The Decline of Sentiment: American Film in the 1920s

The Decline of Sentiment: American Film in the 1920s

The Decline of Sentiment: American Film in the 1920s

The Decline of Sentiment: American Film in the 1920s

Synopsis

The Decline of Sentiment seeks to characterize the radical shifts in taste that transformed American film in the jazz age. Based upon extensive reading of trade papers and the popular press of the day, Lea Jacobs documents the films and film genres that were considered old-fashioned, as well as those dubbed innovative and up-to-date, and looks closely at the works of filmmakers such as Erich von Stroheim, Charlie Chaplin, Ernst Lubitsch, and Monta Bell, among many others. Her analysis--focusing on the influence of literary naturalism on the cinema, the emergence of sophisticated comedy, and the progressive alteration of the male adventure story and the seduction plot--is a comprehensive account of the modernization of classical Hollywood film style and narrative form.

Excerpt

For anyone who enjoys even a cursory familiarity with American film of the 1930s and 1940s, with How Green Was My Valley or Going My Way or The Little Colonel, the idea that sentiment declined in the 1920s may seem implausible. But this book does not maintain that Hollywood ceased to produce films that might be considered moving or, by some, excessively pathetic. Rather, it seeks to delineate the moment when journalists and reviewers first began to criticize films on the grounds that they were cloying, foolishly optimistic, or too intent on achieving big dramatic effects. It argues that the rejection of sentimentality was a relatively new phenomenon within the American cinema of the period following World War I, although such a position already had currency in elite literary circles.

This work is proposed as a history of taste. While there are precedents for it in art history, I do not know of any in the field of film studies. I should make clear, therefore, that this investigation does not encompass the film spectator as such. I do not attempt to document the vagaries and eccentricities of individual viewing preferences, fascinating though these can sometimes be, nor do I embark upon a more properly sociological account of taste considered as the aggregate of individual preferences. Insofar as taste can be said to have a history, it seems to me to consist in the systematic alteration or, more conservatively, preservation of criteria of judgment. Commentary in the film industry trade press, as well as less specialized reviews, provides a good way to observe the articulation and institutionalization of such criteria. Films themselves are also crucial in that they responded to, and sometimes shaped, this critical discourse. I shall attempt to demonstrate the importance of key films that provided models for both critics and filmmakers and whose narrative and stylistic innovations led the way in the transformation of taste.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.