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Pick of the crix: an appreciation

Guest Column

When you make films, there are critics you rush to read, and critics you don’t give a damn about.

Alexander Walker was definitely in the first camp. You might not have agreed with everything he wrote, but you had to be knocked out by the elegance of his writing, his incredible insights, and most of all, his absolute passion for cinema.

I first came across his writing when, as a movie buff growing up in New York, I came across his fabulous biographies of Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Vivien Leigh, Bette Davis, and Peter Sellers. The more I read, the more I wanted to read, as he brought these amazing characters to life through both personal reminiscences and outstanding research.

His total love and admiration for both the man and his work shone through every page of his biography of Stanley Kubrick. (Who can forget his pre-release review of “Eyes Wide Shut,” which at a stroke turned around negative pre-publicity for the movie and made all of us want to run to the nearest cinema to see it?)

And for someone as passionate about British cinema as me, his two definitive studies of the industry in the ’60s and ’70s, “Hollywood England” and “National Heroes,” were like classroom primers.

He was a tireless champion of new and exciting talent — people thought he grew conservative as he got older, but, as his rave review of “Pulp Fiction” showed, he recognized a major director like Quentin Tarantino from the start.

And when other critics seemed to be reviewing the events around the making of “Gangs of New York,” Alex was one of the few who judged the film, fairly and squarely, for what it was and what it was setting out to achieve.

While our paths had crossed many times over the years, I only got to know Alex well in recent years. When the original release date for “The Quiet American” was delayed, Alex chastised me — he thought I was some kind of right-wing conservative censoring a film whose politics were too hot to handle.

I rang him to point out both my political credentials, working closely with both Bill Clinton and Al Gore, and how the events of Sept. 11 made it an impossible climate to release a powerful and provocative movie of this kind.

Alex couldn’t have been more supportive in recognizing these difficulties, and his championing of both the film and Michael Caine’s great performance made an enormous difference when it was released in Europe.

He was always there for the edgy and more challenging projects right up to the end — his review for our Stephen Frears picture, “Dirty Pretty Things,” was one of the most illuminating and enthusiastic we received.

For his friends and family, and for anyone who loves and cares about movies, it’s a sad loss. However, I suspect Mr. Walker will have quickly turned the tables on St. Peter, and is now enjoying a very fruitful afterlife giving solid advice and criticism directly to Mr. Orson Welles, and one Mr. Billy Wilder, among others.

Finally, it was Alex who showed me Carol Reed’s classic “The Fallen Idol,” suggesting a remake; when it happens, I’ll be sure to dedicate the film to him.

Harvey Weinstein is co-chairman of Miramax Films.

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