THE FLAIR Q+A





LISA SCHWARZBAUM



Veteran journalist, brilliant writer and former movie critic - and all around great gal - Lisa is an inspiration on creating your unique path, being your own person and navigating the world of entertainment - all with grace, humor and style.





Tell us about your business or specialty.

I have been an arts and culture journalist for decades. And for more than two of those decades I was a nationally recognized critic—mostly about movies, also about books, theater and TV—at Entertainment Weekly magazine. These days I am a locally recognized hapless gardener in Tivoli, NY, and I occasionally write for The New York Times Book Review.  How'd you get to where you are now? My journalism career was a study in meandering—first writing for The Boston Globe, then public television, then The New York Daily News, and then EW, where a senior editor changed my life by suggesting that I become (at the time) the magazine’s second-string movie critic. Women were then in short supply as critics they still are. 


What surprises you in your work?

Movies bring out weird passions in otherwise sane people. Some readers loved me. Some hated me (or at least the “Lisa” represented on the page). And they felt that love or hate just because they agreed with me (or didn’t)—or, more to the point, I agreed with them. Or didn’t. I was active just as the culture “conversation” was intensifying as a result of Internet comment boards and Twitter flame wars and the cruelty available in online anonymity. Back in the early days, someone had to scrawl a letter in crayon and put a stamp on an envelope to tell me I was an idiot. 


What drives you crazy?

See above, re: screaming opinions. But also, I think that the value and seriousness of cultural criticism—which, all joking aside, is one hallmark of a free and intelligent society-- has taken a huge hit these days as a result of the blurring of commerce and editorial and the apparently insatiable need of certain on-line “critics” to be the very first to opine about what they have just watched moments ago. See further above to understand why I now prefer to garden than to analyze “The Favourite” or “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I am, however, still delighted to watch movies, and to hear your opinion about them, and to then discuss where we should go for a drink. 


Who inspires you? (it can be anybody you know, or don't know)

One of my earliest influences was the reportage of Janet Flanner, who wrote for The New Yorker from Paris under the pen name “Genêt.” She wrote about what she saw, she kept her eyes open, and although she never used the word “I,” her perceptions could only have come from her. Similarly, I admired the fierce concentration and analytical skills of New Yorker dance critic Arlene Croce. These days I crave good reporting I can skip most opinions about everything. 


You're a trailblazer - what are some highlights?

I wrote the first extended magazine profile of a struggling 1990s sitcom called “Seinfeld.” I was once banned from a “Harry Potter” screening because Warner Bros. did not like how EW—then a Time Warner publication—was treating them. (I showed up anyway, and the flummoxed publicists did nothing to stop me.) And once, I sat in soundproof isolation on the set of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” as one of a trio of “Wise Men” available if a contestant needed help. Our contestant needed help. The question was about geology. We were the first team of Wise Men ever to give a contestant the wrong answer. 


Any lessons you’ve learned and would like to share?

It is okay to say, “I don’t know what I think. I need more time to consider.” 


Words of wisdom or advice...final thoughts?

Don’t use the word “curate” unless you work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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LISA SCHWARZBAUM, critic and essayist, was a movie critic at Entertainment Weekly from 1994 to 2013. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, More, TIME, Country Living, TV Guide, Vogue, and other publications. In the late 1990s she and Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers were co-hosts of “He Said/She Said” on CNN, and as a critic she appeared on “The Charlie Rose Show” and “Roger Ebert At the Movies.” A member of the National Film Critics Circle and a past chair of the New York Film Critics Circle, she served on the selection committee of the New York Film Festival from 2004-20088. Originally from New York City, Lisa now calls the Hudson Valley home.