At this moment, there is an all-region DVD player sitting atop the small television set in my bedroom, surrounded by burned copies of recent films in white slip cases. On the bookshelf in our office hallway, little plastic figurines of Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger and Leatherface stand guard next to a gaunt, bloody-mouthed puppet named Barlowe. And downstairs, there is a black box filled with more burned DVDs.
All these things were given to me and my co-workers by John Larsen.
John and I are the veterans of the Reporter editorial staff, though there is a more than two decade difference in our tenures. I have been here five years, him 30. In my time, I’ve seen so many regime changes it seems as if there is a new hire every day. I cannot imagine how much turnover John experienced. But I doubt it mattered to him: No matter how long you were on the masthead, he treated you like a member of his extended family.
I didn’t get to know John as well as I should have. As a freelancer, he would stop by the office once a week, and rarely did he come empty handed. He would always bring something, whether it was movies or promo stuff or just a recommendation for something great he had watched, and everyone here would clamor around him, drawn in by his familiar and ever-present laugh. I always seemed to arrive a minute late.
It wasn’t until recently that we started communicating regularly. He took note of my burgeoning interest in film criticism and suggested collaborating on reviews for our Web site. “It’s about time Ventura County got its own Siskel and Ebert,” he said. He was pretty ambitious: he wanted to start doing Podcasts, as well as two-minute radio spots with us going back and forth about the latest releases. That is why he gave me that DVD player, so I could watch movies with international coding.
Of course, we were never able to make it happen. But the fact that he would reach out to a developing cinephile — one with whom he had, in the past, spoken to only briefly — is testament enough to his extraordinary generosity. He did not have to do half the things he did for his fellow Reporter employees, but he did them anyway, because he respected those who shared these pages with him, and he never asked for anything in return.
As a critic, John, like the best writers on any subject, never lost his passion as a fan. He did not allow the fact that film became his profession crack his love for it. He could appreciate a movie of any genre, as long as it was up to snuff artistically. His list of favorites is hardly that of a snob: It runs the gamut, from The Exorcist and Taxi Driver to Shrek and E.T. to Airplane and Caddyshack. I regret that John and I will never get to argue about cinema for the public and that I’ll never be able to have him explain to me what’s so great about Robert Altman’s Nashville. But, like everyone who has come and gone through the Reporter’s doors, I am just lucky to have worked with him at all.
Of all the newsweeklies in all the towns in all the world, he walked into ours
Since the VC Reporter launched 30 years ago, John Larsen left his imprint on its film pages, its calendar listings, and, most importantly, the hearts of its staffers and readers. Here is what some who worked closely with John have had to say about the man who will be so dearly missed:
John Larsen began working at the Reporter from the “git-go,” and never faltered once with his weekly movie review columns. They were extremely good ones, always on time, complete with pictures, cutlines, etc., each and every week. He took great pride in being a member of the Academy for Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, I recall.
John not only was a good, intelligent writer, but a most decent fellow at heart. Honest, loving to his friends and family and readers, always going out of his way to help when he could.
He eventually took over the calendar management phase of the Reporter while continuing his movie reviews — no small feat in itself — and followed through beautifully.
I will miss John\\’s extremely sharp wit, his genuineness, his irreverence, his most professional newspaper work, and his caring and friendship over these many years.
Take care, John … I have no doubt you will immediately become head dude at that big newspaper empire in the sky, still always having a smile and hearty laugh over your many years at the Reporter.
— Nancy Ricks (formerly Cloutier), former VC Reporter editor and publisher
I\\’m devastated by John\\’s passing. John Larsen was the movie buff\\’s movie buff. His seemingly unending depth of knowledge was a key component of the DVD & Video Guide. Most of all, I will cherish the memory of his marvelous sense of humor and innate kindness.
— Mick Martin, editor, DVD & Video Guide 2007 (Larsen was a chief contributor)
John Larsen was a fabulous film critic.
I remember, about two or three years ago, being at an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies conference in San Diego. I was in a seminar with a large group of editors discussing alternative ways to cover the arts. A question was thrown out: How did your paper cover Peter Jackson\\’s recent remake of King Kong? I heard a few people around me discussing the various and creative ways they had trashed the film. One editor raised her hand and explained that her paper had simply refused to cover it — there were nods of approval all around. I raised my hand. “Our film critic wrote a glowing review of the movie: He loved it,” I said. To love King Kong — it was so honest, and anti-alt-weekly-establishment, and different. I was so proud, at that moment, that John Larsen was our film critic — one of the very best alt-weekly film critics I\\’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. John Larsen wrote with heart. He didn\\’t worry about what he was supposed to like or dislike; he made his own decisions. He loved movies and he shared that love with us week after week.
