For 38 years, Duncan Shepherd served as the film critic for the weekly newspaper The San Diego Reader. Shepherd was a disciple of Manny Farber, a man Roger Ebert once called "the great iconoclast of American film criticism." Like Farber, Shepherd sought to assist moviegoers "in seeing what was in front of their faces, to wean them from Plot, Story, What Happens Next, and to disabuse them of the absurd notion that a film is all of a piece, all on a level, quantifiable, rankable, fileable." Instead of simply ...
For 38 years, Duncan Shepherd served as the film critic for the weekly newspaper The San Diego Reader. Shepherd was a disciple of Manny Farber, a man Roger Ebert once called "the great iconoclast of American film criticism." Like Farber, Shepherd sought to assist moviegoers "in seeing what was in front of their faces, to wean them from Plot, Story, What Happens Next, and to disabuse them of the absurd notion that a film is all of a piece, all on a level, quantifiable, rankable, fileable." Instead of simply describing a film's attributes, he took hold of it like Jacob wrestling the angel, and sought to see it face to face. The Five-Star Reviews collects those relatively few films that merited his highest indicator of priority, from 1924's The Last Laugh to 2009's A Serious Man.
84 films in all. Each one is hyperlinked to the table of contents for convenient browsing:
The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe | Alice in the Cities | Alphaville | Anatomy of a Murder | Beauty and the Beast | Bell, Book, and Candle | The Big Clock | The Bride of Frankenstein | The Bridges of Madison County | Cold Heaven | Contempt | Curse of the Cat People | Curse of the Demon
The Damned | Day of Wrath | Days and Nights in the Forest | Death in Venice | Dersu Uzala | Diary of a Chambermaid | Diary of a Country Priest | Dodes' ka-den | The Driver | East of Eden | The Exterminating Angel | Eyes without a Face | Fados | Fargo | The Fire Within |
Goodbye South, Goodbye | The Hidden Fortress | High and Low | I Vitelloni | Je T'Aime, Je T'Aime | Kings of the Road | Kiss Me Deadly | La Guerre Est Finie | The Last Laugh | Last Year at Marienbad | L'Avventura | Le Samourai | Les Maitres-Fous (The Witch-Doctors) | The Long Day Closes |
Mado | The Magnificent Ambersons | The Makioka Sisters | A Man and a Woman | The Merry Widow | Mirage | Muriel | Mystic River | Nazarin | Niagara | Nightmare Alley | The Night of the Shooting Stars | Olympia | Ordet | Out of the Past | Pather Panchali | Peter Ibbetson | The Portrait of a Lady | Providence |
Repulsion | Rocco and His Brothers | The Scent of Green Papaya | Second Breath | Second Chance | A Serious Man | Sherlock Jr. | The Silence | Spirit of the Beehive | Stevie | The Thing | Touchez Pas au Grisbi | Trouble in Paradise |
Ulzana's Raid | Un Chien Andalou | Under the Sun of Satan | Vampyr | Vidas Secas (Barren Lives) | Walkabout | Wild Child | Wild Strawberries | The World of Apu | Yojimbo
Duncan Shepherd, film critic, wrote a regular column for the alternative weekly, the San Diego Reader, from October 1972 until November 2010, his pithy, incisive reviews sparking strong reactions from readers.
Born and raised in Minneapolis, Shepherd attended Columbia University ("a school chosen solely for the number of proximate movie theaters in New York City," according to the critic) and received a Master's degree from the University of California, San Diego. His thesis, entitled "Scratching the surface: a speculation into the importance of the image in a movie and the neglect of the image in movie criticism," was published in 1974.
At UCSD he served as a teaching assistant in film classes taught by the noted critic and painter Manny Farber, whom Shepherd first met in New York, where he helped in the assembly of Farber’s retrospective critical collection, Negative Space. Shepherd also served as a "sounding board" for a 1971 Farber essay on director Raoul Walsh ("He Used to Be a Big Shot") published in Artforum magazine.
At the San Diego Reader, Shepherd awarded "priorities" to movies from one to five stars, with "antipathies" receiving a black spot. Five-star reviews became rare: only four movies since 2000 have received the highest rating: Mystic River (2003), Stevie (2002), Fados (2007), and A Serious Man (2010). Fewer than 100 films were listed as 5-star films, while nearly 2,000 have had the black spot bestowed upon them.
Favorite directors with a number of five-star films include Alain Resnais and Akira Kurosawa. Among contemporary directors, Shepherd praises perhaps the Coen brothers, Clint Eastwood, and Hou Hsiao-hsien the highest.
A chief concern of the critic is cinematography, which he frequently commented on in his column using descriptive language: he did not care for the "dingy, dungeony image" of the Academy Award-winning Chicago, for example. Nor does he much appreciate digital video, which he typically finds blurry and fuzzy. The then-state-of-the-art digital video found in George Lucas's Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones was seen to be "somewhat overcast, monotoned, seemingly covered in a sort of pinkish-complected skin, like an unboiled wiener.”