Gone With the Wind (1939)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Olivia de Havilland on "Gone With the Wind"; R.I.P. Bob Baker; Chatting with Ethan Hawke; Kieran Fitzgerald on "The Homesman"; David Blaine interviews Madonna.
RogerEbert.com contributor Godfrey Cheshire's landmark two-part series "Death of Film/Decay of Cinema" anticipated many of the changes that would later shake the medium to its core.
"Film criticism is exciting just because there is no formula to apply, just because you must use everything you are and everything you know." -- Pauline Kael, "Circles and Squares: Joys and Sarris" (1963)
"She has everything that a great critic needs except judgment. And I don't mean that facetiously. She has great passion, terrific wit, wonderful writing style, huge knowledge of film history, but too often what she chooses to extol or fails to see is very surprising." -- Woody Allen, to Peter Bogdanovich, quoted in the introduction to the book This is Orson Welles (1998)
The imminent publication of two books devoted to Pauline Kael -- "A Life in the Dark," a biography by Brian Kellow, and a collection of reviews and essays called "The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael," both due Oct. 27 -- has provided an excuse to recycle all the old arguments about her. And that's not something I can imagine being said for many of her American contemporaries, mostly because nobody argues about them. Is there another American film critic who has inspired such a biography, published 20 years after her retirement? Does anyone still read, say, Vincent Canby, the powerful, impressively independent but rather lackluster successor to Kael's much-ridiculed Bosley Crowther at the New York Times? (Canby covered the film beat at the Times during the height of that institution's "make-or-break" authority from 1969 to 1993, when he switched to theater, succeeding Frank Rich.)
Some have pointed out that Kael was often wrong. Well, I should bloody well hope so. What critic isn't? By "wrong" these critics evidently mean that she did not agree with them about which movies were good and which weren't, or that her verdicts did not align themselves with the Judgments of History, lo these many years later. Were "Bonnie and Clyde," "Fiddler on the Roof," "Last Tango in Paris," "Shampoo," "Nashville" and "Casualties of War" really as great as she claimed? How could she be so dismissive -- even contemptuous -- of "La Dolce Vita," "Hiroshima, Mon Amour," "Shoah," "L'Eclisse" (and all Antonioni after "L'Avventura"), "2001: A Space Odyssey" (and all Kubrick thereafter) and Cassavetes pretty much across the board? (If you don't find at least a couple things in those lists that raise your hackles, you should be worried about the integrity and independence of your own critical values.)
If there's a (horror) movie that seems to exist outside of film history it's the strange case of "The Wizard of Oz," newly released in a 70th anniversary package on DVD and Blu-ray. It's credited to director Victor Fleming, whose directorial stamp (if not his signature) was also emblazoned on another 1939 release, "Gone With the Wind." "Oz" is one of the first "scary movies" many boomer and post-boomer kids ever saw (even before exposure to the truly terrifying Disney versions of "Bambi" or "Dumbo" -- or, for today's kiddies, "Saw" and "Hostel" and "Irreversible"), and remains a formative childhood experience for millions. (Forget the flying monkeys; I was terrified by the tornado, then shocked and traumatized by the sadistic use of sarcasm, which I'd never encountered in a movie before, when the Wicked Witch mocks Dorothy's desperate cries for her surrogate mother: "Auntie Em! Auntie Em!") In a Newsweek interview, Dave Eggers (co-writer of Spike Jonze's film of Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are") says that "Oz" is his daughter's favorite movie and that her favorite part is the bleak, sepia-toned beginning set in Kansas. Sendak responds:
The Real World: Atlanta.
The New York Times Book Review wastes nearly four pages on the dumbest, most banal crap about (ostensibly) movies and movie criticism that I have ever come across. It's called "How to Write About Film" and it's an attempted review by Clive James of the Philip Lopate compilation of film criticism that was published a few months ago, called "American Movie Critics: An Anthology From the Silents Until Now."
What's really puzzling about this drivel is that James not only doesn't know what the auteur theory is, he doesn't know what movie criticism is -- and he hasn't a clue what movies are, either. I find it difficult to believe he's ever seen one. Or, at least, a whole one. And no matter what projected images may have passed before his eyes, it's mighty obvious he hasn't seen anything at all.
EXCERPT FROM INTRO: This isn't like Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" series. It's not my idea of The Best Movies Ever Made (that would be a different list, though there's some overlap here), or limited to my personal favorites or my estimation of the most important or influential films. These are the movies I just kind of figure everybody ought to have seen in order to have any sort of informed discussion about movies. They're the common cultural currency of our time, the basic cinematic texts that everyone should know, at minimum, to be somewhat "movie-literate." I hope these movies are experiences we can all assume we share.
This book represents only the tip of the iceberg. When Daniel Selznick, David O. Selznick's younger son, asked Rudy Behlmer to edit a selection of his father's memos, Behlmer had little notion of the task involved. The archive was lodged at that time at Bekins Moving and Storage in Los Angeles and Behlmer wrote: "I'll never forget walking into the building in which the files are stored for the first time and being confronted by approximately two thousand file boxes!" Those were only the memos--the written record of substantially every thought Selznick had about his career from 1916 to 1965. to When the David O. Selznick Collection was acquired by the University of Texas in 1981, it included countless other boxes, containing scripts and all their revisions, bills and statements, publicity materials, fan mail, receipts, and the continuity record of every day's shooting on almost every film. On an ordinary day Selznick used two secretaries, sometimes more, to take his dictation, and executives were not surprised when a Selznick memo arrived 15 minutes before they were scheduled to meet with him in person.
For an hour the screen was filled with clips from the movies of 37 years. Garbo in "Camille." Katharine Hepburn in "The Philadelphia Story" and again with Spencer Tracy in "Adam's Rib." Ingrid Bergman in "Gaslight." Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady." And, of course, Judy Garland in "A Star Is Born."