Monday, September 13, 2010

American Movie Critics: An Anthology From the Silents Until Now (2006), Phillip Lopate, ed.

Having come from a place of (sometimes deliberate) not-knowing,  I have been walking around telling anyone I run into the amazing things I learned from this collection of essays.  Did you know Carl Sandburg wrote movie reviews for the Chicago Daily News in the 20s?  Did you know, did you know?  I feel like a ten year old that just got the first volume of the World Book in the mail.

Lopate's choices are marvelous; bold ideas resonate throughout the book.  I feel as though I should have been acquainted with Manny Farber years ago, who touts the "toughest, most authentic native talents" in his essay "Underground Films."  And why I haven't read Pauline Kael's fundamental piece "Trash, Art and the Movies," until now-- augh!   How did she know why I never wanted a PhD in film studies?  "We shouldn't convert what we enjoy it for into false terms derived from our study of other arts," she writes.  "If it was priggish for an older generation of reviewers to be ashamed of what they enjoyed and to feel they had to be contemptuous of popular entertainment, it's even more priggish for a new movie generation to be so proud of what they enjoy that they use their education to try to place trash within the acceptable academic tradition."  As one that sighs deeply at Analysis of the Obvious:  Turning Common Sense into Academese I'd like to quietly applaud Kael for her words.  (Sadly, Susan Sontag's offering "The Imagination of Disaster" is the kind of dull analysis that seems to have spawned even more dull analysis).  Yes, I prefer the tacky, from-the-gut reactions to film, the ghostwritten autobiography, the Million Monkey film blogs to the overblown, dry jargon laden junk found in the cranky peer reviewed cliques.  American Movie Critic's strength is that the authors talk film, but are not all film theorists or academics.  They are writers first.

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