Meet Michael Sragow, the Orange County Register’s New Film Critic

It all started so innocently. Michael Sragow, the newly announced film critic for the Orange County Register, was minding his own Tribune Co. business in Baltimore when he received an email.

“Someone forwarded to me an alt-weekly article that was sort of making fun of the new [Register] ownership for concentrating on the print product,” Sragow tells FishbowlLA via telephone. (Though he could not remember the specifics of the article, it sounded very much to us like the OC Weekly handiwork of Gustavo Arellano.) “I actually thought, ‘That [focus] is a pretty smart idea'”

“I got in touch with the [Register] editors, who directed me to the job posting,” he continues. “Just the way they were talking about the position, and how they wanted someone who could talk about a wide range of movies past and present… It was so unusual in today’s world of cultural journalism that I really jumped at it.”

Sragow, scheduled to officially start in March, is headed our way this weekend to begin the search for a new place to live. He and wife Glenda are also getting ready to sell their home in Baltimore, where he has worked since 2001 for the Sun newspaper.

“The last time I lived in LA was 1983, when I was working for the Herald-Examiner and at the LA offices of Rolling Stone,” Sragow recalls. “We actually used to go down to the South Coast Repertory a lot, because my wife was working at the time for the Mark Taper Forum.”

“Luckily, Glenda works now mostly as a freelance editor of manuscripts, scripts and all sorts of writing,” he adds. “She’s actually fairly mobile. She’s been a college professor too, so who knows, maybe she will look into that end of things as well once we’re settled. We both really loved our previous time in Southern California.”

It should be noted that Sragow is 60-years-old. He’s not only taking up the kind of job (print media film critic) that has all but disappeared in recent years, but he’s doing so at a relatively late career stage as well. The Register is to be commended for going with someone whose experiences reach all the way back for example to having David Denby as his editor at the Boston Phoenix in the late 1970s.

Sragow’s fond professional California memories include watching a sneak peak audience in Long Beach go crazy for Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours and sitting in the editing room as Jonathan Demme put together Stop Making Sense. “When Jonathan had told me he was working with Talking Heads, I thought he just meant talking heads,” Sragow confesses. “Jonathan invited me and Glenda to see the film that same night.”

“There was a surprisingly glam crowd – and us. Gary Goetzman, Demme’s producing partner, glanced at us in our best Boston drab, chuckled, and said to Jonathan, “Crazy crowd tonight.” Then the movie started and it was the best rock concert film I’d ever seen. I wrote the first rave for that film, for Film Comment.”

Sragow tells FishbowlLA he may start writing a bit for the Register in February. It all depends on how the move goes and what his editors, with whom he will meet with next week, have planned. Welcome back to sunny SoCal, Mr. Sragow.

Update – 03/28/2013: Sragow’s reviews have begun appearing and posting on the Orange County Register website as of Wednesday, March 27. Also included in the early mix is his erudite self-introduction, Michael Sragow: My Life as a Critic

[Photo of Sragow by Chiaki Kawajiri]

Previously on FishbowlLA:
Former Herald-Examiner Critic Recalls Consummate Career Advice
David Denby Looks Back at the Future of Movies