R.I.P., Movie Guide – and Thanks a Lot, Progress.

movie guideRemember books? They were fun while they lasted.

I came of age in the 1980s, when entertainment journalism was less sophisticated than in our Internet Age of today. Back then we didn’t have databases from which to instantly pluck arcane tidbits about Citizen Kane or Bullitt; all we had was Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, published like clockwork every year, right about now.

Back then Maltin was probably best known for his film-critic duties on Entertainment Tonight; but in my house we didn’t really watch that show. I did, however, keep the latest Maltin Guide nearby at all times. More than a resource, it was an argument-resolution device, a literal game-changer for the Trivial Pursuit era – and for a budding film critic like yours truly, a crash course: Concise Cinema Lit 101. Before I discovered Pauline Kael or the critics of the Village Voice and the Boston Phoenix, these capsule reviews were an entry point into a new way of looking at film.

When I graduated from college and moved to New York City, I worked for a couple of years at Viking Penguin publishers, where as luck would have it I became the publicist for that very book. Leonard and I became friendly: I called his home once and his young daughter Jessie answered, thinking I was Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid. And when he came to New York for that leg of his book tour, we talked about film criticism, watched a couple of movies (Pacific Heights and Memphis Belle were playing that week), and grabbed dinner at John’s Pizza on Bleecker Street – still my choice for Manhattan’s best pie.

None of this nostalgia can obscure the fact that the Internet has made the Maltin Guide, in all its printed glory, obsolete – and so the announcement today that the 2015 edition, to be published next month, will be the last for the venerable reference text. We can all get capsule reviews (and much more) with a few keystrokes now, which has inevitably diminished the value of a curated compendium, from a single reputable source, that could sit comfortably next to an armchair in all its analog glory.

Everything printed has felt the pinch of the web; this is just Leonard’s turn. Maltin himself is online too, of course, and his written “voice” is as clear and passionate about film as ever. (Entertainment Tonight never came close to tapping his talents.) But it’s not – and won’t be – the same.