American Movie Critics

Everyone’s a movie critic. To care deeply about film is to succumb to the need to talk, or write, about what the eye has just absorbed from the screen. It’s been that way since the poet Vachel Lindsay waxed rhapsodic about “the photoplay of action”; and it has exploded in the past 50 years, as film criticism has earned enough respect to be taken seriously as a profession. Phillip Lopate favors us with this extensive (though not exhaustive) anthology of film criticism, a wide-ranging and often surprising anthology that ranges from the scholarly (Stanley Cavell) to the snarky (Paul Rudnick). Lopate proves an astute and playful shepherd through material including Carl Sandburg on The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (“he craziest, wildest, shivery movie that has come wriggling across the silversheet of a cinema house”); Otis Ferguson on Cagney (“nobody’s fool and nobody’s clever ape?frankly vulgar in the best sense”); and Pauline Kael on Kubrick’s 2001 (“a monumentally unimaginative movie”). At nearly every turn, you’ll find erudite dissections of how particular films play upon our psyche and emotions and why movies, for better or worse, have become our national dialogue. –