Daughter of Solomon and Helen Schoenberg Klein; married William P. Crist, 1947 (died 1993); children Steven
Judith Crist attended Hunter College (A.B., 1941) and Columbia College (M.S., 1945). She began her career of film reviewer and critic as a reporter for the New York Herald Tribunein 1945, moving on to editor for the arts (1960-63), film critic and associate drama critic (1963-66), and then to film critic for the New York World Journal Tribune (1966-67). Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Crist could be found almost everywhere as her reputation became firmly established as a film commentator for NBC-TV's Today Show (1963-73); contributing editor and film critic for TV Guide (1966-87); contributor and critic-at-large for Ladies' Home Journal (1966-67), as well as a contributor to Vogue, Look, The Washingtonian, and other mass-market publications. She was also a film critic for New York magazine (1968-75), Palm Springs Life (1971-75), Saturday Review (1975-77), and the New York Post (1977-78).
Through her collected New York Herald Tribune reviews, key events in the film world are documented in a first book, The Private Eye, the Cowboy and the Very Naked Girl: Movies from Cleo to Clyde (1968), followed by a second book on film, TV Guide to the Movies (1974). Crist also contributed to several other books written during the 1970s, including Censorship: For and Against (1971), Marriage: For and Against (1972), and Favorite Movies (1972). Beginning in 1971, she organized a series of Judith Crist Film Weekends in Tarrytown, New York, to allow film professionals, including actors, directors, producers, and screenwriters, to interact with movie buffs and academics. Crist collected transcripts from several of these sessions for a book called Take 22: Moviemakers on Moviemaking (1984, reissued 1991), which she edited with Shirley Sealey. The book includes illuminating anecdotes about both the creative and business angles of the movie industry.
While working on her books, Crist was still reviewing for a number of magazines and organizations, including the Saturday Review (she left in 1977 and returned for 1980-84). In the late 1980s, she was the arts critic for WWOR-TV (Channel 9 News) from 1981-87, and provided film reviews for both Coming Attractions and Hollywood magazine from 1985 through 1993.
Crist is a charter member of an important cultural group: that of women film critics, including such luminaries as Pauline Kael, Penelope Gilliatt, Renata Adler, and Susan Sontag, who lead the burgeoning art form not only by virtue of their extensive backgrounds in film history but also as innovators in prose style (often sardonic, opinionated, and personal), in a serious yet ironic attitude toward their subject, and in setting forth new definitions, standards, and ideals of film aesthetics and effects.
Writing for the general audience of the mass media—the film and, increasingly, the television-movie audience—and feeling she was serving a broad popular readership rather than the elite circles of critics and intellectuals who see movies as "filmic art," Crist is known for her Consumer Reports-style orientation toward film. These reports address the external meanings of subject matter, values, and impact, rather than the film's internal symbolism and aesthetic; hence, her concern with issues of sex, violence, and stereotyping of all kinds.
As a self-proclaimed "journalistic critic with no pretensions to esoterica," Crist's position is one of spokesperson for the moviegoer and "fan," not for the elite cineast type of film expert. Crist's ascerbic critical style as a "snide, sarcastic, supercilious bitch" earned her the enmity of film and news industries alike. Her scathing review of the then-huge budgeted Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, for example, caused an uproar and an upset in news and film industry relations. Her brash outspokenness, in the face of studio and film advertising agencies' reprisals, was naturally accompanied by a concern with freedom of speech for the film critic. Crist's own experiences have made her a crusader against the low state of newspaper criticism, whose content is all too easily compromised by the film industry through advertising dollars and the influence of movie moguls on publishers. Crist attributes her anti-industry breakthroughs in film reviewing to the liberal and progressive policies of John Hay Whitney, whose 1960 acquisition of the Herald Tribune "began an era of critical freedom that had not and has not been equaled." These practices and principles give Crist's work a mandate going well beyond providing recommendations for good films and criticisms against bad ones.
Believing with critic James Agee that "film criticism is a conversation between moviegoers," Crist dedicates her work to the idea that the first purpose of criticism is to stimulate the audience's response by offering judgements purposefully controversial and volatile, provoking the individual to draw upon their own responses to make personal judgements of film either in accord with or in conflict against those of the assertive and self-assured critic.
In her years of film criticism, Crist has also taught journalism at Hunter, Columbia, and Sarah Lawrence Colleges. A host of awards for film criticism, including the George Polk award (1951), have come from the American Newspaper Guild, the Educational Writers Association (1952), the New York Newspaper Guild (1955), the New York Newspaper Women's Club (1955, 1959, 1963, 1965, and 1967), and Columbia Graduate School of Journalism Alumni award (1961). She has been a longtime member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the National Society of Film Critics, and Sigma Tau Delta, and received an honorary M.HL. from the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz in 1994. In 1996, she contributed "Where Does It Go?" to the book What We Know So Far: Wisdom Among Women. Crist continues to reside in New York City, where her son is now an editor and publisher.
Censors and Free Speech: Judith Crist, Paul Krassner and Dr. Isidore Rubin (audiocassette, 1971). Judith Crist (audiocassette, n.d.).
CANR (1986). Holiday (Mar. 1976).
SR (4 Oct. 1975). Saturday Review of the Arts (Mar. 1973).
—MARGARET J. KING
UPDATED BY LEAH J. SPARKS