Academic journal article Pennsylvania Literary Journal

Innumerable Ways to Criticize Films

Academic journal article Pennsylvania Literary Journal

Innumerable Ways to Criticize Films

Article excerpt

Innumerable Ways to Criticize Films Charles Maland, Editor. Complete Film Criticism: Reviews, Essays, and Manuscripts: The Works of James Agee, Volume 5. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2017. Hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-62190-258-4. 1038pp.

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A complete collection of the film criticism of James Agee. He published criticism in the Nation, Time and Life. Most of these pieces are from 1942-8. Given the period, the films that Agee favored were The Story of G. I. Joe, Monsieur Verdoux and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Some of the works included were initially unsigned, but have been since identified as belonging to Agee. Some unpublished essays fill gaps in previously available criticism. Agee is the focus of this collection because he is perceived as having had a significant impact on the critics that followed him. The book is divided into chapters: on Agee's biographical and critical background, pieces from Time, reviews from the Nation, "Published Essays," "Unpublished Manuscripts," and then back matter. The "Historical Introduction" opens with a 1927 quote from James Agee that explains just why he's significant in the field: "To me, the great thing about the movies is that it's a brand new field." He explains that criticism of music, the theater and other fields is "at least in part imitations. As for the movies... the possibilities are infinite - at least insofar as the possibilities of any art CAN be so" (xiii). The paragraph that follows explains that Agee wrote these wise words in high school, so clearly writing about the cinema was in his blood. Agee also won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, A Death in the Family, so he was known in other genres, so this collection is a salute to only one of his specialties. Agee's output was only barred by his early death in 1955. Amazingly Agee managed to make $12,700 salary, equivalent to $135,000 in 2015 just from writing reviews in 1947 alone. Since he made only around $25 per review, he must have written over 500 reviews annually to meet this salary, or a couple of reviews every day (xviii). This is inspiring for anybody who wants to write reviews. …

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