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Joe Barber, film critic and WTOP radio entertainment editor, dies at 53

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Joe Barber, who parlayed an omnivorous appetite for movies and the Washington arts scene into a career as an entertainment critic for local broadcasting and print outlets, was found dead Sept. 19 at his home in the District. He was 53.

Determination of the cause of death is pending further tests, said Beverly Fields, a spokeswoman for the D.C. medical examiner’s office. Mr. Barber had diabetes and was going blind, said Jim Farley, vice president of news and programming at WTOP (103.5 FM), where Mr. Barber had served as entertainment editor since 1997.

Mr. Barber had been a fixture at theaters and galleries since launching a freelance journalism career more than three decades ago. Although his tastes emcompassed film classics and smaller-budget independent fare, he typically reviewed popular movies and emphasized plot summary and a rapid judgment on whether the production was entertaining.

His pleasant and succinct style made him a favorite of talk shows and brought him frequent invitations to participate in lecture-series discussions on movies.

In addition to his work on WTOP, Mr. Barber had been a panelist on the arts review program “Around Town,” on WETA (Channel 26), since 1994. For more than a decade, he appeared monthly on WHUT (Channel 32) to discuss movies on “Evening Exchange with Kojo Nnamdi.”

He contributed film and DVD reviews to Washington’s Current newspapers, the Washington Times and, briefly, to The Washington Post. On the Web, he started a site called with fellow film critic Bill Henry, and they appeared together to introduce or discuss screenings. Mr. Barber also wrote for Reel Images Magazine, an online publication that covers the arts and popular culture from a black perspective.

Nell Minow, a Washington-based critic who reviews films for, said Mr. Barber was known for “greater breadth than depth, but he had an incredible diligence and knowledge about film history.”

Minow said that when both were attending a critics’ screening of the Kevin Costner political film “Swing Vote” in 2008 — about a presidential election that hinges improbably on one man — they were the only ones in the theater who recognized that its plot bore striking similarity to “The Great Man Votes,” a 1939 film starring John Barrymore.

Joseph Earl Barber Jr. was born in Washington on March 5, 1958. He graduated from Coolidge High School in 1976 and attended the University of the District of Columbia.

For several years, Mr. Barber was a producer for Derek McGinty’s public affairs show on WAMU and reviewed arts and film for the program. He also was a regular on “The Tony Kornheiser Show” and other radio programs.

Mr. Barber never married and had no immediate survivors. He was, by many accounts, intensely private. He lived, many said, for movie screenings and the companionship of others who were of like mind.

He was not a prude, friends said, but if anything irked him about movie trends, it was an increasing reliance on coarseness of language and plot.

Farley, of WTOP, said the radio station staff liked to “egg him on and ask him to provide examples” of particularly crude moments. “He’d sometimes play along,” Farley said.

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