The first lesson one learns almost immediately after undertaking to write a comprehensive and critically weighed history of the American sound film is that one can never finish; one can only stop. After many years I have decided to stop, at least as far as the period between 1927 and 1949 is concerned. I could work until the next millennium sifting the endless trivia for clues to the tantalizing mysteries of the medium, but my marvelously patient editor has urged me to cease and desist, and I do so with a sense of relief.
Mine is more a macrocosmic than a microcosmic treatment in that I have chosen to focus on stylistic and thematic configurations rather than on minutely detailed descriptions. Having written regularly on film for more than forty years, and having taught film as an art and as one of the humanities for over thirty, I have been compelled to maintain an aesthetic lifeline between the past and the present. By contrast, archival specialists tend to develop so much of a rooting interest in their excavations that they discount the onset of the new, whereas journalist novelty-seekers keep trying to cut the umbilical cord that still links us to Lumière and Griffith. My own view of the talking picture from the twenties to the present is that it remains alive and well, but that it never seems to yield up all its meanings and beauties and associations the first time around. Ideally, film scholarship should have evolved as a cooperative enterprise by which each contribution could provide a foundation for its successor. Instead, recent decades of "discussion" have been char-