Most helpful critical review
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Good stuff but...
on December 10, 2005
I generally prefer Sontag's longer and more personal essays usually found in her earlier work. This collection is a compilation of essays on art gathered from some of the last years of her life; they cover a wide range of topics, from literature to Italian photography. I felt that the most interesting section was her essays on her solidarity trips to Sarejevo during the Serbs' bombardment, where she directed a production of Beckett's Waiting for Godot; it's a wonderful testament to the universality of great art. I'm afraid I can't sustain the same kind of equality of interest to the arts collectively as Sontag did, and I must admit I found her pieces on garden art and dance terribly boring. That aside, she does include some characteristically excellent essays on film, such as her elaborate review of Fassbinder's adaptation of Alfred Doblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz which immediately imparted me with an urge to see the film and read the book. She also writes a brief review of cinema's 100 year history, which is a bit simplistic as any short piece on this topic would have to be. She maintains that silent cinema was born which brought forth two directions in cinema: art and entertainment. The films during the silent era were largely adaptations of plays and were truly great art. Then the sound period came into being and film receded into "Hollywood" adaptations of great novels which largely failed, until the pioneer directors of the period such as Howard Hawks perfected the genre style mode of filmmaking. Then the French New Wave came along, led by the genius of Jean-Luc Godard and Francoise Truffaut and turned movies into a high art for 20 years. Unfortunately, when production costs escalated in the 80's Hollywood took over gain and turned the cinema into an industry once again. This narrative has elements of truth, but it really denies the significance of many American and Asian filmmakers who played an important role in the history of film, Sontag prefers to label Godard the patron saint of the cinema, a view I hold only in his relationship with the progression of French cinema as a whole, a history which of course includes Jean Renoir, Sontag's essay does not acknowledge such masters.