Thursday, January 7, 2010

In the Beginning...

In the fall of 2009, Kevin Courrier, Shlomo Schwartzberg and David Churchill met to discuss the possibility of setting up a website for film and popular culture critics who had once worked professionally in the media, but were now making their living doing other work. By the way, they didn’t eagerly choose to leave the profession. In the case of Kevin and Shlomo, a combination of unethical practices by their recent publications and the desire in their editors (or producers) for more “consumer-friendly” movie reviewers, left them seeking other alternative routes. David Churchill, on the other hand, saw the writing on the wall years earlier and - unhappy at what he saw coming – abandoned the profession in 1989.

What we perceived over time was a critical community that was becoming more defined and driven by blatant careerism, consumer reporting and a conformity among cliques rather than a pursuit of the world of ideas. Various broadcasters and publications, sensing fragile egos, soon began using economics as a pretense to begin firing their critics while simultaneously creating fear in those who did not wish to lose their jobs. We ventured to ply our trade elsewhere. While doing Critics At Large denies us the monetary rewards that we once earned, we can at least now have an autonomy that we were rapidly losing in the mainstream media. On a website, we could freely comment on matters in the popular arts that both excite and concern us. Shortly after we started the site, though, other writers signed up who were untainted by our experiences. They joined because they relished the freedom to discover their own voices which was the cornerstone of our goals. The focal point of Critics at Large then was to promote independent views on the cultural arts.

In the upcoming posts, Shlomo Schwartzberg, one of our veteran film critics, will unveil the movie behind the hype of Avatar, David Churchill will appraise the TV show Battlestar Galatica and Kevin Courrier will ponder the timeless voice of Blind Willie Johnson. Susan Green of Burlington, Vermont, and our other veteran film critic, has also joined us to contribute her sharp observations on movies, popular culture and politics. Andrew Dupuis, a recent graduate of the film program of Brock University, will also contribute thoughtful observations on genre pictures. Producer, director, musician and writer John Corcelli will discuss interesting areas of both theater and music. Mark Clamen will offer thoughtful analysis of the best-and worst-in television. Laura Warner has a varied interest in music, fashion, books and new technology. Deirdre Kelly will provide her insightful perspectives on dance. Mari-Beth Slade will explore a wide gamut from magazines to Young Adult fiction. David Kidney brings his sharp observations to popular music. Steve Vineberg takes us deeper into theatre. Catharine Charlesworth takes us into new horizons with examinations into the graphic novel. Amanda Shubert discusses the visual arts with her own distinct brand of poetic lyricism and insight.

We hope to stay on top of current fashions and trends, but we don’t seek to become fashionably trendy. From time to time, we will happily digress from whatever buzz happens to be in the air. But later this month, as a group, we do plan to have our own alternative views on the so-called “alternative” Best of the Decade film poll recently released by various film curators. We welcome all comments to our postings. The spirit of democracy in the arts is something we strongly cherish. We feel this spirit has been somewhat jeopardized by a desire generally among certain publications and broadcasters to be hot and happening rather than providing sometimes provocative, but intelligent discourse. Our efforts in the days to come will hopefully live up to our claims.

Just so you know who you are reading and where we once (or still do) ply our trade, here are the bios:

David Churchill has been a professional writer for over 25 years. As a freelance writer, he has worked as a film critic for numerous publications, including The Toronto Star Video Magazine, Now Weekly and Cinema Canada. He also wrote about the business of film for Strategy Magazine, The Hollywood Reporter and was the Canadian correspondent for 15 years for the US-based magazine Location Update/P3 Update. For T.O. Magazine, he wrote about poetry competitions, archaeology and architecture. He has also written two screenplays. One, The Sleeping Dog, received development money in 1991 from Astral Media's The Harold Greenberg Fund. He currently works in the publications section of the Vintages department of the LCBO where he writes about wine and spirits. He has published his first novel, entitled The Empire of Death. He is currently working on a second one, Churchill lives north of Toronto in Unionville with his wife, Rose.

Deirdre Kelly is a journalist (The Globe and Mail) and internationally recognized dance critic. She is also the author of the national best-selling memoir, Paris Times Eight (Greystone Books/Douglas & McIntyre). Visit her website for more information,

Shlomo Schwartzberg has been a film critic and arts reporter for more than 20 years. Among the publications he has written for are The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The New York Times, The Jerusalem Report magazine, The South China Morning Post, Screen International, the Canadian Jewish News and the Bloor Cinema magazine. He is the current chair of the Toronto Jewish Film Society and also teaches courses on film criticism and The Image of the Jew in Film and Television, a course he created, at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre and Ryerson University. From 1996-2004 he was the Director of Programming for the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. He reviewed movies and was the Canadian correspondent for Boxoffice Magazine until 2007.

