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R.I.P. Greg Muskewitz: Film critic, writer, friend.

by Chris Parry

I received news today that I was not expecting, even though I was. Greg Muskewitz, a writer at this site since the early days, has passed away, aged just 23. I had known Greg was not well for some time. He'd been fighting illness for quite a while, an illness that had already taken one of his legs, and which would eventually, he was well aware, take his life. It was hard to know what to say to Greg when he told me that he had a few months to live. You never really know what the right thing to say is in a situation like that. Do you give the guy a 'buck up and live every day to the fullest', or do you lay an 'I'm so sorry, is there anything I can do' trip on him? Personally, I couldn't figure out what would be the right thing to say, but I knew to say nothing would be all kinds of wrong, and so we talked. We talked a lot. And it was in talking to him about the time he had left that I realized how little I really knew about Greg Muskewitz.

When he came onto the scene at HBS, Greg hit us like a freight train. We've got some of the most prolific reviewers in the online movie world based at this website, but nobody had churned out the written word like Musky Greg. He posted an incredible 782 film reviews in barely four years at this website, and 62 feature articles. He was an animal, taking in films huge and tiny, popular and obscure, and dissecting them with words and phrases that had most of us busting out our dictionaries. He riled some - there were those that thought he looked down his nose at the reader, while others wondered if he really knew what all those two-dollar words meant. But others smirked and smiled, nodded knowingly and got in on the gag - Greg wasn't prepared to simply tell us a movie was good or bad, he wanted us to really think about what was happening on screen, and if we had to read his review three times to 'get it', then that was the task that lay before us. In other words, 'I'm not slowing down - it's your job to catch up.'

He did interviews, but only with those people he respected or loved. His piece on the breathtaking French beauty Ludivine Sagnier continues to be one of our most widely read celebrity interviews, nearly two years
after it was first posted. During that interview, Greg pulled out a fake Oscar statuette and handed it to Sagnier, telling her "You should have won the César instead of Cécile de France." I have no idea who Cécile de France is, but I have to say I admired the size of the boy's cajones in making such a move on one of the most gorgeous women in cinema.

And in true Musky Greg style, he referred to himself in the interview not as Greg or 'me' or 'interviewer'... but as "moi."

He courted controversy, and seemed to relish it when it hit. His no holds barred beatdown of the San Diego Film Festival in 2003 was a specific highlight:

"I did not find out about the festival through their own people; I was alerted by one of my colleagues on this site, questioning if I would be able to cover it. When I called the PR group handling the fest to ask for access, I was told I already had a press pass awaiting my collection — as did the rest of the critics in San Diego — though similarly without an effort made on their part to let us know. They can let me know as much as they want next year, but I doubt I will be caught around anything they have to offer.

For this, I received an angry response back from one of the directors of the festival, threatening to not allow him back for the next festival, and wishing, very unapologetically, that he "just die". Greg didn't step back from his words in the face of this response, nor did he take the verbal attack personally. Instead, he simply said to me, "You mean they seriously thought I would go back?"

In true Muskewitz style, he did go back a year later, and he served up another pounding.

When the Oscars disappointed Greg, he didn't bitch and whine - instead he created the annual Muskewitz Awards, and gave his nod to the films and actors that should have been nominated, if only other people watched as many obscure films as he did. He took a stab at Charles Tatum's Video Store Grab'n'Run column around that time, and provided yet another taste of vintage Greg while doing so. The Grab'n'run column is essentially an opportunity for a writer to grab five random movies, usually straight to video garbage or something produced by Oprah, and see if we can't find a hidden treasure. Shannon Tweed films abound, Mystery Science Theater titles are never far behind, and the name "Michael Dudikoff" has appeared more than once. But for Greg's stab at the column, we got the rundown on a Miike Takeshi yakuza movie, a Peter Greenaway art-flick, a Fassbinder film from Germany, a Laurent Cantet outing from France, and a Hideo Nakata Japanese thriller.

To be honest, I'm unlikely to watch any of them any time soon. But that was the point Greg was making, that he wasn't just reviewing films, he was learning about them, and asking us to catch up to his learning curve. You don't know who Fassbinder is? Catch up. Got no clue what a Greenaway film is like? Go find one, but hurry, because the Nakata is on next.

I often got the impression from Greg that, if not for the fact that I was twelve years older than he, and living on the other side of the continent, I would have enjoyed calling him up, inviting him to the Cinematheque, and spending the afternoon arguing whether Fassbinder's women were better looking than those in John Waters' old gang. We would have had everyone else in the theater rolling their eyes at the two know-it-alls, but that would have been fine, because deep down that eyeroll is no insult. It's an admission that you know more, have seen more, and are thinking harder than others ever will.

I wish I would have had the presence of mind to arrange for Greg to make it to Sundance before he passed away, but I did manage to help him get in to Palm Springs, San Diego, and even the New York Film Festival while he was still with us, and I know that Palm Springs in particular was something that he got a huge kick out of. He didn't just watch movies, he devoured them, going morning to night, cramming as many in as he could manage.

As he approached his last days, I know that he managed to get himself onto the set of the Gilmore Girls, where his visit apprently went down so well he is due to be immortalized in an upcoming episode, thus fulfilling an ambition that he never thought he had a shot at. He hung out with the cast, watched them at work, and savored every moment, thanks to the work of the Warner Foundation which made the visit happen. In fact, he was so thrilled with that day, that he emailed me at great length about it subsequently after a lengthy period of silence, where I assumed he was out living it to the fullest. The day after, as I took care of work and considered my reply, my computer crashed and was out of commission for over a week. When I managed to get it up and running, his was one of hundreds of emails I needed to catch up with. I was busy with other things, I dillied, I dallied, and yesterday Greg passed away, with that huge day in his life still unreplied to. They say you shouldn't live with regret, but I can tell you I'm going to regret missing that chance to share in his joy. Sometimes you only get one chance to shake a guy's hand before it's gone, and I missed my shot.

So I hope Greg is up there watching over my shoulder as I type this, because he deserves a proper online send-off. Like so many of our 'online friends', I never got to meet Greg face to face, but I still considered him a friend. I respected him, I appreciated his work, and I wish there were more like him - or that he hadn't been dealt the hand he was, and had been allowed to grow up, grow old, and leave a legacy of decades, not years.

I think Greg was okay with his oncoming death, at least as much as you can be in such a situation. He knew he was cared for, he knew he had achieved much in the time he had on this earth, and he left a legacy in his writing that, I can guarantee, will always live on at this very website.

If Heaven has a video store, for Greg's sake, I sure hope it has a decent foreign films section.

Greg Muskewitz: 28 December 1981 - April 22 2005. Rest in peace, friend.

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originally posted: 04/24/05 16:09:18
last updated: 04/25/05 17:26:13
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