THE MOVIE LOVER
Fred Linch leans forward. He glances down at his favorite breakfast of bacon, eggs and a toasted bagel.
He sits at an outdoor table at Scott's Generations Delicatessen. If Linch stares straight ahead, he can see the entire shopping-center parking lot at Seventh Street and Missouri. At 6:30 in the morning, however, there are few cars.
Linch sips coffee slowly while glancing through his morning New York Times. He looks up and smiles.
"Just remember," he says, "that 90 percent of everything is crap." Linch credits the movie director who coined the phrase.
Linch is a large man, as imposing as any offensive-line coach in football. Now in his mid-50s, he sports a ponytail that makes him look like a character actor from a new version of Treasure Island or Mutiny on the Bounty.
Linch would know all about those films. He would know all about character actors, too. He has been collecting films for more than 20 years, and lectures on them an average of half a dozen times a month.
He has amassed a personal collection of 2,500 films, a collection which is still growing.
"I think that violence in films is almost cathartic," he says. "Take a film like Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch. I think it will eventually be rated as one of the ten best films of all time."
Linch's favorite violent film of the past few years is Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. He can't wait to see what Tarantino has done with another violent crime film, Pulp Fiction, which opens here this week.
"Tarantino makes some people crazy, but the kid has got it," Linch says. "He understands the genre."
Linch reads a great deal of movie criticism. For years, Pauline Kael of the New Yorker was his favorite. She is now retired, however, and he reads Janet Maslin of the New York Times and Bob Cauthorn of the Arizona Daily Star.
Among the masters, Linch prefers Graham Greene and James Agee.
"If you are going to review a film like Pulp Fiction," he says, "a critic had better know about the history of films. He must know the work of James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson.
"When Tarantino did Reservoir Dogs, he showed me he understood the past," Linch says. "In one of the main supporting roles, he put Lawrence Tierney, once a great villain and now in his 70s. Tierney's presence served as a bridge from the past.
"There were several other tributes to the past in that film that indicated Tarantino has done his homework. There was a moment with the principals walking down the street that was reminiscent of a scene with William Holden and Ernest Borgnine in Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch. And some of the scenes reminded me of that great nonviolent film, Barry Levinson's Diner."
Linch's favorite villainous performances of recent years have come from the little-known Alan Rickman's work in films like Die Hard, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Quigley Down Under.
His favorite character actor, going away, is Ben Johnson, whose performance as Sam the Lion in Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show has become a classic in film history.
"I have used that great, heartbreaking scene in which Johnson just sits in front of the lake and talks into the screen dozens of times in my lectures. Ben Johnson is so good in that scene that it stands alone. The audience never fails to respond to it."
Linch grew up in Oil City, Pennsylvania, where he began attending films at the Lyric theatre alone at the age of 7 in 1947.
"They changed the movies three times a week because we were 90 miles from Pittsburgh and television hadn't really reached us in Oil City yet," Linch remembers.
He went on to study engineering at Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland, and it was there that he discovered tweed jackets with patches on the elbows and foreign films, and developed a lasting admiration for Ingmar Bergman, Franois Truffaut and Federico Fellini.
When Linch began collecting films, one of the first he bought was Fellini's La Dolce Vita.
Linch's lectures on films have become great favorites. They consist not only of Linch's comments, but also of his showing clips from the films he discusses.
He is currently engaged in a lecture series two years in duration, which he conducts in his home for a group limited to 14. It is dedicated to celebrating 100 years of film, dating from the first movie shown for which admission was charged. It was by the Lumiäre brothers, Louis and Auguste, on December 28, 1895, in Paris.
"My final lecture will be held on the hundredth anniversary in 1995 at the Ritz-Carlton hotel," Linch says. "Many plan to come dressed as Hollywood stars."
Linch is also doing a series for Mesa Arts Center dealing with various art forms.
"For example," he says, "when we discuss music, I show the Irish film The Commitments, about the founding of a rock band, and my two lecturers are one fellow who has formed two rock bands of his own and another who formed his own string quartet.
"When the subject is the culinary arts, I show Babette's Feast, and bring in both a chef and an expert from the epicurean society. When we discuss photography, the film will be Blowup."
Sometime in November, Linch plans to do a lecture at Houle Books in the Borgata on the perfect movie. His choice is Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo.
"Hitchcock knew his audience," Linch says. "Vertigo may not be the greatest film of all time, but everything about it works on an audience level. Hitch was a master manipulator who learned early that there was a difference between shock and suspense and when to use them.
"With suspense, you always let the audience know what potentially could or would happen. The important rule is that if you are going to use suspense, never kill the good guy. Hitchcock made that mistake early in his career and suffered for it.
"In a film called Sabotage, he put a bomb in the hands of a little kid. The bomb went off and killed the kid. People hated the film because of that, and Hitchcock learned he had made a terrible mistake in killing the wrong person.
"For years after, Hitch moaned, 'I should never have killed that kid.'"
Linch has a successful business rebuilding office furniture, but his work with film has become his obsession.
Now he has finished his eggs and bacon and is working on a third cup of coffee.
"There are two things about film that I love," Linch says. "First, they are so accessible. The other thing is that when I'm lecturing, I know that everybody in the audience has an opinion that they will soon offer.
"If I were talking about Renoir's paintings of James Joyce's Ulysses, people would hesitate to say anything.
"But when you stand up and give your opinions on films, people are going to come at you. Everyone has his own opinion, and everyone is convinced that he or she is right. It's truly the people's art form.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.