tt stern-enzi has nearly two decades of film criticism under his belt. Now you can dive into the works that shaped his career via a recently debuted Esquire Theatre series.
Full disclosure: stern-enzi has written regularly for CityBeat since 2001 and was a longtime contributor to the Dayton City Paper up until its closure in 2018. You might also recognize him for his work with Fox19, where he serves his movie takes on-air, and as a curator for the Over-the-Rhine International Film Festival. He became a Critics Choice Association member last year and is also a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic.
Having kicked off last month with director Roland Joffé's 1986 historical thriller The Mission, this month brings a drama from the same year: Adrian Lyne's 9 1/2 Weeks. A controversial film (it was initially deemed too explicit by its American distributor) that later garnered a cult following, it follows a Wall Street trader and an art gallery assistant who begin a relationship, which quickly becomes extremely sexual.
You can experience the film all over again (or for the first time) with stern-enzi on March 19 as he shares his experience seeing it during its initial release — and what has (or hasn't) changed since then.
We caught up with stern-enzi via email ahead of the screening to chat about how the series came to be, his formative years in the 1980s and more.
CityBeat: How did the concept for the series (Re)view first form?
tts: Late last year I subbed in for Matt Zoller Seitz, a television/film critic who hosts a film series in New York City that he's bringing to the Esquire. The folks at the Esquire pitched the idea of doing my own series and since I've been programming for the Over-the-Rhine International Film Festival for the last two years, my head was already in the mode of thinking about curating/programming. The important thing was to find what would be different about my series.
I didn't start out as a critic or even a journalist. I'm a guy with a business degree who has always loved movies, so I went with the idea of returning to the films that inspired me back when I was in high school, hanging out with my film geek buddies in the 1980s. The series kicked off with The Mission, which I saw when it opened in 1986 with my prep school roommate in Chattanooga, Tennessee. We were the only people in a late-night screening at the mall theater and by the end, we were both moved to tears — two high school guys crying about a film about Jesuit missionaries starring Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons. The idea of (re)viewing these films is about going back to movies I might not have seen in a theater since their initial release and sharing that experience with an audience, revealing what was going on in the mind of a film critic before embracing the label/role.
CB: Can you discuss your own process of going through/pinning down films that were formative to your career as a critic?
tts: The previous story really wasn't the beginning of this process for me. I would argue my journey as a film critic began with the opening weeks of the release of Blue Velvet. I saw that one, three or four times each weekend during its first three weeks in theaters.
My AP English teacher let me talk about it in class after it opened and I couldn't stop thinking about it. That film — my favorite film of all time — is a part of a chain of movies from that period (along with Street Smart, Pretty in Pink, 'Round Midnight, 9 1/2 Weeks and Beverly Hills Cop 2 — quite a weird and random collection of titles).
I have stories/memories about those films that are fundamentally about who I am as a person. By the time I got to college (at the University of Pennsylvania), I had access to the art house scene in Philadelphia, which opened me up even further. The Last Temptation of Christ was the first film I saw by myself and I was changed. It would take over a decade before I would be in the position to become a critic, but I was watching and learning the craft. Reading reviews every week, going to the movies and comparing my thoughts/opinions with those of critics at major newspapers and the trades. I was hooked.
CB: Since the screening is coming up, why did you choose 9 1/2 Weeks?
TS: Why 9 1/2 Weeks? It was a fun and sexy film for a teenager in the 1980s, but it wasn't purely about the illicit thrill of nudity or whatever a horny teen could get from a movie like Porky's. Those kinds of movies were big a few years earlier because they kicked off the cable revolution. I was intrigued by what made 9 1/2 Weeks different. Mickey Rourke was impossibly cool following his roles in Diner and The Pope of Greenwich Village with Angel Heart and Barfly on the way. Kim Basinger wouldn't really blow up (for me) until L.A. Confidential, but she wouldn't have had that moment without this film. And director Adrian Lyne would put together a string of hits (Flashdance, Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal) that demanded cultural attention. A lot of this comes from being able to look back at this moment, but maybe that's the point. 9 1/2 Weeks demands such a (re)view, right?
You can catch 9 1/2 Weeks at 7 p.m. March 19. More info: esquiretheatre.com.