Derek Malcolm is one of the most respected British film critics. He is best known for his 30 years of writing film reviews for the Guardian newspaper, beginning in 1970, and a subsequent period writing his A Century of Cinema, a list of 100 best films, one per director, published weekly in the newspaper. He still writes for The Guardian on a less regular basis, for example reporting from the Cannes film festival annually. As a critic he is astoundingly knowledgeable about film whilst writing in an understandable, never pretentious, fashion and he is always keen to share his enthusiasm.
In his reviews he consistently preferred low-budget realism and difficult but poetic art films, whether domestic or foreign, and scorned or ignored the output of Hollywood. This was perhaps based on didactic principles that sought to extend people's knowledge of the cinema, and show them the numerous possibilities of filmmakers from the developing world and other places you would never think to visit. But the fact that he has written a book on Robert Mitchum shows that he does not spurn American cinema out of principle.
His retirement may have reflected boredom with the sort of films typically released in Britain, but also an increasing desire by editors for reviewers to concentrate on blockbusters. Nowadays, the Guardian's review page typically contains a main review of something like Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle with the pictures of artistic merit relegated to a column at the side. As he said at the time of his weekly-reviewing retirement:
It makes it difficult to be a critic nowadays, my hands are tied behind my back by my own newspaper, who would prefer to print a witty column about Godzilla than give space to a literate review of The Dream Life of Angels, the wonderful debut film of Erick Zonca. When I started as a critic in 1970 it was possible to write about interesting films from India, Africa or Europe, now everybody wants interviews with stars, preferably pretty girls.1
His tastes, as revealed in his book A Century of Films, lean heavily towards the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, mixing cultish American films with classics of European and world cinema. The list included A Touch of Evil (instead of Citizen Kane), Witchfinder General, Raging Bull, Vertigo, A Bout de Souffle, Shock Corridor, Johnny Guitar, and Birth of a Nation, to give some account of its range. He tends to name Ozu Yasujiro's Tokyo Story as his favourite of all.
He has served in a number of distinguished positions, including director of the London Film Festival from 1982 to 1985, a governor of the British Film Institute from 1990 to 1993, president of the International Film Critics' Federation (FIPRESCI) and president of the British Federation of Film Societies.
Malcolm was educated at Eton and Oxford University, where he studied history and philosophy, and got a full blue for squash. On leaving university, he worked as a jockey for two years, then acted for three years. This led him to theater criticism, initially at the Gloucestershire Echo, and then to the Guardian where he wrote on theater and racing before moving to film. In 2003 he produced a book, Family Secrets, which revealed the astounding story of his parents: his father killed his mother's lover, and uniquely in English law was found guilty but acquitted as a 'crime passionel'.
His top ten films for the 2002 BFI survey:
- Dekalog (Krzysztof Kieslowski)
- The Music Room (Satyajit Ray)
- Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks)
- The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman)
- The Spirit of the Beehive (Victor Erice)
- The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums (Kenji Mizoguchi)
- The Time to Live and the Time to Die (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
- Tokyo Story (Ozu Yasujiro)
- Touch of Evil (Orson Welles)
- Tristana (Luis Bunuel)
Books by Derek Malcolm:
1 Jaap Mees, "The film critics: Derek Malcolm", Talking Pix, http://www.talkingpix.co.uk/Interview_Derek%20Malcolm.html (August 11, 2003)
- Tom Fogg. "Interview - Derek Malcolm". Netribution. http://www.netribution.co.uk/features/interviews/2000/derek_malcolm/1.html (August 11, 2003)
The Guardian. "Guardian Contacts". http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardiancontacts/page/0,7024,328401,00.html (August 11, 2003)
Derek Malcolm. "Century of Films". Guardian Unlimited website. http://film.guardian.co.uk/Century_Of_Films/Front/ (August 11, 2003)
Derek Malcolm. "Top Ten". BFI Critics' Poll 2002. http://www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/topten/poll/voter.php?forename=Derek&surname=Malcolm (August 11, 2003)
Jaap Mees. "The film critics: Derek Malcolm". Talking Pix. http://www.talkingpix.co.uk/Interview_Derek%20Malcolm.html (August 11, 2003)