One of the saddest things about the death of newspapers is the wealth of talent that is permanently displaced — and often never heard from again. When the Houston Post folded in 1995, a number of excellent reporters in specialty positions like classical music, opera, books and movies lost their jobs. With only a handful of such reporting positions available in the nation, they had to scramble for work in other fields to make a living and often made do with an occasional blog item in the topic they loved.
And coverage of the Houston arts scene has never fully recovered.
The same thing has largely happened at the Houston Chronicle, which no longer has a local movie reviewer. One of the last people to hold that job at the newspaper was Eric Harrison, a soft-spoken man who let his printed words do the talking.
I am chipping in what I can, and I hope you will, too. I believe that Eric deserves a rousing sendoff — just like in the movies.
Harrison left the paper in 2005 after a five-year stint, but more than 100 of his movie reviews during his time at the Chronicle can be found on www.flicks.com. The reviews, which include My Big Fat Greek Wedding ("Despite its flaws, the movie leaves you feeling good, which is about all it aspires to"), Lara Croft: Tomb Raider ("The new film isn't very good, but it's possible to sit through it without holding your nose") and Garden State ("The best parts of this droll, quietly witty drama have the ring of truth") demonstrate his eclectic range.
Like all good reviewers, Eric didn't back down from offering his honest assessment. I recall the Chron's big-cheese editors were not pleased when he gave the wildly popular Mel Gibson movie, The Passion of the Christ, an "F."
"Controversy over whether it will inflame anti-Semitism guarantees huge audiences, and many people may be profoundly moved. But as a film it is quite bad," he wrote.
Although I sat across from Eric when he worked for the Chronicle, I didn't know him well. He was quiet and kept to himself, but he had a wicked sense of humor and a passion for justice. His credentials were impeccable — the Houston native and Kashmere High School graduate was managing editor of The Daily Texan at the University of Texas and was Atlanta bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times during a period that covered the 1996 Olympics — and his writing was always thoughtful and provocative.
Harrison began writing about his true love — film — in 1998. After leaving the Chronicle, he worked as a freelance writer and contributed to the movie news websites Movie-News.com and MovieHouston.com. But he didn't make much money from pursuing his passion. When he died unexpectedly of a brain aneurysm at his home last month, he left no life insurance and had no cash on hand. He was only 57.
His family doesn't have the $6,000 to provide for a proper burial, so friends and colleagues are being asked to join in. Joshua Starnes, president of the Houston Film Critics Society, of which Harrison was a founding member, located the crowdsourcing site Funeral Fund as a place where anyone can donate. In less than a day, 19 people have contributed $1,190.
Organizers have until Dec. 17 to reach the goal. If the total amount isn't raised by then, Eric will likely be buried by the county as a pauper.
I am chipping in what I can, and I hope you will, too. (Click here for more information.) I believe that Eric deserves a rousing sendoff — just like in the movies.