Because, like so many people, I knew John first through his film reviews, I can say this: His reviews were honest, kind, sincere, fair, entertaining and almost always incredibly funny. Because I was also lucky enough to know John as a person, I can say this: So was he.
He was a thoughtful and generous man, and he will be terribly missed.
— Stephanie Kinnear, a former VC Reporter editor
Were I limited to just three words to describe John Larsen — a man who blew into a room like a storm gale and, more often than not, left a trail of laughter behind — those three words would have to be “larger than life.”
That is what John truly was.
It would be easy to lump him in with other “jolly” men we know — men armed with endless quips, quick jokes and opinions always at the ready. But the word “jolly” could never accurately describe him, even if he most certainly was the VC Reporter’s own personal Santa Claus. He always came bearing gifts, didn’t ask for a thing in return and never even seemed to expect thanks for his generosity. If I could choose a fourth word to describe John, “thoughtful” would win the prize.
He loved a good, bloody horror film and never apologized for being politically incorrect. He was a comic antihero with a barbed wit (which is why “jolly” is pushing it a little) and a brilliant conversationalist who was passionate about everything. From poodles to gag gifts to customer service to the Michael Richards debacle to the series finale of Roseanne, John had an opinion. Listening to him share those opinions was akin to being on the sidelines of a verbal gymnastics tournament.
There was never a dull moment when he was around.
John told things like they were and never shied away from the uglier corners of life. His ability to embrace the good, the bad and the ugly (film reference intended) made him a fascinating and surprisingly vulnerable man.
Those of us who knew John have lost a loyal and constant friend, and the VC Reporter has lost a powerfully persistent voice. His film reviews were my favorite section of the paper, and I learned to trust his opinions about film as much as I trusted his observations about life: completely.
John, I will miss you, but I like to think that — if there is indeed an afterlife — you are the life of the party.
— Stacey Wiebe, former VC Reporter deputy editor
What I will miss most about John was his sense of humor and his generosity. Every Thursday he would come in to the VC Reporter office and drop off a stack of first run movies for all of us to enjoy, never expecting more than a simple “thank you” in return. But what he was best known for was his colorful, eccentric, bawdy and sometimes self-deprecating sense of humor. He was a fantastic storyteller. I loved listening to his hilarious observations on the absurdities of human behavior he encountered in his day to day life.
— Tori Behar, VC Reporter receptionist
As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a film critic
Ever since he was a kid, John Larsen hoped to make his living writing about movies. He lived his dream in the pages of the VC Reporter.
While John Larsen was a warm-hearted friend to Reporter family members past and present, over the past 30 years our readers came to know John best through his love of movies and sincere, straightforward take on film. Here are a few slices from his many reviews. Examples of many, many more are available on John’s Web site at www.lightviews.com.
“… Jackson’s Kong is one of the best movies ever made, a valentine to nostalgia, wrapped up in a perfect cinematic package.
I abhor unnecessary hyperbole, but after watching King Kong, I believe [Peter] Jackson is a god among directors.
I dare you to find another movie that moves you as much, as frequently, leaving you so emotionally wasted you have to wait until the credits are over so no one will see the tears in your eyes.”
Last King of Scotland
“… [Director Kevin] MacDonald’s film allows him to have his cake and eat it too, incorporating facts into fiction and vice-versa, until all that is left is the cream that rises to the surface.”
“… Robert Greenwald, whose eye-opening, infuriating documentary Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch\\’s War on Journalism has caught the conservative mogul in a lie. Fair and balanced? Only someone on a morphine drip would make that claim, only to refute it after the medication wore off.”
Passion of the Christ
“… A major hypocrisy exists when it comes to morality and movies. The moral majority screams at the top of their lungs when it comes to violence in films, yet rally behind The Passion of the Christ, one of the most violent and disturbing films of recent memory.
Those unfamiliar with the specifics of the story will find The Passion of the Christ two hours of unadulterated torture.
The writers drop all of the back story, assuming anyone interested in seeing the film will know the story. If Gibson truly believed this assumption, then he would have had the guts to release The Passion of Christ in Aramaic without subtitles.
Gibson obviously didn\\’t have faith that his audience would \\\”get it\\\” without pandering to their sense of outrage. Less gore and more \\\”passion\\\” would have made the film accessible to those who need it most.”
“[Actress Helen] Mirren is just as potent … when she encounters a 14-point Buck on her estate. As she takes in the stateliness of the animal, we realize the queen sees it as a kindred spirit, majesty held prisoner by destiny.”