Robert W. Butler and the Library: A Beautiful Friendship

Robert W. Butler is a movie critic’s movie critic. He knows his early Buñuels from his later Godards and can talk Hollywoodese with the layman. When you prick him, he bleeds Peckinpah. It’s no wonder why, when Butler’s four decades at the Kansas City Star came to an end this past May, Roger Ebert summed up his feelings on Twitter in a single word: “Damn.”

In a journalism industry where longstanding local movie critics are being cut in favor of cheaper, syndicated wire content, writers like Butler are forced to look for new outlets. Fortunately for KC’s cinema-soaked crowd, Butler has found his way to the Kansas City Public Library. And we couldn’t be happier to have him. 

A movie critic at a library, you say? It’s a plot twist worthy of Hitchcock, to be sure, but when you think about it, it’s a natural fit.

As anyone who has descended to our Stanley H. Durwood Film Vault or risen to our Rooftop Terrace for an Off-the-Wall screening knows, the KC Public Library has built a reputation for bringing creative, challenging, and inspired film programming to the public many nights a month, always free of charge

With Butler at the helm, this programming is going to get even more daring. Starting September 2011, Butler will take over the selection of all movies shown in our film series, and he’ll be introducing a few select screenings each month in person.

In addition to picking the films, Butler will also keep his writing chops in shape over on his brand-new blog, From the Film Vault. There, our critic-at-large will post expertly written guides to all the movies showing in the Vault, plus reviews of DVDs new to our catalog, vlog-style previews of films, movie trivia quizzes, essays on significant events in film culture, and pretty much anything else he wants to write. Check out his coverage of our September film series "The Golden Door," which complements our exhibit on Emma Lazarus.

While it’s great for the Library to be getting this legendary homegrown film critic, it’s even better for movie fans all across Kansas City. Why? Well, to take it back to Ebert … imagine if the lauded Chicago critic opened his own theater and started showing whatever movies he wanted. Wouldn’t you want to check that out?

As Bogie said to Claude Rains at the end of Casablanca: “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

-- Jason Harper