Saturday, March 19, 2022

An interview with Laura and Robin Clifford from Reeling the Movie Review Show

 An interview with Laura and Robin Clifford from Reeling the Movie Review Show

Reeling the Movie Review Show has been produced by Robin and Laura Clifford at the Malden, Massachusetts cable access television station, MATV, since March 16, 1991 and is cablecast throughout Massachusetts and beyond (ME, CA, OR, MI, GA) as well as being available on Vimeo. Their reviews appear on the Rotten Tomatoes website and they are designated Top Critic at the Movie Review Query Engine. -From the Reeling Website

Full disclosure, I have been a volunteer crew member for Reeling for roughly about a billion years and I don't regret it at all. 

What follows is an email interview with Laura and Robin Clifford about their show.

1. Do you feel being married gives the show a different dynamic than other movie review shows?

Laura: Well, when you live with someone you know all their likes, dislikes, quirks, etc., so that is bound to influence how you interact.  There is also the matter of influence in that we are both exposed to the other’s preference in films on our ‘off hours’ more than say, a couple of critics paired together on another show.

Robin: Well, yeah. We get the chance to express our opinions – that we have at home – for others to agree or disagree with.

2. At one point in time there were many movie reviews on TV. Besides your own, there are probably only a few left running. How does that make you feel?

Laura: Sad, in that the theatrical experience of movie going has been splintered into so many streaming niches that there is less of a communal experience in discussing a film.  There is also the Rotten Tomatoes influence, which has turned film criticism into an aggregation of positive and negative with no room for what can be intriguing gray areas.

Robin: With the advent of the Internet, the dedication and work that goes into our reviews has been replaced with “opinions” rather than reviews. You know, cogent reasons for liking or disliking a movie. It is a whole different world from when we started. 

3. What keeps you doing the show?

Laura: Insanity? Habit? Passion? Family?  All of the above?

Robin: I won’t speak for Laura but I do it because I am a guy who loves movies and this gives us a conduit for our opinions, like ‘em or not.

4. What is your favorite part of doing the show?

Laura: Gathering with our crew to socialize once the shoot has been completed.  I always feel a palpable sense of relief when another show has wrapped.  We shoot every other week and the intensity builds over those two weeks and resets to stress free right after we shoot.

Robin: Being with friends who have been helping us do what we do – for 31 years!

5. Do you feel that the internet has made movie criticisms more faceless?

Laura: If by faceless, you mean anonymous, no, not really.  Unless by ‘movie criticisms’ you aren’t talking about critics but, say, message boards and the like, then the answer would be yes, but that applies to the internet in general.

RobinOh, sure. The anonymity that the Internet allows takes away from the critics.

6. How would you define the role of the movie critic?

Laura: It is two-fold.  On the most basic level, you are acting as a consumer guide, but at a deeper level you are analyzing a film not only to point out why it works or does not but to place it in perspective against the filmmaker’s other work, the zeitgeist, etc.  Then there is the art of writing itself – there are some beautifully written film criticisms which are enjoyable to read even if you do not agree with the critic’s conclusions.

Robin: I think it is to show folks what movies are out there and what we think of them, and encourage our readers/viewers to think about them, too. 

7. How do you separate yourself as a fan from a critic?

Laura: Any critic who is not a fan of film isn’t a critic worth following in my opinion.  Everyone has prejudices, one must simply be honest about them and be conscious of them so as not to allow them to unduly sway an assessment.

Robin: I AM a fan and a critic so I don’t separate them.

8. What movies would you watch purely for fun, and why?

Laura: Movies that I have seen before and liked enough to make part of my home library are like old friends you can let your hair down with.  Occasionally I’ll watch something I know will be trash just as a lark.  

Robin: Generally speaking, I will sit down happily and watch a documentary pretty much about anything if it educates, entertains and informs. 

9. If you could convince people to see any one movie, which would it be?

Laura: That’s a tough one and I’d say it would have to depend on the person.  For example, I knew someone older than me who had never seen “The Wizard of Oz” – I’d try very hard to convince him that he really should see it and why, but that’s not a film I would generally be promoting because almost everyone has seen it.  Averse to subtitles? A specific genre? A specific subject matter?  A certain actor or filmmaker?  I’d try to find the best example of something someone would reject out of hand, and try to convince them to try it.  Unless I agreed with them

Robin: For 2021 films, Spielberg’s “West Side Story” with the proviso that you watch the 1961 original, too. 

10. At times you are at odds with other critics. Why do you think that is?

Laura: All critics worth their salt are at odds with other critics at times.  I would be very suspicious of anyone who always sides with the majority as someone who doesn’t trust his/her own opinion, a ‘herd follower.’  If everyone thought the same way, life would be boring indeed.  I always loved something our long-time director, Chris Zell, said about us – ‘Even when they agree, they agree for different reasons.’

(Bloggers note: Sadly Chris is no longer with us. He was a treasure and a wise ass and I miss him.)

Robin: I think it is about taste and opinion – mine, not theirs.

12. How well do you feel that you've grown and developed on the show?

Laura: I now have an incredible sense of timing! I can set a kitchen timer for 15 minutes, be in 

another room, and get up to check on what's cooking and find the timer at 14:58 when I walk

into the room - do it all the time. But that's from the producing angle. I'm a lot more at ease

on camera, although it hasn't made speaking before an audience any easier. That said, I also

recognize my weak spots and try to compensate for them - I always tend to ramble on the first

movie of the show, for example, so I allow a bit more time for the first review until I get into

the rhythm and focus. And while we were well versed in film when we started, we have easily 

seen and reviewed well over 5,000 films since. There's something to be said for experience 

and historical perspective.

Robin: I have seen thousands of movies since we started riding in this rodeo three decades

(that sounds scary!) ago. I hope I have gotten better over the years of experience. (You tell 


(Bloggers note: Yes, they both have gotten better overall.)

13. Reeling has had many long term folks on the studio crew. When you first started out, did you think about the impact that the show would have in making a network of friends behind the scenes? What do you think about that social circle that has developed around the show?

Laura: No because I never expected it would go on as long as it has and because we largely began with people we already knew. That has changed over the years and been a delightful surprise. And while some of the people who have joined in initially did so because of movies, I find it interesting that movies are far from the main topic of conversation when we get together.

Robin: Truthfully, having our friends get together ever two weeks to help us do this thing we do is the #1 reason for me – and I get to see a sh*tload of movies for free