Regular Vulture readers will have, over the last three weeks, missed the voice of the critic Bilge Ebiri, who wrote for the site since its inception and for over a decade did shorter reviews for its print-based parent, New York Magazine. With a ringing endorsement of Terrence Malick’s latest liturgical montage, Knight of Cups, he began his stint as a lead critic of the Village Voice.
In some ways, I betray my age when I even talk about — as they now say — outlets. Readers who click on links from review aggregators or Facebook or blogs might not even know where they are on the internet. But I cling to the belief that the site/publication and its history and traditions matter. What surrounds the individual reviews matters.
The film section of the Voice was of course defined by two important critics, the late Andrew Sarris and a one-time student (though never an acolyte) of his, J. Hoberman. As part of its mission to empty out the paper, the Voice’s previous owners gave Hoberman the heave-ho after more than three sterling decades. Although those owners at least had the sense to hire my friend Stephanie Zacharek (since departed for Time), they did the world a favor by selling the paper to someone who is evidently bent on restoring its luster. I can’t imagine a better way for that new owner to prove his bona fides than by hiring Bilge. (The name, by the way, is Turkish and pronounced, at least in the U.S., Bil-guh.)
I have spoken before of the ways in which he was actually a nightmare colleague. He has seen (even at his younger age) more films than I have, he writes faster than I do, and he is a much, much nicer person than I am. This is a key to what makes him a first-rate critic. He has made films, he is friendly with many people in the indie community, and he is a rare combination of scholar and fan, quietly passionate about film as both art and entertainment. When you read him regularly, you find that his reviews have a cumulative power.
As a reader, you will not miss him: His work will be as accessible as ever. But Vulture and I will miss him more than you can know. We will miss his eclecticism, his dedication to auteurs like Michael Mann and to (God help us) the late work of Terrence Malick. We will miss the implicit reminder that pop-culture writing is about more than awards and the business of film.
And so I say, “Au revoir, mon ami,” and may your voice in the Voice be both loud and true.