The RhapsodesHow 1940s Critics Changed American Film Culture

The RhapsodesHow 1940s Critics Changed American Film Culture

David Bordwell

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780226352176

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Four American film critics of the 1940s—Otis Ferguson, James Agee, Manny Farber, and Parker Tyler—changed the way Hollywood cinema was understood. They also wrote idiosyncratic, multi-flavored prose that constituted a new kind of arts journalism. This book considers their writing styles, their conceptions of film, their intellectual sources, their quarrels, and their impact on later generations of film writers. Ferguson believed that Hollywood cinema had created a new medium of dynamic, engaging storytelling—one that had a power of arousal found in jazz and swing music. Agee saw Hollywood as a source of poetic revelation beyond what literature could create. Manny Farber considered cinema a form of pictorial art that, in an age praising Abstract Expressionism, could revive supposedly outdated concepts like “illusion” and “illustration.” And Tyler brought a surrealist eye to cinema, discovering in “the Hollywood Hallucination” a repository of wild and piquant fantasies. All asked the reader scrutinize what was on the screen with an intensity not previously seen in popular reviewing. Rediscovered in the 1960s and 1970s, these critics had a robust influence on a later generation of film critics, including Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris, and Roger Ebert.