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Thursday, 20 November 2008

Barnes-storming the Arts

Clive Barnes, R.I.P.

By Richard Carreño
Junto Staff Writer

Clive Barnes, the great arts critic, was smart, generous -- and tolerant of callow youth. Callow youth, as in me.

I knew -- I mean, I was acquainted -- with Barnes in the late 60s, when I serving out the remainder of my sentence as an undergraduate at New York University. And I was fortunate enough to have Barnes as a lecturer in course on film critiquing. Movie reviews, and the like. (This, needless to say, was the Golden Age of extraneous electives). Despite his self-effacing, disheveled manner, Barnes was a fierce critic with sharp wit. And, like I said, he was generous.

At the time, I sort of fancied myself as a film boffin. I was writing reviews for some fledgling periodicals in Paris and in New York, and, woe to anyone who thought he/she knew more about Jean-Luc Godard and the Nouvelle Vague. In other words, a puffed up jerk. Callow youth, anyone?

Still, Barnes regularly gave my reviews of New York's current cinema scene high B's and low A's, marks that were certainly well above my academic pay grade.

Did I mention my conflict of interest with Barnes? I thought not.

At this same time, you see, I was a News Clerk in the Culture Department at The New York Times, where Barnes, at the time, was writing on dance and theatre. Almost nightly -- late into the night, actually -- I'd run into Barnes, and often, too, I had to schlep his copy (remember those days before computers) from his typewriter to a copy editor on a floor below.

Now, I'm not saying that this odd contact made any difference in my NYU grades, but.... But. I just looked over some the graded papers (yes, I kept them), and they're not worth spit. Belatedly, thanks, Clive, for my A!

Again, how generous?

Well, Peter Frishauf, Ralph Watt, Froma Joselow, and John Belmonte, and I were also running the The Washington Square Journal, NYU's undergraduate daily. Naturally, given my in-class and out-of-class contact with Barnes, I was their point man to Barnes regarding a special request. Actually, two requests.

First, we wanted Barnes to write on cinema history for the Journal. For free. He did.

Second, we wanted him to support the Vietnam Moratorium. Remember the Vietnam War? That was the other war that went on forever. Supporting the Moratorium, as a professor, meant publicly cancelling classes for the day -- and getting stick from a trogolyte department head. This was particularly withering for an adjunct, like Barnes. 'Sure,' said Barnes.

At the end of a Barnes course (I took two), Barnes would invite his class to an afternoon 'tea' (read drinks party) at his West Side apartment overlooking the Hudson and Riverside Drive. The place was enormous, with panoramic windows.

On one occasion, tipsier than I suppose I knew, I summoned the nerve to ask a class-mate for a date. I remember we were standing on Central Park West, in front of the American Museum of Natural History. She said yes.

Like, I said. Clive was generous.

Clive Barnes died Wednesday in New York at 81.