As some of you may know, a few years back I was a regular on an AMC movie-review show called Movie Club With John Ridley with a man named Anderson Jones. I was the wisecracking neurotic Jew. He was the sassy black queen. Together we were a terrible WB sitcom in the making.
Well, I got a call from my Movie Club producer on Friday that Anderson had had a heart attack during, or shortly before, a screening of A Mighty Heart and died in the ambulance en route to the hospital. Anderson was the kind of guy who could and would laugh at anything, including his own death. In a pitch-black bit of irony, Anderson once proposed a tongue-in-cheek new opening for Movie Club spoofing our personas: for his part an ambulance would arrive at his apartment, hook him up to an IV of vodka and transport him dramatically to the show. So I suspect that Anderson more than anyone would have appreciated the black-comic nature of his death, the way it forced everyone writing about it to wade carefully through a minefield of tasteless humor and easy irony.
Anderson was a star. He was a diva. He was larger than life and stars of his magnitude demand a big finish. I think he also would have been proud to have gone down in the line of duty. Anderson died as he lived: watching movies and making a spectacle of himself. That's why I was profoundly irritated that the headline for Variety's write-up of his death reads "Critic Suffers Heart Attack During Screening". He wasn't any mere critic, Variety. He was Anderson fucking Jones, dammit. Remember the name. Nobody who met Anderson or had the always intertwined pleasure and aggravation to work with him ever forgot him.
I liked Anderson from the get-go. He was funny and smart and loved movies. A populist through and through, he got as much, if not more, from a big, fluffy Julia Roberts or Meg Ryan romantic comedy, than a Lars Von Trier arthouse provocation. Of the six people who regularly talked about movies on Movie Club, he and I were the only two who made a living as film critics or thought of ourselves primarily as film critics. Film criticism wasn't just something we did. It's who we were. It was a core component of our identities.
Anderson had a love of the superficial that bordered on profound. He loved the dizzy pop world of celebrity. He was the kind of guy who referred to celebrities by their first names and made it seem ingratiating rather than annoying. For him premieres and gossip and stargazing and gift bags and junkets weren't irrelevant sideshows: they were much of what made movies and popular culture so damned fun in the first place. For Anderson movies were first and foremost about entertainment but they were more than that.
Anderson was often bigger than the movies he wrote about. I think my Movie Club producers wondered sometimes why we even bothered reviewing movies when Anderson riffing about just about anything would be just as entertaining, if not more so. Like an aging starlet Anderson worked hard to cultivate an aura of mystery. Nobody at Movie Club knew how old he was or how exactly it was he made a living. I wish I could say that his death came as more of a surprise but Anderson seemed to sense he was more likely to burn out than fade away. There's a couplet in Magnetic Fields' "Born On A Train" that goes "I know that you were never young/And I know you probably won't get old" that always reminded me of Anderson.
I always felt bad about not doing more to keep in touch with Anderson after Movie Club's demise. I guess I figured that I'd always have time to reconnect with him down the road, to send him a more substantive email or hang out with him at Sundance. But that call made me realize that you never know when or where time will finally run out.