Vincent Canby, who delivered trenchant insights, sober judgments and wry humor in film and theater reviews in The New York Times for more than 35 years, died of cancer on Sunday. He was 76.
Canby began reviewing films for the Times in 1965 and was its senior film critic from 1969 to 1993 before turning his attention to theater. In addition to his reviews in the daily newspaper, he wrote longer analyses for the Arts & Leisure section on Sundays.
Canby’s thousands of articles and essays covered a broad swath of the cinematic arts, from the French New Wave to the rise of American independent filmmaking, big-budget Hollywood blockbusters and the introduction of videocassette recorders and multiplex movie houses.
Reviewing the ReviewsHe heralded filmmakers such as Woody Allen, Jane Campion, Spike Lee, Ismail Merchant and James Ivory.
His writing, often more entertaining than the works he reviewed, was set in conversational prose that conveyed a disdain for sentiment and a fine-tuned praise for artistry. Sometimes he employed a dialogue with an invented character he called Stanley.
In a review of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Canby wrote that the 1982 film freely recycles elements from earlier children’s works, including Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz.
“Dorothy has become E.T., Kansas is outer space, and Oz is a modern, middle-class real estate development in California,” Canby wrote.
In reviewing Spielberg’s Jaws in 1975, he noted: “If you are what you eat, then one of the sharks in Jaws is a beer can, half a mackerel and a Louisiana license plate. … The other characters in the film are nowhere nearly so fully packed.”
Praises for the StageLater in Canby’s career, when he turned to theater criticism, he praised the plays of Horton Foote, David Mamet and Sam Shepard while deploring the ballyhoo of pompous stage effects and over amplified singers’ and actors’ voices.
He was as enthusiastic about modest efforts from promising new writers as about mammoth Broadway productions, such as the revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
Canby, who was also a playwright and novelist, worked as a reporter and critic at the show business journal Variety for six years before joining the Times.
Among his works are the novels Living Quarters (1975) and Unnatural Scenery (1979) and the plays End of the War (1978), After All (1981) and The Old Flag (1984).