American Film and Society since 1945

By Leonard Quart; Albert Auster | Go to book overview

enties and the politically retrograde and nostalgic Reagan eighties, when, despite a continued dependence on big budgets, stars, and genre formulas, films grew increasingly more anxious, alienated, and nihilistic in tone. In constructing this pattern we have tried to avoid subsuming the contested meanings of individual films and the often contradictory history of cinematic cultural trends and cycles under reductive and rigid sociological categories. We have been conscious of the feelings of doubt and loss that began to appear beneath the buoyant surface of forties' films, and the preservation of American Dream imagery in the generally darker, more pessimistic work of the sixties, seventies, and eighties.

Ultimately, what we have written is only one more step in the ongoing and complex study of the multiple and diverse interactions of culture and society, and, more specifically, film and society. We have not conceived this book as a definitive work, but as one among a number of possible ways that help illuminate the nature of American society and culture. The book is based on the now anachronistic idea that a passion for and a personal commitment to the imaginative life of films can be an integral part of the critical process, and that the critique can be conveyed in a language that any intelligent person who cares about film can understand. This view is best summed up in the humanist perspective of Raymond Williams, which holds that art is a means to "learn, describe, to understand, to educate" 12 -- a way of heightening one's perception of self, the social world, and much of human experience. We finally believe, as did James Agee on writing his first film review in The Nation, that the final function of any review or critical study is to aid those "who watch any given screen, where the proof is . . . available in proportion to the eye which sees it, and the mind which uses it" 13


NOTES
1.
Andrew Sarris, "Hobgoblins of Reality", The Village Voice ( January 21-27, 1981), p. 45.
2.
Erwin Panovsky, "Style and Medium in the Motion Pictures", in G. Mast and M. Cohen (eds.), Film Theory and Criticism ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1974), p. 152.
3.
Panovsky, "Style and Medium", p. 152.
4.
John E. O'Connor and Martin A. Jackson (eds.), American History/American Film: Interpreting the Hollywood Image ( New York: Frederick Ungar, 1979), p. x.
5.
Thomas Schatz, The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era ( New York: Pantheon, 1988), pp. 3-12.

-11-

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