Guiltless Pleasures: A David Sterritt Film Reader

Guiltless Pleasures: A David Sterritt Film Reader

Guiltless Pleasures: A David Sterritt Film Reader

Guiltless Pleasures: A David Sterritt Film Reader


David Sterritt, film critic for the Christian Science Monitor and professor of film at Long Island University, is one of the most astute, acclaimed, and thought-provoking critics in America. Sterritt's sharp eye for telling detail and deep understanding of cinema and its history make his work appealing to scholars and lay audiences.

Guiltless Pleasures: A David Sterritt Film Reader collects his most incisive essays from 1970 to the present. The collection emphasizes films and filmmakers that are often overlooked or undervalued because they stray from ordinary norms of commercial cinema. While focusing on such rewarding challenges as the avant-garde masterpieces of Stan Brakhage, the unsettling videos of Robert Wilson, and the violent, disturbing films of Gaspar No , Sterritt writes equally well and insightfully on mainstream Hollywood films.

At a time when admitting to "guilty pleasures" has become a common pastime among serious moviegoers, Sterritt argues that there's no reason to feel guilty about the alchemy of cinema. After all, he maintains, the inner journeys we take by means of movies and other cultural works are a large part of what makes life worth living.

David Sterritt is chairman of the National Society of Film Critics. He is the author of Screening the Beats: Media Culture and the Beat Sensibility, The Films of Jean-Luc Godard, and Mad to Be Saved: The Beats, the '50s, and Film, and his work has appeared in the New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Film Comment, and Cineaste. He lives in New York City.


Some years ago, Film Comment magazine introduced a feature called “Guilty Pleasures,” in which invited filmmakers or other cinephiles list around a dozen movies they can’t help loving even though they feel they really shouldn’t—because the pictures are too silly, too offensive, too obscure, too lowbrow to praise in polite company, or perhaps too highbrow to suit a carefully cultivated “entertainment” image.

I’ve long enjoyed this feature, and for ages I never thought of questioning the premise behind it. Then a film-loving friend checked it out on my recommendation, and promptly asked me why any genuine pleasure should be considered guilty—especially where culture is concerned, since its manifestations are safely bounded by the screen, stage, or page.

I realized it in a flash: She’s right. Pleasures are pleasures, and calling some of them “guilty” is usually a way of being cute or coy, not truly admitting to some kind of aesthetic misdemeanor. My friend’s remark made me remember a conversation I’d had with playwright and occasional filmmaker Richard Foreman in his lower Manhattan loft, when he said he’d never been a drug taker, even in the sixties—his challenge was to rein in his teeming subconscious, not let it take over—but he sympathized with people who did, because they wanted to embrace the polymorphous perversity of their imaginations, just as he does by creating art.

For me, the inner journeys we take by artistic means (as either creators or consumers) are an enormously large part of what makes life worth living. Some people find this sense of liberation . . .

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