Movie champion: a tribute to Boxoffice Pro editor Kevin Lally in his latest issue
The history of Boxoffice Pro is not complete without mentioning International Film Review, the cinema exhibition trade publication that was in print for 84 years before merging with Boxoffice Pro in 2019. And the story of International Film Review is not complete without Kevin Lally, the man who served as its editor for its last 35 years. This issue marks Lally’s final tenure at Boxoffice Pro, where he served as editor for three years after the International Film Review/Boxoffice Pro Fusion. So it’s only fitting that we take this opportunity to pay tribute to a man who brought kindness, strength of character and, above all, a desire to defend cinema for nearly 40 years covering the exhibition industry.
Lally grew up in Dumont, New Jersey, where he was within walking distance of local movie theaters – the Claridge and Wellmont, both in Montclair, were particularly popular – an assortment of smaller movie theaters and all the brilliant theaters that the found in New York. York. Outings to the cinema were frequent; growing up, he graduated from Disney (“I’d say 50% of what I saw growing up was Disney”) to see people like Klute, The Godfather, and Hitchcock Frenzy with his father, whom he describes as his “movie buddy”.
Going to college at Fordham University in the Bronx brought Lally closer to the city’s art house scene; he jokes that he “did a minor in repertory cinema”. He would go to Manhattan’s Elgin Theater, his all-time favorite movie theater (it now operates as a dance theater, the Joyce), for special summer screenings of Buster Keaton films. At Radio City Music Hall, he picked up Abel Gance Napoleon with a live orchestra. “It was the heyday of the Carnegie Hall Cinema, the Bleecker Street Cinema, the Thalia, the New Yorker [Theatre], all these big performance houses in New York,” he says. “They were programming all the classics – Fellini, Bergman. I was going to Manhattan about three times a week for personal filmmaking training. In a foreshadowing of his later career, he was the arts editor of the Fordham newspaper; through Warner Bros., which at the time “was very active in pursuing the college press”, he was further immersed in the local film review scene, going to screenings and talking to directors (including Martin Scorsese, for Alice does not live Here more).
Then came “the best and worst decision of my life”: getting into the cast game. A fellow critic by the name of Ray Blanco had started a company called Bauer International, and Lally joined the team, “which was a huge mistake because we had no capitalization”. Their big star was Wim Wenders, who distributed his first six films through Bauer, a decision Lally still can’t claim to understand.
At the ripe old age of 22, Lally finds herself at the Cannes Film Festival for Wenders’s kings of the road, which, although now widely regarded as one of his best, was criticized by the Time when it opened in New York. “We took such a financial dip with this movie, and we never recovered from it.” Bauer “limbed” for a few more years and then closed, which led Lally to return to film criticism, working for a small New Jersey newspaper. Shortly after, a publicist friend informed him of a position to be filled at International Film Review, then owned by trade show organization Film Expo Group. By the time he was 30, he ran one of two major North American publications (along with Boxoffice) devoted to the theater exhibition industry.
There he worked under Bob Sunshine and his brother, Jimmy Sunshine, who let Lally pursue the films and stories that interested him so much as the other half of the publication – that relating to the workings of the movie industry – was running smoothly. . “I have to give credit to Bob Sunshine,” says Lally. “He was trying to get this show started – what is now CineEurope, but started as ‘Cinema Expo International’. I remember at the time, I thought, ‘Boy, is this an ambitious idea? , to bring an American-style exhibition convention to Europe. If they can really do that job. …’ And they did. I think his priority was to grow that side of the business, and he was just happy to have someone competent who could do the magazine every month.
Working under the suns, Lally had “incredible freedom” to champion films big and small. “If I liked a movie, I did a play about the director. It didn’t matter what its box office potential was. If it was a movie worth watching, I had the freedom to cover it. Under Lally, International Film Review covered the early films of directors like Kathryn Bigelow and Cary Joji Fukunaga. The partial list of filmmakers Lally has personally interviewed spans three single-spaced pages and includes names such as Clint Eastwood, Robert Altman, Saul Bass and the great Billy Wilder, whom Lally spoke to for his 1996 biography. Wilder Times: The Life of Billy Wilder. (Wilder, reluctant to be interviewed, had to be persuaded by his agent. “It was the time of the Middle East peace talks,” Lally says. [the agent], Wilder said, “Well, if Arafat and Rabin can shake hands, I guess I can meet Mr. Lally.”) His favorite interview was with Liv Ullman, whom he spoke to in his apartment in the Upper West Side. Claiming that she had just eaten garlic for lunch, she sat down on the floor while Lally took the sofa. “So Liv Ullmann sat down at my feet.”
Through it all, Lally remained – and remains – an avid film buff, both writing about and experimenting with the transition from sloping floors and 35mm era cinemas to electric recliners and digital projectors. “The generation has no idea what it was like back then,” he says. “Sometimes if you went to a repertoire house, you went to see a classic movie and the copy had gone all red.” He was the head of International Film Review in the era of digital conversion and, earlier, the “digital sound wars”. You had Dolby, DTS and Sony, all with these three competing digital audio systems, each claiming to be better than the other. It was very delicate as a publication. How do you cover that and stay objective? “
Technology has changed, but International Film Review the leadership—Sunshine, Lally, and later Rex Roberts, the magazine’s longtime designer—remained consistent, joined by a rotating cast of associate editors. Its first assistant editor, Wendy Weinstein, “showed me what I had to do. We have become great friends. We are friends to this day. In fact, she left a year later – she got pregnant, decided she wanted to start a family. But she was just the perfect person to show me how to do film journalism.
Since then, Lally has not hesitated to pass on her knowledge to others. “I have a lot of proteges,” says Lally. “I’m very proud.” Full disclosure: I am one of those proteges, having served as International Film Review‘s deputy editor for the past four years before its merger with Boxoffice Pro, and so can add a personal note that Lally is one of the nicest men this industry has had the good fortune to employ. I have also personally benefited from Lally’s decades of dedication to championing independent and repertoire film; a lot is the movie i would never have seen if i hadn’t read a positive review in International Film Review, which has often been one of the few publications to review a particularly specialized film.
These are the films that require a bit more work to find their audience – whether it’s a low-budget indie title or a non-IP based title from one of the big studios – which Lally remains preoccupied; he firmly believes in the importance of offering a variety of films to moviegoers and thinks that, on this, the film industry has strayed from the path. “I think it was a very sad day when Disney gobbled up Fox,” he says. “Because Fox was making a lot of mid-budget movies, like hidden numbers– which found an audience and did well. It’s not a priority for Disney. An evolution that Lally can 100 percent behind is the conversion to reclining seats, “one of the smartest things [cinemas] made over the past decade.
You will find some of Lally’s writings in our centenary issue, with his reporting on A newspaper for Jordan and To flee. What shines through in these plays – and in all of Lally’s writing – is her love and knowledge of the art of cinema. It’s not about to end: there may be another book in her future, on character actresses. And it’s a legacy he leaves behind, both in this publication and in a filmmaking community that has been so blessed to have him as a perpetual advocate.