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Film Criticism: Literature Overview Essay (Movie Review)

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Updated: Jun 17th, 2019

Vachel Lindsay is an American poet devoted most of his life to singing poetry and art which he studied. Considering cinematography as part of art, he had written one of the first serious books devoted to film criticism, The Art of the Moving Picture. Generally, it was the first book devoted to silent film criticism.

The author of the book had provided a critical overview of a number of theories devoted to films and supported those with the examples to show that his words are not empty. Lindsay tried to show artistic concepts in movies, like architecture, painting, and painting in motion (Lopate 3).

Robert E. Sherwood is known as a playwright, whose stage success may be characterized by the following, Idiot’s Delight, Abe Lincoln in Illinois and There Shall Be No Night.

Even though the works devoted to film criticism written by Sherwood were counted by the movie studios, the film criticism as an art had not been considered yet. Sherwood criticized two client movies written in 1920s, The Ten Commandments and Greed pointing to the morality, death and human destination at the earth and the possibility to show this (Lopate 28).

H.L .Mencken is an American journalist, critic, editor and essayist. He was assured in the personal opinion and did not afraid to provoke the society by his point of view. One of the main points which appears under H.L. Mencken’s criticism in the movies is a fast change of screens, in his work presented in the anthology taken from Appendix from Moronia: Note on Technic.

For example, the author mentions “fifteen or twenty maddening flashes” (Lopate 37) in the Shaw. This is considered to be the main characteristic feature of the movies in 1910’s, furious and fast change of scenes.

Harry Alan Potamkin is one of the most serious film critics of his time. Starting a career of film critic from the formalist emphasis on the cinematic technique on the basis of the personal experience, he managed to achieve high success in the industry.

One of the most important of his works is The Passion of Joan of Arc where Potamkin states on the audience desire to see eventual movies, as he believed that “the film which does not dwell upon itself does not realize itself” (Lopate 48).

Potamkin wrote about the possibilities of combining both sound and picture in the movies which h is going to be the greatest breakthrough in the cinematography.

Cecelia Ager is famous for many critic works in the field of cinematography. She is the first woman who was employed to the show-business weekly and the first film critic. She wrote a lot of works devoted to films expressing her critical opinion.

Much attention in her critics is devoted to feelings and their depiction in the films. Ager describes Garbo in Camille, Evans in Hallelujah I’m a Bum, Constance Bennett in Night Flight etc. and it seems that the main idea of these critics is to show how female characters are depicted, how their feelings and expressed (Lopate 77).

Gilbert Seldes was an American writer and cultural critic. At the time when all tried to criticize popular culture (music, literature, movies), he was the first one to defend it.

Defending popular culture in the art, Seldes disagreed with the most critics who tried to state that people were preferable to “bogus” works. But, at the same time, he was afraid of the negative influence of corrupting theater which was too kinetic (Lopate 56). Many contemporary works were impacted, but at the same time Seldes supported the innovative ideas and welcomed sound.

Pare Lorentz was the representative of the critics who were sure that films should be offered more freedom and criticized censorship. The great part of Lorentz’s works was devoted to the critic of documentary films and the necessity to create more. This is the main source of the decried censorship, as preparing documentary movies objectivity and faithful are important.

Writing a critic on Anna Christie, Lorentz got acquainted with the main character to understand the movie and the behavioral peculiarities better. Lorentz points to the great difference between Greta Garbo in the film and in the life (Lopate 68).

Rudolf Arnheim was a professional film critic who paid much attention to details. The focus of his interest was color, sound, format, space, image, etc. He did not try to pay much attention to the movie ideas and plot, the characters and their play.

Visual art was important. Asking the question how the films are going to be criticized in the future, the author is sure that education, propaganda and political-moral content as the main idea of the film criticism in his time and will be in the future, apart from the visual details of filmmaking (Lopate 92).

Melvin Tolson contributed to the American film criticism even though he is mostly remembered as a poet. His phrase that “Gone with the Wind is more dangerous than Birth of a Nation” has been widely criticized and referenced to.

Writing a film critic paper with this title, he wanted to show that the change of social considerations may lead to the situation that a film which was considered as politically incorrect, or vice versa correct, may be the topic for discussion in the future from the opposite point of view. Tolson tried to dwell upon the critics devoted to both movies and understand their danger (Lopate 140).

Susan Sontag was an American writer, theorist and public and political activist. The latter activity influenced her understanding of films as the political topics are considered in the pieces of her written film critics along with the devotion to scientific fiction.

The main idea of her The Imagination of Disaster is the revision of the movies devoted to science fiction and the consideration that the social mood directed at the possible disasters and fears. Nuclear energy and atomic death is the main idea of her paper. It should be mentioned that Sontag predicted the death of the cinema, which is on the last stage of its life cycle (Lopate 534).

Pauline Kael’s influence on the understanding of film criticism as a profession and on the critics as well is enormous. Criticizing Band of Outsiders, Kael tries to identify the theme and the motives of the movie, its symbolic meaning and romantic nature (Lopate 334).

Her previews boosted the films attendance as appearing in the newspapers several months before the premiere, the reviews attracted the attention of the audience and made those involved in the plot (Lopate 340). Having read the previews and film reviews written by Kael, people were interested in the film criticism as profession more as they began to consider it exciting.

Works Cited

Lopate, Phillip, ed. American movie critics: an anthology from the silents until now. New York: Library of America, 2006. Print.

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