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From Birth of a Nation to Sideways, 90 years of great writing that shaped how we think about the movies.
"This provocative collection provides not only dozens of colorful close-ups of iconic movies but also a vivid panorama of modern times." A. SCOTT BERG
"An on-the-spot history of the coming into being of a new narrative medium. The arc of this story, as traced by Phillip Lopate, is thrilling." JONATHAN LETHEM
"With his deep knowledge of the medium, Phillip Lopate provides a tour of a century of film and the splendid writing it has inspired. Lopate, a gifted essayist, is an ideal guide to these riches." ROGER EBERT
"Few books published this season will prove more absorbing." THE ATLANTIC
American Movie Critics, Phillip Lopate, ed. (NY: Library of America, 2006), 714pp.
A review by Harvey S. Karten, 2/27/06
Publication date: March 16, 2006
Several movie critics have had books published, tomes which for the most part are reprints of their reviews with introductions by the critics and comments here offering clarifications. Pauline Kael, the best-known of all, wrote one with the clever title "I Lost It at the Movies," while Maitland McDonagh gave us "Broken Mirrors, Broken Minds." John Simon is known for "John Simon on Film," and my favorite for entertainment value, Anthony Lane, recently came out with "Nobody's Perfect."
The latest anthology comes from the editing pen of Phillip Lapote, whose "American Movie Critics" is a selective reprint of reviews by sixty-eight writers, living and otherwise. The author prefaces the 714-page volume with a lively introduction and has peppered the book with introductions to the works of all assembled reviewers. Some intros are a few sentences, others cover a page. In his selection process, Lopate cites a number of contemporary critics, but for historical depth, he has included well-known writers of bygone times, some whose principal output has not been movie criticism. They include Carl Sandburg, Vachel Lindsay, Robert E. Sherwood and Edmund Wilson.
The reader can feel free to either dig into the book chronologically, soaking in the history of movie criticism from step to step, like a film that takes you from A to B to C (Boy chases girl, boy loses girl, girl catches boy). Or this can be utilized as a reference work, perhaps looking at contemporary reviews such as those knocked out by New York Press critic Armond White, New York Times writers A.O.Read more ›
I wanted a book that would cover a wide array of reviews and struck gold with this one. Though now that I think of it, maybe I should have held out for one that included non-American writers in it. I'm such a dunce, I didn't see until too late that, on the title page, clearly marked, it reads, "A special publication of the Library of America." No wonder it's so America-centric, but I picked up the book and opened it by happenstance to Penelope Gilliatt's scintillating review of Fassbinder's Petra Von Kant, and naturally I took the book to be more international in scope than it actually is. In what universe do people think of Gilliatt as a US writer? It doesn't really matter because what remains deserves four stars.
Lopate doesn't go just for the simple nobrainer essays by each of the authors, but he actually spends time thinking of new ways to showcase their skills. Thus for James Agee we don't get the old Silent Clowns piece, or the one onm MONSIEUR VERDOUX nor Val Lewton. He goes for the unfamiliar nearly every time, which is nice. (The only exception I can see offhand is Molly Haskell on "The Woman's Film," but that's nice in a quite different way since Haskell's essay is so lengthy and comprehensive hat it is only occasionally reprinted anywhere, despite its historical significance.
Bell Hooks and John Ashbery have certainly written better work elsewhere. But it is nice to see James Harvey and Stuart Klawans, both so underrated, here given pride of place. And having Libby Gelman-Waxner in a book of this kind is certainly a victory for gay incursion into the canon. James Baldwin on LADY SINGS THE BLUES and Paul Schrader's "Notes on Film Noir" would alone make a great book, and there are literally dozens of others of equal quality.Read more ›
Any collection strong in entertainment and movie history, especially college-level holdings, will want to have AMERICAN MOVIE CRITICS: AN ANTHOLOGY FROM THE SILENTS UNTIL NOW in their collection. It's the first anthology to categorize, define and explore movie reviewing as a discipline of its own: chapters blend a history of the rose of movies with a concurrent survey of the rise of movie critics and reviewing methods, tracking changes in methods, contributions of notable critics over the decades, and including quotes and samples from some of today's best. Over a hundred fifty pieces by nearly eighty contributors span nearly a hundred years.
Diane C. Donovan, Editor
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