Synopses & Reviews
A provocative and dynamic force in American culture since the early twentieth century, movies have presented several generations of American writers with a new, fascinating, and challenging subject. How writers rose to the challenge, and in the process created an extraordinary body of work-passionate, contentious, restlessly curious-makes for a dazzling and constantly entertaining volume. "I have focused," writes editor Phillip Lopate, "on film criticism as an art in itself the magnet for strong, elegant, eloquent, enjoyable writing."
American Movie Critics is an anthology of unparalleled scope that charts the rise of movies as art, industry, and mass entertainment. Beginning in the silent era-with poets Vachel Lindsay and Carl Sandburg hailing the new medium and Edmund Wilson paying tribute to Chaplin's Gold Rush the collection traces the rapid evolution of the medium in an age of tumultuous political and social changes. Here are the great movie critics who forged a forceful vernacular idiom for talking about the new art: Otis Ferguson in the 1930s finding in James Cagney "the dignity of the genuine worn as easily as his skin"; James Agee in the 1940s on American war films and the advent of Italian neo-realism; Manny Farber, Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris, Molly Haskell, Vincent Canby, and others from what Lopate calls "the golden age of movie criticism" from the 1950s through the '70s, a period when enthusiasms ran high, and arguments over style and content often took on a larger-than-life quality. Here too are the finest film reviewers on the contemporary scene, including Richard Schickel, Roger Ebert, and Manohla Dargis.
Joining the full-time film writers are many distinguished American authors weighing in on a range of cinematic experiences, including Ralph Ellison, Susan Sontag, James Baldwin, Brendan Gill, and John Ashbery. Together they define an often underappreciated genre of American writing, a tradition filled with the "energy, passion, and analytical juice" that for Lopate mark the best in movie criticism.
"A weighty anthology of very strong essays that conveys a powerful sense of the evolution of American critical writing, even as it indicates much about the development of our taste in and concerns about motion pictures." San Francisco Chronicle
"Lopate thoughtfully brings together daily reviews and longer, more personal essays, the pithy deadline judgments of Vincent Canby sitting beside the high intellect of Susan Sontag and the rococo camp flourishes of Parker Tyler." Los Angeles Times
"Those critics looking for a spine-stiffening injection of inspiration, or those readers searching for a reminder of why this matters, could not do better than to consult American Movie Critics." Boston Globe
"American Movie Critics makes Lopate's case for the medium without breaking a sweat. It also leaves you with a renewed, perhaps insatiable hunger for the films themselves." Newsday
"It's the best book of its kind, remarkable in its scope, its ambition, its historical context, even its timeliness." Dallas Morning News
"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
About the Author
Phillip Lopate, editor, is an essayist, novelist, and poet, whose books include Bachelorhood; Against Joie de Vivre; Portrait of My Body; and Waterfront: A Journey Around Manhattan. He has edited The Art of the Personal Essay and, for The Library of America, Writing New York: A Literary Anthology. His selected film criticism appeared in Totally Tenderly Tragically, and he currently serves on the selection committee of the New York Film Festival.