Sunday, June 20, 2010

Golden Days

J. Hoberman contrasts the work of film critics James Agee and Manny Farber:

Agee deals with significant movies in short paragraphs and lavishes space on inconsequential bores -- he was not writing the history of cinema so much as reporting the history of his times ... If Agee on Film is literature, it's literature of a particular kind -- filled with political asides, topical jokes, and references to fleeting sensations: a cultural stream of consciousness. Agee was the first American movie critic who could be characterized as a belletrist. By contrast, Farber presented himself as a sort of lumpen cognoscente. His weekly reviews are subliterary. His style is a work in progress. He is less subtle than Agee and more vivid, as well as more brashly dismissive, with little sense of a lost golden era. For Farber, silent movies were only a childhood memory. He came of age with the talkies, and it wasn't until the 1950s that he imagined a cinematic decline -- which he then blamed on the dulled sensibilities of moviegoing middlebrows.
I cite this because, as described, the two approaches are interesting enough to make me want to read some Agee and Farber. More, though, it's a brace against the idea of clinging to idealized bygones in the arts, for here we see a well-regarded observer who considered film debased from its golden heights by the 1950s -- before, we now know, the rise of Bergman, Fellini, Antonioni, Kubrick, Truffaut, Godard, Werner Herzog, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and, well, the list could go on and on.

Suffice to say the art of film kept moving forward, productively so, well into and beyond the 1950s. Golden ages have a way of stretching and bending beyond what we are able to see, and to fall into even the broadest hint of a shape only from the perspective of distant hindsight.

1 comment:

Shelley said...

Agee writes in the era of my work, and I find both his comments and Farber's to be engaging--maybe it's the kind of book you want to just flip through until you hit something unusually interesting--but they're smart guys, which in the world of movie reviews is rare.