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Chute died Nov. 8 in Los Angeles after a brief battle with esophageal cancer, his daughter, Nora Chute, reported.
David Christopher Chute was born on March 11, 1950, in Bangor, Maine. His father, Robert, was a poet and biology professor at Bates College, and his mother, Vicki, a novelist.
Chute attended the Putney School and St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, and launched his career in the 1970s as a film critic at the Kennebec Journal and The Maine Times, where he discovered Stephen King and wrote a profile of the author in Take One. (King once inscribed a copy of his 1977 novel The Shining to Chute, calling him “the best film critic in America.”)
In 1978, Chute joined the Boston Phoenix, where he supported such innovative horror auteurs as George Romero and John Carpenter. He took 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 Facebook 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 career-defining profiles by Chute on indie mavericks John Sayles and Waters in the same issue. (Waters, along with King, attended Chute’s 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,” Waters wrote in a statement. “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 critic at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, where Chute was nominated for a Pulitzer for his 10-part Behind the Screen series on the crafts of movies. He also continued to write for Film Comment.
Over the years, Chute profiled the likes of David Cronenberg, Roger Corman, George Miller, Joe Dante, Brian De Palma, Water Hill, James Cameron, Zhang Yimou, Seijun Suzuki, Tsui Hark and Hayao Miyazaki and edited sections on Hong Kong and Bollywood cinema. Pauline Kael quoted Chute’s Miller profile in her New Yorker review of The Road Warrior (1981).
Chute also covered Lawrence Kasdan for American Film; Jackie Chan, Youssef Chahine, Om Puri and Pedro Almódovar for L.A. Weekly; Philip Kaufman and Francis Ford Coppola for the Los Angeles Times; and Gong Li and Woo for Vanity Fair.
“I honestly can’t cite another critic — including [Roger] Ebert and Kael,” wrote critic Wade Major, “who appears to have touched so many lives.”
Chute helped to popularize Hong Kong cinema in the U.S. He introduced Woo to Universal executive James Jacks, who backed the filmmaker’s first American movie, Hard Target (1993). Chute served as unit publicist on that film and on Woo’s Broken Arrow (1996) and Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown (1997).
Chute and Tarantino together recorded commentary tracks for a set of classic martial arts rereleases from Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers, 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,” producer Terence Chang wrote. “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 & Television Archive series, Heroic Grace: Chinese Martial Arts Film, accompanied by essays by critics David Bordwell and Berenice Reynaud, among others. A year later, he 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 2004-13, Chute served as a senior writer at the UCLA School of Theater, Film & Television while continuing to supply reviews of new Bollywood releases to L.A. Weekly, Variety and IndieWire. In recent years, he had been preparing a definitive historical overview of Wuxia martial arts cinema.
In addition to his daughter and Thompson, now editor at large at IndieWire, he’s survived by his sister, Dian. A memorial service will be privately held in Los Angeles.
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