The last time I spoke with St. Louis Post Dispatch film critic Joe Williams, it was after a movie last winter and in a circle of film critics. That’s the way it worked for movie scribes. A movie would be screened and the critics would inform the local marketing company, Allied, rep what they thought afterwards. A quick take. Joe and I didn’t agree that much, but I respected his work and his blunt assessment of film.
Sunday evening, in route to a movie in Cadet, Missouri, Williams was killed in a car crash. The St. Louis film scene will never be the same. Williams’ loss will reverberate throughout the country.
The hardest part of a writer’s death is never hearing their voice again. Changing websites or papers is one thing. Post Dispatch sports writer Bernie Miklasz will leave the paper in August but he can be found at 101 ESPN afterwards. Williams’ voice is gone forever. That is truly the toughest part of this ordeal. For a town with one paper, Williams was the voice for film fans in the Lou. Every week, they’d rush to the stands or refresh their STLToday apps and see what he thought of the latest flicks. That will not be possible after this weekend.
I remember one night after a screening of Prisoners last year. Joe was the first out of the show and hated the film. He gave his take to the rep and left the theater before the other critics could reach the lobby. The majority of other film critics liked it and this is where someone could be mad at Joe for dropping his dose and taking off. Then again, this was simply the way Joe worked. He didn’t need extra time to give his take and didn’t care what others thought. He was defiant and those writers make the best critics. They can’t be convinced another voice matters and while it seems like the opposite of humble, it’s just the truth.
Film criticism isn’t an easy racket to get noticed in but Williams nailed down his spot by going against type and being as singular as possible. He never sipped the koolaid and I respected him for that. We rarely agreed and could go head to head due to this scrappy writer’s eagerness to argue, but I always wanted to know what Joe thought. I was curious.
The St. Louis film scene won’t be the same. Williams became a film critic for the Post Dispatch in 2000, and anchored the movie spot in recent years. Yank that out and the scene is left dried up for a while. His defiant voice will not be easy to replace. All fans can do now is go back and read his older reviews and use them to imagine what he would say about future releases.
Joe Williams may have left too soon at the age of 56, but one way to keep his legacy alive is to remember his immovable opinion and one of a kind take on cinema.