An Invention without a Future
Essays on Cinema
Publication Year: 2014
Published by: University of California Press
Title Page, Further Reading, Copyright, Dedication
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Different versions of several essays in this book were published elsewhere or were commissioned as public lectures. I am grateful to the following publishers and institutions: “Authorship, Auteurism, and Cultural Politics” derives from...
Introduction: An Invention without a Future
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In the past seventy-five years we have seen the end of Hollywood’s classic studio system, the rise and decline of network television, the development of tent-pole exhibitions and huge marketing campaigns, the emergence of digital cinema, and a variety of ups and downs in the world of independent...
Part I: Issues
Authorship, Auteurism, and Cultural Politics
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Motion pictures and television are often described as collaborative media, but their modes of production are nearly always hierarchical, involving a mixture of industrialized, theatrical, and artisanal practices that give some people authority over others. Depending upon the circumstances under...
The Reign of Adaptation
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My title alludes to a relatively little-known essay by André Bazin, “Adaptation, or the Cinema as Digest,” written in 1948 but not translated into English until 1998, when it appeared in Bert Cardullo’s useful anthology Bazin at Work. I especially recommend this essay to readers who think...
Notes on Acting in Cinema
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Even a moment’s observation should make it obvious that the art of acting is extremely important to most films, and yet critical literature on the subject is relatively sparse. There are excellent sociological studies of the star system and of individual stars, but not much close analysis of what actors do in specific...
Imitation, Eccentricity, and Impersonation in Movie Acting
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From the eighteenth until the early twentieth century, the Aristotelian concept of mimesis governed most aesthetic theory, and stage acting was often described as an “imitative art.” Denis Diderot’s “Paradoxe sur le comédien” (1758), for example, argued that the best theater actors played not from personal...
The Death and Rebirth of Rhetoric
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Most commentaries on film and rhetoric are indebted to the neo-Aristotelian school of literary criticism once practiced at the University of Chicago, and particularly to Wayne Booth’s highly influential The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961), which is less preoccupied with overt argument or eloquence...
Part II: Authors, Actors, Adaptations
Hawks, Chandler, Bogart, Bacall: The Big Sleep
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My subject is Howard Hawks’s film adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s 1939 novel The Big Sleep, but I’m not concerned with the problem of whether the film is adequate to, better than, or inferior to its source. The critical battles waged in the 1950s by the Hitchcocko-Hawksians have long...
Uptown Folk: Blackness and Entertainment in0 Cabin in the Sky
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Between 1927 and 1954, the major Hollywood studios produced only six feature films that took place in an all-black milieu: Hallelujah! (MGM, 1929), Hearts in Dixie (Fox, 1929), The Green Pastures (Warner Brothers, 1936), Cabin in the Sky (MGM, 1943), Stormy Weather (Twentieth...
Hitchcock and Humor
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One of my earliest boyhood memories from an Alfred Hitchcock movie is of a scene in the American version of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), in which James Stewart, searching for a gang of assassins who have kidnapped his son, visits a Camden Town taxidermist named Ambrose...
Hitchcock at the Margins of Noir
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The discourse on film noir belongs largely to postmodernist culture but is preoccupied with modernist values in a series of Hollywood thrillers or bloody melodramas from the 1940s and ‘50s. The pictures it names are a heterogeneous group, dealing with everything from hard-boiled detectives...
Spies and Lovers: North by Northwest
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Although Alfred Hitchcock is identified with a certain type of thriller or murder story, he actually made a wide variety of films, including two costume pictures, a prize fight melodrama, an adaptation of a Seán O’Casey play, a screwball comedy, and (believe it or not) an operetta. His reputation...
Welles, Hollywood, and Heart of Darkness
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As I’ve argued in an earlier book, there are several reasons why Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) could be regarded a distant ancestor of the film noir. Like Hollywood in the 1940s, Conrad employs a first-person narration that involves subjective focalization and a good deal of shifting...
Orson Welles and Movie Acting
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Orson Welles began his career as a stage actor, and his work as a film director was enabled and conditioned by the fact that he was a celebrity performer. He was best known to the general public in the 1930s and ‘40s as a radio personality but later became famous as the man who played Harry...
Welles and Kubrick: Two Forms of Exile
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Orson Welles and Stanley Kubrick were child prodigies—Welles a theatrical wunderkind and Kubrick a teenage chess master and photographer for Look magazine—and both became iconic representatives of the cinema of the auteur. Both worked on the borderland between Hollywood and the art film...
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
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The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, B. Traven’s novel published in the United States in 1935, tells the story of three down-and-out American workingmen stuck in Mexico at the end of an oil boom. Ragged and almost hopeless, they scrape together what money they have and set out to prospect for gold...
The Return of The Dead
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My chief concern here is John Huston’s 1987 film adaptation of James Joyce’s “The Dead,” but I can’t resist approaching the topic somewhat indirectly, by means of a trivia quiz about Joyce and the movies. Here are three questions and their respective answers...
Part III: In Defense of Criticism
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James Agee is the only major American film reviewer with a significant literary reputation. (Some might say that Vachel Lindsay has the same status, but he wasn’t a reviewer.) As a literary figure, Agee is sometimes compared with Thomas Wolfe: both were southerners (in Agee’s case a border-state...
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James Agee came to film criticism by way of journalism and literature, but Manny Farber came by way of skilled carpentry and painting (with college experience as a sports reporter). Despite their different backgrounds, the two men were friends and their careers as reviewers partly overlapped...
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Andrew Sarris was such a profound influence on my writing about movies that I can’t hope to do him justice in a short space. To alleviate the problem, I’ve fallen back on a set of notes (revised and expanded from an earlier published set) that I hope will be true to the spirit of concision in Sarris’s...
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In the interest of transparency I should make clear that Jonathan Rosenbaum, whom I’ll be referring to most of the time as “Rosenbaum,” has been a good friend of mine for over two decades. We have many things in common. We’re almost exact contemporaries (he’s two years younger...
Four Years as a Critic: 2007–2010
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Writing about what one regards as the best pictures of the year is a much easier job than reviewing movies on a regular basis, if only because it’s always more pleasant to praise or defend films than to attack or dismiss them. Nevertheless, anyone who proposes a list of best pictures in a given...
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Page Count: 360
Publication Year: 2014