Mari-Beth Slade is a marketer for an accounting firm in Halifax. She enjoys hearing new ideas and challenging assumptions. When not hard at work, she appreciates sharing food, wine and conversations with her family and friends.

Kevin Courrier is a free-lance writer/broadcaster and film critic. He began his radio career in 1981 at CJRT-FM working for eight years as co-host and producer of On the Arts. Courrier moved to CBC Radio in 1989 to become a producer and film reviewer on the popular program, Prime Time, with host Geoff Pevere. Courrier has contributed movie reviews to Boxoffice Magazine and The Globe and Mail. Courrier is the author of five books including the Award-winning Dangerous Kitchen: The Subversive World of Zappa and Randy Newman’s American Dreams. His most recent book is Artificial Paradise: The Dark Side of The Beatles’ Utopian Dream. Courrier currently lectures and teaches film part-time at Ryerson University. He is also the writer/host of Revolutions Per Minute, a CBC radio documentary series that focuses on key Canadian pop albums of the last forty years, heard on Inside the Music.

An award-winning journalist, Susan Green has written about the arts as a freelancer for the Burlington Free Press newspaper and Vermont Life magazine. Her work has also appeared in The Hollywood Reporter. She co-authored Law & Order: The Unofficial Companion with Kevin Courrier and The Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Unofficial Companion with Randee Dawn. Green wrote a coffee-table book about Bread & Puppet Theater and the script for a documentary chronicling the Vermont-based troupe’s tour of Nicaragua. She contributed an interview with John Michael Hayes (Rear Window, To Catch a Thief) as a chapter in Backstory 3: Interviews With Screenwriters of the ‘60s. Her short fiction has been published in several literary journals.

John Corcelli has over 30 years of experience in Broadcasting, Music, Theatre and Communications. He was born and raised in Scarborough, Ont. A graduate of Ryerson Polytechnic University’s broadcasting program, he holds a Bachelor of Applied Arts degree in Radio and Television. He worked for CKLN, CJRT and CHFI, radio stations. In 1993 he became an actor and performer including a short stint with the Second City Improv training program. In 2002, he served as the visual researcher for the Digital Archives web site at for 7 years. In 2008 he produced an 8-part series for CBC radio called RPM: Indispensable Canadian Pop Albums. In 2010, he directed his first play, The Price by Arthur Miller. Currently a performing member of the Festival Wind Orchestra, Corcelli plays guitar and clarinet, but not at the same time.

Catharine Charlesworth is an avid lover of books, the web, and other inventive outlets for the written word. She has studied communication at the University of Toronto while working as a bookseller, and is currently interning in online advertising in downtown Toronto.

Mark Clamen is a lifelong television enthusiast. He lives in Toronto, where he often lectures on television and popular culture. This past winter, Mark gave an eight-part lecture series on The Art of Television, at the Miles Nadal JCC in Toronto. On February 28th 2010, Mark will return to the Miles Nadal JCC with a lecture titled The Wire: Tales of a Broken City.

Steve Vineberg is Distinguished Professor of the Arts and Humanities at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he teaches theatre and film. He also writes for The Threepenny Review, The Boston Phoenix and The Christian Century and is the author of three books: Method Actors: Three Generations of an American Acting Style, No Surprises, Please: Movies in the Reagan Decade, and High Comedy in American Movies.
Amanda Shubert is a founding editor of Full Stop (, an online journal of literature and culture.  She works at the Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Laura Warner is a librarian, researcher and aspiring writer living in Toronto. She graduated from Dalhousie University with graduate degrees in library and information management and public administration. Since then, she has held positions in the CBC Reference Library, Wilfrid Laurier University Library and is currently based in the CBC Music Library.

David Kidney has reviewed for Green Man Reviewand Sleeping Hedgehog. He published the Rylander Quarterly (a Ry Cooder-based newsletter) for 8 years before turning it into a blog, at He works at McMaster University as Director of Learning Space Development, and lives in Dundas with his wife.       

Andrew Dupuis is a devoted cinephile and graduate of Brock University's Film Studies program with an extensive background in Canadian and popular cinema. Andrew helped to establish a student-run television program while in University and has since produced and written a handful of short films to no acclaim. He is currently working on his first book.


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  2. Take out the "float" in the images and they won't appear on top of each other.