The Rise of the American Film: A Critical History

By Lewis Jacobs | Go to book overview

PREFACE

HUNDREDS of motion pictures are made each year, tons of newsprint commend them, millions of people see them. And there in a sense the whole thing comes to an end: the films disappear from sight, leaving behind little more than the wholly incalculable effect they have had on their multitudinous audiences. Astronomical numbers of tears have been shed, pulses have quickened, unrealized associations have been set up, but a medium that bears so transient an appearance does not readily enjoy respect or provoke reflection, since it is about as difficult to compare one dream with another as to measure film against film in recollection.

The liveliest and most popular art of the twentieth century, however, deserves better than this. Politics and history itself are ephemeral, but are not ill-considered or neglected for that reason: and for that matter the motion picture is by no means an inconsiderable element in contemporary society. More than this, in a most curious and striking way the film actually reflects contemporary history as it flows. Primarily the motion picture is a great popular art and, as such, concerns the art-student first, but it is also the concern of the historian and the sociologist. There need be no fear that their interest will in the least detract from the pure and only semi-reflective enjoyment of the normal filmgoers. It is remarkable, too, that there is nothing the average film enthusiast seems to enjoy more than discussing the movies of yesteryear both for their own sake and for a certain highly personal and nostalgic quality they possess. To the average adult today, his own past can be most quickly recaptured or recalled through the medium of old phonograph discs and old films. But to hear the discs and see the films again is not to recall one's past: that is achieved better by pure recollection of past music and past movies. Actually to hear and to see again what pleased one so much in music or in photographic imagery is, rather, to get a sharp critical slant on one's own past. That was what one enjoyed ten years ago: this is what

-vii-

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