He sat in the comfiest chair, his spectacles resting with supernatural force on the tip of his nose. Looking at his worn notebook that he always had with him; he skimmed the page, ably listening to one of the monthly tenants of the Full Circle Film Group as they babbled on about “why don’t they release good family films anymore” before righting our course back to the latest films.
“Louis, tell me what you actually liked about Virtuosity….”
Or some other movie released around that time. It didn’t matter. To me, an eighth-grader with a depressive movie obsession, John Pickard was a celebrity of sorts, back when a local writer could be that—and he wanted my opinion on the latest in cinema, or at least as far as the Penn Square Mall General Cinema could take me.
As a weekly reader of his column in the Oklahoma Gazette—where in his sarcastic 250 words or so he wasn’t afraid to snidely appreciate or backhandedly depreciate what was cinematically eating away at him—I would walk the many blocks from my house to 50 Penn Place just to be a part of the discussion, usually surrounded by middle-aged types who, I felt, just didn’t “get it.”
But Pickard sure got it. With his stoic glare, he never treated me like the annoying kid, as so many others around that time did. He was one of the few people that talked to me like an adult, mostly listening to my idiotic ramblings and offering unsolicited but, in retrospect, much needed advice on navigating through life while being surrounded by people who will probably never understand you.
(Hey, it was the early 90s…we had no idea the Internet was coming.)
A lot of people would complain about him to me; either he was too short or too dismissive with them. There was a key to understanding the man, and I feel I was lucky enough to. And whether it was reading my film reviews before I sent them in to the school paper or, running an article in the Gazette about my attempts at publishing, or a few times, letting me come teach his UCO night class about foreign horror flicks like The Bride With the White Hair or Suspiria, I don’t know if he knew it, but he was always a much-needed mentor at the time.
Sadly, we lost touch a couple of years ago. He was never at screenings anymore, the Gazette unceremoniously dumped him and I think even UCO moved on without him. I eventually moved to Colorado for a while and, when talking to an old friend, mentioned that he “thought” Pickard died—but wasn’t sure.
John Pickard was probably the best film critic Oklahoma City ever knew—or didn’t know—a book-heavy knowledgeable sort that ruled the printed page in a time before fandoms prevailed and rewritten press releases were the norm.
He taught me the painful difference between a much-loved entertainment reporter and a usually derided film journalist. Sure, looking around, there’s not much credence in all that anymore, but for that formative time in my youth, thank God he reigned when he did. Fade to black.
For those interested, an open wake will be this Saturday, Jan. 26, 4-6 p.m. at "The Other Room" at Picasso on Paseo, 3009 Paseo.