From Publishers Weekly
Schickel, a 20-year film critic for Time, analyzes his obsession with movies vis-a-vis his own life. He discovered the seductive allure of cinema at age five and was hooked. Schickel's is a touching memoir of a smalltown boy whose life was shaped by WWII and the myths shrouded in the greatest generation, a notion he takes to task. His universe is Wauwatosa, Wis., where he leads a safe, middle-class existence, recalled in extraordinary detail. Clever at reading and hopeless at math doubtless the source of my profession is to be found here Schickel remains restless. He longs to escape this placid, Sinclair Lewis- style burb and finds release in films. Be it the adventures of Errol Flynn or Gary Cooper, he's transported. And therein lies the appeal of criticism: its assertiveness, its ability to subvert the sometimes pompous, often expensive, object under review. This is the era of radio shows, blood drives and rationing. It's also a time when Hollywood and the War Office conspired, in Schickel's view, to present a distorted view of war. The Japanese were always brutal, while movie Germans often possessed civility, hiding hidden truths and creating political distortions that linger to this day. Most shameful, he says, films ignored the suffering of European Jews. Throughout his narrative, he pierces holes in American complacency: democracy prevailed onscreen; ethnic disdain and anti-Semitism raged offscreen. Schickel intercuts personal reminiscences with film synopses, subjecting both to his critical gaze.
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The movie bug bit film reviewer and historian Schickel just in time for World War II, which began when he was six, and his childhood memoir counterpoints recollections of family and milieu with those of the movies he saw. After sketching his situation in the Milwaukee suburb in which he grew up, he proceeds to his first movies, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
and The Wizard of Oz
, which put him off fantasy for life. Thereafter, his theme is his growing consciousness of the war and how it was mediated by the movies. He didn't then question such anomalies as the representation of the Japanese as much more evil than the Germans, who, except for strident Nazis, were rendered sympathetically. Now, of course, he sees the racism underlying that discrepancy and understands its acceptance by white-preferring 1940s America. Nor did he see the discrepancy between his family's status-consciousness and movie scenarios in which wartime Americans easily embraced one another as equals; such brotherhood may have been what the communist hacks who wrote so many wartime movies wanted, but it never happened--a point many poems in the outstanding Poets of World War II
[BKL Mr 15 03] confirm. Although more socially oriented than Mary McCarthy's Memories of a Catholic Girlhood
(1957), Schickel's memoir is little inferior to it as a reconsideration of personal myths. Ray OlsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved