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Agee on Film: Criticism and Comment on the Movies (Modern Library Movies) Paperback – March 7, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0375755293 ISBN-10: 0375755292 Edition: New edition

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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Movies
  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; New edition edition (March 7, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375755292
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375755293
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #565,962 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Agee was an avid film reviewer for Time magazine and a columnist for the Nation as well as the author of several popular screenplays for his friend John Huston. This volume is among the first in the Modern Library's new paperback film series being edited by Martin Scorsese, who also provides an introduction. Film heads will jump on this.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From the Inside Flap

"In my opinion, [Agee's] column is the most remarkable regular event in American journalism today."--W. H. Auden

James Agee was passionately involved with the movies throughout his life. A master of both fiction and nonfiction, he wrote about film in clean, smart prose as the reviewer for Time magazine and as a columnist for The Nation. Agee was particularly perceptive about the work of his friend John Huston and recognized the artistic merit of certain B films such as The Curse of the Cat People and other movies produced by Val Lewton.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Steven Bailey on June 16, 2001
Format: Paperback
Ever wonder what causes a movie reviewer to *become* a movie reviewer? When I was a ten-year-old kid just getting into classic movie comedies, I went to the library and checked out the book AGEE ON FILM solely because it had references to Charlie Chaplin and W.C. Fields. Thus was my introduction to high-quality film criticism.
James Agee made his reputation writing sterling movie reviews for Time and The Nation magazines in the 1940's. Among other glories, he wrote a much-heralded essay titled "Comedy's Greatest Era" that helped to bring silent-comedy icons (most notably Harry Langdon) out of mothballs and caused them to be re-viewed and discussed seriously among film historians. He later went on to work on the screenplays of a couple of gems titled The African Queen and Night of the Hunter.
Unfortunately, many people who regard the critics Pauline Kael and Stanley Kauffmann have either forgotten Agee's work entirely or have assigned his own work to mothballs. But among the faithful are film director Martin Scorsese, who serves as editor of the "Modern Library: The Movies" series of film books. The series has recently reissued the AGEE ON FILM book, and re-reading Agee's work (or reading it for the first time, if you're lucky enough) proves that film criticism can make for reading material as compelling as any fictional novel.
Agee passes the acid test for any film critic: Even if you don't agree with him, his writing is so lively that you can't help enjoying it.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Dan Harper on May 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
James Agee wrote film criticism in America at a time when the American film industry hardly deserved his attention. His celebrations of silent film comedy, of Preston Sturges, of John Huston [for whom he later wrote the script for The African Queen], and of the handful of worthy foreign films that he managed to see are what make this volume worth reading. Besides Agee's beautiful prose and above all his compassion. Interestingly, Agee was a fan of Frank Capra's comedies (It Happened One Night) and bemoaned the director's decent into serious social films (Mr Smith Goes To Washington, Meet John Doe). His negative review of It's a Wonderful Life, which has never been in print since it appeared in 1946, reveals the extent to which Agee was perhaps too far ahead of his time, and even of ours.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Dave Heaton on April 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
Agee on Film, part of Martin Scorsese's wonderful new series of great film books from the past, is a really enjoyable read. It contains a lot of interesting reviews of classic Hollywood films by an articulate, witty writer, who himself wrote the screenplays to some great films, like Night of the Hunter. I love the way that the essays in this book are both thoughtful and direct. He has important things to say about what some films suggest about human nature and society, but at other times he's quick and to the point. Agee writes at the beginning that he thinks everyone is an "amateur" when it comes to films, because what matters the most is not what you know but how a movie affects you; I like that quality in him. He isn't so pretentious that he can't admit when a movie just doesn't move him. He writes in a really down-to-earth way, but his reviews aren't simplistic or rushed, like many of the reviews I read today. Some of my favorite parts of this book are the essays where he quickly gives his take on a bunch of films, writing funny though sometimes harsh one-line quips (for example: "several tons of dynamite were set off in this movie, none of it under the right people"). This book is especially informative and entertaining for movie fans, but also would be useful as instruction on writing about art. Really, though, it should be fun to read for just about anyone.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jerry Engelbach on August 21, 2005
Format: Paperback
I still have my first edition copy of Agee on Film.

A production on the stage is seen once and then is gone forever. Curiously, despite the fact that a film can be viewed repeatedly, once upon a time revivals were rare, and most audiences saw a film once, talked about it, then forgot about it.

Even the film studios only half-heartedly treated their products as permanent, allowing many of them to deteriorate irretrievably and others nearly so (eventually giving rise to an entire industry devoted to film restoration).

Films were given a new life with the advent of television. Growing up on old movies on the tube in the 1950s, I found that repeated viewing of the same film could be a rich experience, and nothing enhanced this experience more than the appearance in the early 1960s of Agee on Film.

Agee took film seriously as a cultural experience, a molder of public opinion, a tool that might be useful or dangerous. Just how much he differs from mainstream reviewers who regarded the movies primarily as entertainment can be seen in the two different sets of reviews in this book.

His reviews in the liberal The Nation are extended analyses of the films and the sensibilities of the filmmakers, withering critiques of the limitations of the studio system, and manifestos on how good films could have been made better. Agee interpolates in his reviews his opinions about everything: The War (WWII, of course), politics, race, education, religion, psychology, philosophy ... the list goes on.

In contrast, his reviews for Time, constrained by that magazine's conservatism, are truncated and absent the depth and bite that distinguishes Agee from all other critics.
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