In 1975, film critic David Schultz, then a member of the Chicago Crusader community news staff was at a meeting with members of Paramount Studios to discuss advertising the release of Paramount’s new film, The Hustle, starring Burt Reynolds.
The Paramount representative asked the publisher, “What do you want from us?”
Schultz immediately stepped in and began suggesting ways the two sides could reach an agreement.
“The way I see it,” began Schultz from across the round conference table, “The Hustle is your big holiday release. I think the best way to advertise in our publication would be to emphasize the presence of actor Paul Winfield [co-star of the film] and the nature of the main character’s cynicism about law enforcement, which I think some readers can relate to. If we can arrange the advertising to emphasize those themes, we can definitely make a deal.”
At that moment, the representatives at the Crusader began taking notes.
Apparently, according to Schultz, they had entered negotiations, unaware of the plot details or casting of any of Paramount’s films.
It was a moment that signified for Schultz the disconnect between the media and film, particular media outlets targeting African Americans.
“It was very telling to me because it was a microcosm for the media’s view of film in general,” Schultz said, “which historically has been quite dismissive. It was true in 1975 and remains true today.”
Schultz, 62, is one of the few current black film critics in the country. He was born on the Southwest Side of Chicago to a father who worked on the railroads and a mother who worked as a maid, then retired shortly after he was born. As an only child, his parents began to support his early interest in film, taking him to the Uptown Theater and the Michigan Theater.
“I was in love with movies from the start,” Schultz said. “I used to write down all my ideas for movies on notepads. I still do, in fact.”
Schultz began writing film reviews at Englewood High School in the late 1960s.
“I started doing reviews for the Englewood Towers paper at my school,” Schultz said. “At that time, it was common for film companies to offer press screenings to the media outlets from schools. I was given the chance to attend them and write my opinions.”
After high school, Schultz began writing reviews for several local media outlets, including community newspapers New Crusader and Chicago Currier and briefly did five-minute movie review segments on Channel 26 in the earlier 1970s when the network broadcast from the Board of Trade building.
“[The new moderator] John Q. Adams and I became friends while attending some of the same screenings, and we briefly had a segment where we would discuss films,” Schultz recalled. “Once the network was bought out a year later, it was discontinued, but it was the first of its kind in Chicago. We were about five years ahead of [Gene] Siskel and [Roger] Ebert.”
Schultz, who has never been married and has no kids, has been given a rare opportunity to see many actors and musicians throughout his impressive career, including bass-voiced soul legend Barry White, who Schultz said “was a great friend” whom he would confide in regularly,” and Jack Nicholson, whom he met during a screening of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest prior to the 1975 Chicago Film Festival.
“Jack is very much like his public persona,” Schultz said. “He’s passionate and intense. But he’s also a perfectionist as well.”
One of the unfortunate differences between Hollywood then and now, according to Schultz, is the way in which films are presented, namely the desire for Hollywood to lean heavily on multiplexes.
“I understand that more movies are being released now as opposed to 30 years ago, but the experience of a multiplex is vastly inferior to that of an art house theater,” he said.
“I remember when I used to go in a theater and the sound quality would be amazing because of the building’s acoustics. There would be a curtain drawn before the movie started, and there might have even been an organist playing. It was more of a sense of the film-going experience. Now the sound quality is not as good and there is more of an emphasis on advertising other products rather than simply letting the audience experience the film they are attending.”
In assessing the current crop of films aimed at themes regarding the black community, Schultz sees them as a decidedly mixed bag.
“Fruitvale Station was a good film, but it keeps its story of the death of Oscar Grant largely on the surface level,” he said.
“Consequently, Michael D. Jordan, has to literally carry the film. He gives an amazing performance in the picture, no doubt. But you feel as though he could have potentially probed the character even more deeply.”
“Lee Daniels’ The Butler was a good film. Daniels was wise not to try to characterize the presidents, good or bad. I think that is best left to historians. Instead, the film presents the lives of the butler and his wife in a way where you can get a sense of the political tenor of the time. If it was any heavier, it could have gotten preachy. It wisely avoided that.”
As for the films of Tyler Perry, currently the highest-profile and most successful black filmmaker around, Schultz is decidedly more critical of the cinematic output.
“Well, it says a lot that the only film he has screened for critics in recent years was For Colored Girls, and that was only because it was a major Hollywood release based on a prominent Ntozake Shange stage play,” Schultz said. “He’s not screening his films for us because he’s not making his films for us. He’s catering to a niche audience that is expecting a certain product. They are not concerning themselves with the artistic merits.”
October in Chicago means the Chicago International Film Festival is coming. The 49th year of the event runs Oct. 10-24.
Schultz plans to attend and says that while he has no “favorite movie,” he is always hoping the next film he sees is great.
“When I see a film that helps me see a side of the world that I may not have before experienced,” Schultz said, “that’s when I am at my happiest with the form.”