An Interview with Bay Area Film Critic and Journalist, Fernando F. Croce
By Domenic Brunet ‘23
For a while now, I’ve been following Fernando F. Croce on the film community website known as Letterboxd and have read many of his capsule film reviews. I’m fascinated by his idiosyncratic approach to writing and his ability to perfectly express the true aspects of a film, without requiring a lengthy explanation. As my understanding of cinema grows, I’ve appreciated the many ways that films can articulate their core themes through the use of visuals. Fernando F. Croce has brilliantly expressed the importance of these visual undertones in cinema. I’ve also come to learn that he’s a local Bay Area film critic, with a large following in the local artistic scene here. After following and admiring his work for a while now, combined with this love of film I share with him, I thought I would approach him for an interview.
Thank you, Fern, I appreciate your willingness to participate in this process.
Q: Tell me a little bit about your background and work in film criticism.
A: Thank you for your interest, Domenic. I began writing about film in the mid-Nineties, mainly copying the style of writers I admired (Manny Farber, Andrew Sarris, J. Hoberman). The first time I was published was around 2001 at San Jose State University’s Spartan Daily. I’ll always owe a great debt to Slant Magazine, where for years I was able to write alongside many exceptional colleagues. I’ve also been fortunate to contribute to some of my favorite sites, including Mubi, Reverse Shot, and Film Comment. For the most part now I work on capsules for my website, Cinepassion.
Q: You sometimes start your reviews with a line of poetry or a quotation. What prompted you to include this in your work?
A: I guess I do that a lot, don’t I? Beginnings are difficult, especially when you’re trying to make every word count. In the brief time I personally knew Manny Farber, I only asked for criticism advice once, but his advice was marvelous: “Try to find a sideways entry into the film.” A quote, a composition, a visual reference are helpful, hopefully evocative ways to enter a work. I also like the idea of different kinds of art being connected, film to poetry to painting.
Q: What is it like to work in the arts while living in Silicon Valley, an environment that is hyper-focused on technology?
A: Contemplating a life in technology is inevitable, I guess, when growing up in Silicon Valley. There’s always survival to think about, after all. I tried, before switching to arts and journalism. There are artistic centers within reach, like San Francisco or Berkeley, it’s just a bit of a drive. It makes places like clubs or libraries all the more valuable.
Q: You’ve been writing reviews for some time now. How has your style or approach to films evolved over the years?
A: Interesting question, and probably better suited for somebody who’s not the writer. I think over the years I’ve become less interested in the plot of the films, so I try to summarize it tersely in my capsules. I look more at texture, movement, how it fits among the filmmaker’s other works, how it unexpectedly links with a verse or canvas. The more unlikely, the better.
Q: You also specialize in poetry. Can you share how this passion merges with your interest in film?
A: Poetry was one of my first interests, and I was pretty awful at it. Same thing with painting. Maybe my film writing reflects those frustrated interests, a greediness to roll up the arts together. I know that I use some of the same writing devices in my capsules that I used in my attempted poems, mainly combining ideas and creating contrasting rhythms. It often reads like a derailed train, but I think it’s exhilarating when it works.
Q: You generally stay away from rating films, why? Do you have any favorites to share?
A: I don’t think ratings would mesh well with the type of writing I like to do.
As for favorites, I’m afraid it’ll be rounding up the usual suspects. Sansho the Bailiff, Ordet, Le Plaisir, The Rules of the Game, L’Atalante, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Searchers, Murnau’s Faust, Scorpio Rising, The Naked Kiss. And Godard’s Histoires du cinéma, which was an enormous influence on the way I look at criticism.