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Barry Ronge: A Life of Words and Magic

Barry Ronge was a famous South African entertainment journalist who retired from the spotlight in 2014 and recently passed away on 3 July. Dying from natural causes at the age of 74, it's curious to note that while the prolific reviewer guarded his privacy, he led a very public career, appearing on television shows, radio broadcasts, hosting events in addition to writing reviews and columns for magazines and newspapers.

Having this kind of platform, the much-loved critic developed a name for himself over his career spanning many decades, known for his wit, words and passion for film. From teaching English and Afrikaans at a private school in Johannesburg to writing scathing restaurant reviews under a pseudonym, bringing the goods in his Spit 'n Polish column and becoming a well-known movie critic, he navigated a colourful and curious career as an entertainment pundit.

Barry Ronge

Watching films in the front row at press screenings in Joburg, Ronge did what he had always done from an early age. Having the cinema as his afterschool "nanny", Barry literally turned his passion for cinema into a lifetime pursuit, watching and reviewing up to 5 films per week like he had done in his childhood. The film critic allowed himself to be submerged in the cinematic experience, feeling the storytelling rather than analysing it to a fault. This resulted in his style of film review, which carried a strong emotional element as evidenced in his expressive language and response to the film.

Able to peel away layers in drawing a clearer picture of just how the movie provoked such responses in him, this made his review process more accessible to mainstream audiences. While Barry Ronge did it his way, his natural charm and sparkly eyes made him captivating to watch and interesting to listen to his opinion, even if you were often at odds. Who can forget his colourful rating system in which he allocated an appropriate adjective with each rating... such as a tawdry 2, a sultry 6, a sensational 7 or a terrific 10.

His gift was transferring his passion for film to audiences, something that evoked a deep response from people who took inspiration to do the same. There are many entertainment writers and journalists working in the industry today who took heart and followed the spark of inspiration that was Ronge (this author included). While there was an air of unpredictability and excitement that went with his reviews, they also educated people about new arrivals and got film goers excited about going to the movies.

The often giddy feeling Ronge seemed to be restraining was something that resonated with viewers and part of the character's power was in getting people talking. Whether you agreed or disagreed, the movie pundit made it okay to see movies subjectively, to realise that whatever your frame of reference... your opinion mattered.

Art is a subjective and even divisive construct. It's this self-same spirit that made Ronge a media personality, a talking point, a humble celebrity and a regular contributor to a host of media outlets from 702 and The Sunday Times to M-NET and SABC 3. Embodying equal parts of what constitutes the world of movie and film, Ronge seemed like a work of fiction himself.

A larger-than-life personality who was in his very nature entertaining, he managed to host many paradoxes that made him viral before the word took on a new meaning with the dawn of the Internet. Revered and even ridiculed, Ronge made a name in the arts world and carried himself with enough humility and grace that he garnered most people's respect, even if they didn't subscribe to his point-of-view.

Being an old school film critic at a time in South Africa where there weren't as many choices when it came to newspapers, channels and stations, he had a widespread popularity and influence. Being so easily recognisable and unforgettable in his appearance, style and whimsy, it's no wonder the iconic film critic has left such an influential legacy. As tributes pour in from fellow media personalities and fans alike, it's clear that Barry Ronge meant a great deal to people who would often buy newspapers just to read his column, tune into his film programmes to get a burst of Ronge magic and enjoy the wordsmith's wit and warmth.