David Chute, Longtime Film Critic and Writer, Dies at 71

David Chute, a longtime film critic and writer who tirelessly championed Hong Kong films in the U.S., died Nov. 8 in Los Angeles.

His daughter, Nora Chute, confirmed that he died of esophageal cancer.

Chute wrote for publications including the Boston Phoenix, Film Comment, the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Vanity Fair, the Los Angeles Times and Variety, often advocating for genre films and international filmmakers to get the recognition they deserved.

Chute grew up in Maine with his father, Robert, a poet and biology professor at Bates College, his mother, Vicki, a novelist. He launched his career in the 70s as a film critic at the Kennebec Journal and The Maine Times, where he discovered Stephen King, who he also profiled for Take One. In 1979, King inscribed a copy of “The Shining” to David Chute, “the best film critic in America.”

In 1978, Chute joined the staff of The Boston Phoenix, where he was an early champion of such innovative horror auteurs as George Romero and John Carpenter. Chute was always ahead of the curve, taking genre fiction, movies, comics, and graphic novels seriously long before other critics had heard of Alan Moore, Frank Miller, R. Crumb, or Harvey Pekar.

“I never could have survived those first years without his ability to take on anything I threw at him and turn out a fluid critical piece, glinting with nuggets of insight,” his Phoenix film editor Stephen Schiff wrote on a long Facebook thread about Chute’s impact on a generation of film critics. “Genre and all the strong sensations that came with it attracted him, then obsessed him – I first read the then-under-recognized Stephen King just to see what David was going on about – and it was fascinating to watch him keep pushing his connoisseurship into ever more niche niches…He threw a lot of light into what, for most American readers, had been some fairly obscure corners.”

In 1981, Film Comment ran two career-defining profiles by Chute in the same issue, on indie mavericks John Sayles and John Waters, who along with Stephen King attended his 1983 wedding to Film Comment associate editor Anne Thompson. “David Chute was one of the few critics who championed my early films and his reviews were a huge help in getting my career on track,” wrote John Waters in an email. “He understood my humor and knew there really COULD be such a thing as exploitation films for art theaters.”

In 1982, Chute joined Peter Rainer as a film critic at The Los Angeles Herald Examiner, where Chute was nominated for a Pulitzer for his ten-part series “Behind the Screen” on the crafts of movies. But he also continued to file stories for Film Comment. Over the years, Chute profiled David Cronenberg, Roger Corman, George Miller, Joe Dante, Brian De Palma, Water Hill, James Cameron, Zhang Yimou, Suzuki Seijun, Tsui Hark, and Hayao Miyazaki, and edited influential sections on Hong Kong and Bollywood Cinema. Pauline Kael quoted Chute’s Miller profile in her New Yorker review of “The Road Warrior.”

Chute also covered Lawrence Kasdan for American Film; Jackie Chan, Youssef Chahine, Om Puri, and Pedro Almodovar for the LA Weekly; Philip Kaufman and Francis Ford Coppola for the Los Angeles Times; and Gong Li and John Woo for Vanity Fair.  “I honestly can’t cite another critic — including Ebert and Kael,” wrote L.A. critic Wade Major, “who appears to have touched so many lives.”

Most of all Chute helped to popularize Hong Kong cinema in the U.S., especially filmmaker John Woo (“A Better Tomorrow,” “Hardboiled”), introducing him to Universal executive James Jacks, who backed Woo’s first American movie, “Hard Target.” Chute served as unit publicist on that film, and Woo’s “Broken Arrow,” as well as Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown.” Together David and Tarantino recorded commentary tracks for a set of classic martial arts re-releases from Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers Studios, and Chute contributed to several Criterion Collection releases for Hong Kong films.

“David was an extremely fine and insightful writer on cinema and I always enjoyed the articles and criticisms he wrote for various film magazines,” wrote producer Terence Chang in an email. “He championed the films of John Woo and other Hong Kong directors long before anyone had heard of them. Similarly, he introduced us to the brilliance of Indian cinema when nobody had taken it seriously. Most of all, David was the most decent, genuine, honest and the kindest friend I have ever known. A rare breed in this industry that he worked in.”

In 2003, Chute and Cheng-Sim Lim curated a UCLA Film and Television Archive series, Heroic Grace: Chinese Martial Arts Film, accompanied by essays by critics David Bordwell and Berenice Reynaud, among others, and in 2004, Chute curated the Indian cinema series Bombay Melody at UCLA. “David had a knack for doing things like that,” wrote Lim, “recognizing talent where other folks (especially Western critics) weren’t looking.”

From 2004-2013, Chute was the senior writer at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, while continuing to supply reviews of new Bollywood releases to the LA Weekly, Variety and IndieWire. In recent years, he had been preparing the first definitive historical overview of Wuxia martial arts cinema.

He is predeceased by his parents and survived by his sister Dian Chute; daughter Nora Chute, a producer; and wife Anne Thompson, editor-at-large at Indiewire.

A memorial service will be privately held in Los Angeles.

(Pictured: Chow Yun-Fat and David Chute)

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