John Simon (critic)

John Simon (critic)

John Simon (born Ivan Simon on May 12, 1925) is a Serbian-American author and literary, theater, and film critic. Born in Subotica, Serbia, he was educated at Harvard (B.A., M.A., and Ph.D.), and has been a regular contributor to a number of magazines, including "The New Leader", "The New Criterion", and "National Review". Although not a native English speaker, he is known for his incisive criticism of the (mis)use of the language in American writing, notably in his book "Paradigms Lost: Reflections on Literacy and Its Decline", and was one of the guests on the PBS special "Do You Speak American?" In addition, Bryan Garner, writing in "A Dictionary of Modern American Usage ", refers to Simon as a language "maven" and credits him with improving the quality of the work. He was also referred to as "One tough bastard" by the New York Times in 1995 .Fact|date=February 2007

Simon was theater and film critic at "New York" magazine for more than 36 years, from October 1968 until he was fired in May 2005. [] Since June 2005 Simon has reviewed theater for [] . He also contributes a monthly essay to "The Weekly Standard".

Remarking on Simon's dismissal from "New York" magazine, the critic Richard Hornby wrote in the Autumn 2005 issue of "The Hudson Review":

*His removal seems to have been political, with a new editor-in-chief acceding to the usual pressure from theatrical producers to replace him with someone more positive. ...In fact, Simon was no more negative than most critics, but his lively writing style meant that his gibes were more memorable than those of the others. His enthusiasms were expressed with the same vigor-after heaping praise on the writing, acting, directing, and even the set designs of "Doubt", for example, he described it as "a theatrical experience it would be sinful to miss." But positive reviews tend to be taken for granted, while negative ones are seen as personal insults. (I regularly get angry letters and e- mails of complaint from actors and theatre companies, but no one has ever thanked me for a favorable notice.) Theatrical producers in particular become enraged when reviews do not sound like one of their press releases. They finally seemed to have prevailed. []

Lynn Redgrave and John Clark were particularly happy with his review of "Shakespeare For My Father", about to begin a struggling debut on Broadway, and said so. [] Others, however, have been quick to suggest that his negative criticism is mean-spirited rather than constructive; he is known for calling attention to the unattractiveness of actors he does not like (calling Wallace Shawn "unsightly", for example), and Steven Pinker, who in "The Language Instinct" criticises Simon for being overly pedantic about language, also points out that his reviews frequently focus on the attractiveness (or lack thereof) of all the actors rather than the work at hand.

For example, it was noted in yet another text, when he reviewed "A Star Is Born" in 1977, he said this about the appearance/stage name of Barbra Streisand (among other things): ".....the vastness of that nose alone as it cleaves the giant screen from east to west, bisects it from north to south. It zigzags across our horizon like a bolt of fleshy lightning. ...But the nose alone is only a symbol or symptom of what is wrong with Barbra Streisand. She could easily have had it fixed. She had no problem, after all, with shaving the middle 'a' out of her name.*

The comedy team of Bob and Ray created a recurring character called "The Worst Person in the World" in honor of Simon, after the latter panned their 1970 Broadway show "The Two and Only". (Television commentator Keith Olbermann later adopted the name for a segment on his "Countdown" program on MSNBC.)

While some people loved Simon's reviews in "New York" magazine and others hated them, many were quick to change positions, depending on what he thought of their latest work. In an interview he gave to Davi Napoleon in "The Paris Review", Simon describes a photo taken with producer Joseph Papp. Papp had "his arm around me after I've given him a good review, and [asked] for the picture back the next month because of a bad review," Simon said.

Simon has often been accused of racism, having argued openly and unabashedly that actors of color have no place in Shakespeare plays unless they are playing a character of the same race. He is staunchly conservative on the issue of film adaptations of novels and plays as well, going so far as to say, in his books "Movies into Film" and "Something to Declare", that literary and stage works should never be made into films because the mediums are so different. While praising Ingmar Bergman's 1975 film version of Mozart's opera "The Magic Flute", for instance, he states that " [Bergman] was wrong to do it at all".

Simon is known to be dismissive and derisive of even his most lauded colleagues. During a panel discussion on the television show "Theater Talk," aired January 4, 2007, Simon said, "I wouldn't give two cents for all of John Lahr," referring to the chief theater critic of "The New Yorker" magazine.


His works have been collected in several volumes, including "Uneasy Stages." In 2005, he published three extremely large collections of his work, titled "John Simon on Theater," "John Simon on Music," and "John Simon on Film."

Simon has written several books on poetry and film, including "Private Screenings" (1967), "Movies Into Film: Film Criticism, 1967-1970" (1971), "Reverse Angle: A Decade of American Films" (1982), "Something To Declare: Twelve Years of Films from Abroad" (1983), and "Dreamers of Dreams: Essays on Poets and Poetry" (2001).

External links

* [ "Harvard Crimson" profile]
* [ An archive of John Simon's "New York Magazine" theater criticism (July 7, 1997-May 23, 2005)]
* [ "John Simon, The Art of Criticism IV", "The Paris Review"] interviewed by Davi Napoleon
* [ John Simon] - "Downstage Center" interview at American Theatre

* [ "Simple Simon", Sept. 26, 2000, Critical article by Salon film critic Charles Taylor.]

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