A Four-Star Book on Movie Criticism
Movie critics. Who needs them?
Well, it turns out that movie studios need them, and so do astute movie lovers. These scribblers in the dark who so often deliver the first opinions to the public on any film’s merits or demerits have had a crucial place in the movie food chain from the earliest days of cinema.
Those and other assertions are laid down in “The Complete History of American Film Criticism” (Santa Monica Press, $27.95) by Jerry Roberts, just published on April 1.
Roberts, himself a film critic, columnist, editor and academic, brings to bear a wealth of scholarly research to make the point that film criticism is a craft that has grown and flourished in tandem with the art of film.
Beginning with the first movie review in the New York Times in 1896, the book examines the work of silent era critics such as Robert E. Sherwood, Gilbert Seldes and Frank E. Woods, who wrote insightfully about the films of Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith. Next, it moves through the work of significant critics of the pre- and post-war years (Frank S. Nugent and Cecelia Ager among the former and James Agee, Manny Farber and Andrew Sarris as lights of the latter).
The great age of film criticism, according to Roberts, arrived in the 1960s with the ascendancy to Pauline Kael and the emerging work of Judith Crist, Roger Ebert, Stanley Kauffmann and Richard Schickel. The formation of the National Society of Film Critics and the early inklings of credible TV film critics (John Simon, Gene Shalit, Rex Reed, Ebert and Gene Siskel among them) marked a proliferation of the critics’ influence that pushed well into the 1970s and beyond.
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