in Jr. High School he had an image of himself as a semi-professional photographer while shooting football, using sheet film in his Bush Pressman, a sort of poor man's Speed-Graphic. Although he has had millions of words appear under his byline, he finds it thrilling to have few photos appear with his name credited.
Joe, as you can sense, is well-educated. He graduated from Lehigh University in 1953. He began his life long journey of journalism as a news clerk at the New York Times. Following that he became foreign correspondent for the Times, based in Switzerland and France. In 1959 he became an entertainment reporter for the New York Herald Tribune, later advancing to theater/music critic.
From 1965 until 1972 Joe worked as the film critic for Newsweek>. During this time, his most famous review was when he initially panned Bonnie and Clyde, then reconsidered his opinion and reversed himself in an essay that appeared the following week. That reversal is widely considered to have saved the film from obscurity, since Warner Bros., faced with generally negative reviews, was resisting wide distribution until Newsweek published Joe's second piece. From 1983 to 1988 he wrote a column for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner
Since 1995, Joe has been the Wall Street Journal's film critic. His work has also appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Esquire, the Columbia Journalism Review and the Los Angeles Times Magazine. For television he has written "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble" and several episodes of "Law & Order." He founded the National Society of Film Critics, and also reviews films weekly for KCRW.
Reading his words and seeing his images is a true interactive experience allowing you to both see and feel. From his eighth year of life to the present moment, Joe finds it enchanting to be able to capture images on film. And as one of his ardent fans, I am so happy to be able to share with you the beautiful images of Joe Morgenstern.