Whose byline is it anyway?

Longtime CN&R movie critic’s semi-secret identity is revealed

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Ladies and gentlemen, readers of the Chico News & Review, it’s time for the truth: The exalted, erudite film critic you have known for nearly 30 years as Juan-Carlos Selznick is actually the exalted, erudite Chico State English professor—and Renaissance man and all-around nice guy— Pete Hogue.

And he is now, officially, out—with his consent, of course.

I first met Pete in the spring of 1977 when I took an American literature class from him. I was impressed immediately, not only with his insights into the poetry and fiction we were reading but also with his wealth of knowledge about the period and the writers—Mark Twain, Flannery O’Connor, F. Scott Fitzgerald—providing invaluable context to the work. Two years later, I was invited to join the Pests, a slow-pitch men’s softball team made up of art and English professors and graduate students—and of which Pete was a 1974 charter member. We have played together on the team ever since.

And we have spent countless hours together after games—over pizza and burgers and beer, sometimes whiskey—at Canal Street, the old Malvina’s, the Dew Drop Inn, LaSalles, the Oasis, The Grad, Mountain Mike’s, Duffy’s, and, lately, the Maltese—rehashing and analyzing not only every detail of the game but in wandering conversation long into the night. I’m continually amazed by his knowledge, his insights and analysis of every topic that presents itself: politics, country music, hockey, professional baseball’s steroid scandal, literature, and of course film. In his own modest, soft-spoken, even self-deprecating way, he can tell you: when Ernest Tubb made his first album, what Jackie Robinson was batting in mid-July of 1951, why Randall Jarrell was a better poet than Richard Brautigan, and about the connections between race issues in sports and the films of John Ford.

Hogue arrived in Chico in the summer of 1971 with his wife, Kathryn, to take a job in the English Department at Chico State. He had recently completed his Ph.D. at the University of Washington, having written his doctoral dissertation on experimental novels in modern American literature. Daughter Sarah was born in 1974, Gretchen three years later. Pete’s granddaughter, Sage, is 10.

Professor Hogue’s 34-year academic career included not only teaching a wide range of American literature and American studies classes but also heading up a number of film programs, both inside and outside the department, most notably the highly regarded University Film Series. In 2005, he retired from Chico State. He continues to write, though, as well as to play softball, both for the Pests and for a senior-league team.

Hogue began writing film reviews for the Chico News & Review in 1978. He has written about one a week since then—somewhere around 1,500 in all. He has also written for Film Comment, Film Quarterly and many other publications. Brian Boyer, assistant principal at Chico High School, has long been a fan and in fact as a student worked as a projectionist for the University Film Series. “I have great respect for his reviews,” Boyer says. “His and David Ansen’s [of Newsweek magazine], although I think Pete’s are better.”

Throughout his career, Hogue has inspired countless students and community members with his lectures, film-series “notes” and reviews—of classic westerns, film noirs, and obscure foreign-language films that viewers would never have had a chance to see had he not written about them or brought them to campus.

Thomasin Saxe, director of special projects for the College of Humanities and Fine Arts at Chico State, took classes from Hogue in the early ‘80s and wrote film reviews for Chico News & Review herself (edited by Hogue) in the early ‘90s. “No other teacher has had such a profound influence on my critical thinking,” Saxe says. “Pete shakes up my views not only of film but other visual arts—and music and literature, too. His integrity, depth of perception, and genuine responses to all art make him a constant source of fresh, intelligent ideas. He knows so much! And I, for one, can never pin him down. Really, he’ll be 21 at heart forever.”

Here’s what Hogue had to say about it all:

SM: Why did you choose to write as Juan-Carlos Selznick?

PH: Peter Hogue was enough of a cautious academic that a not-so-secret pseudonym seemed useful cover—for a reviewer/journalist working in the haste of weekly deadlines. In this pragmatic illusion, “Juan-Carlos” perhaps had greater license to shoot from the hip with impunity. But it was never a tightly guarded secret, and over the years Juan-Carlos may have become more of a cautious academic while Peter Hogue has become more inclined to shoot from the hip. Anyway, I still like the moniker.

Where does the name come from?

Out of my surrealist sense of humor, I guess. I used a number of fanciful pseudonyms for some of my occasional writing in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s—film-series program notes, reviews and diatribes in college newspapers and Seattle’s “underground” weeklies.

Do Peter Hogue and Juan-Carlos Selznick like the same kinds of movies? How would Selznick describe Hogue?

Peter Hogue and Juan-Carlos Selznick have been conducting imaginary interviews with each other, off and on, for years. But both of them keep losing track of who’s doing the talking at any given moment.

When did you first get seriously interested in film?

CN&R readers, meet Juan-Carlos Selznick (aka Peter Hogue).

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

I started writing reviews and organizing film series at Whitman College in 1962. There were no real film studies courses in those days at either Whitman or the University of Washington, but I had parallel interests in film, music and art pretty early on—it seemed to come naturally out of everything that was going on in the Liberal Arts College at Whitman.

Was there a film you saw when you were young that really knocked you over?

Satyajit Ray’s The World of Apu was a real eye-opener for me in high school—it was the first foreign-language film I’d ever seen and the first time I had the feeling that a movie could be as good as a really great piece of literature. Before that the first movies I really loved as movies were the Laurel and Hardy comedies, the Flash Gordon serials, and assorted early-'30s B-westerns with Bob Steele and Ken Maynard—most of which I encountered on television rather than in movie theaters, beginning around 1950.

How many times do you need to see a movie to review it?

Peter Hogue needs at least two viewings; Juan-Carlos rarely has that luxury.

Does it ever get old, watching movies and/or writing about them?

I’ve never really lost my appetite for all that. Right from the start, the News & Review gave me the option of picking and choosing what I wanted to see and write about, and that’s always been a great part of the gig for me.

What film critics do you admire?

Manny Farber and Andrew Sarris were my first film-reviewing heroes.

Who are your favorite directors?

Jean Renoir, Luis Buñuel, Howard Hawks, Michelangelo Antonioni, Jean-Luc Godard.

How many films do you see a week?

It varies: sometimes a dozen or more, sometimes only one or two, or none at all.

If your house was burning and you could only grab one DVD, what would it be?

If I had to choose only one, I’d be in great danger of not getting out of the house in time. On second thought: Stagecoach.

What are your plans?

I have a good many non-JCS projects, writing and research, that I’d like to make further progress on—the topics include westerns, several aspects of the French New Wave, Mexican cinema of the 1940s, and various aspects of Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s.

Do you think American film is in good shape?

The chaotic jumble of contemporary culture leaves considerable doubt about whether anything is in good shape. I have more confidence in the dozen or so outstanding French films that reach us each year than I do in any other national film trend, but there’s an abundance of interesting work from all over the world, and a great deal of it still originates in the USA.