Rochester, N.Y., October 15, 2009—The Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House shines a spotlight on American film criticism with a series of screenings in November and December. “For the Love of Movies: The History of American Film Criticism” celebrates those people of letters whose words are devoted to moving pictures, by presenting a number of movies that provoked particularly inspired and influential essays, including Meet Me in St. Louis, Saturday Night Fever, andRashomon.
“As news media continue to shift away from the printed page to the electronic page, and as studios rely less and less on the considered writings and opinions of learned film critics to spread the word about their latest releases, there is no more appropriate time for this series,” said Jim Healy, Eastman House’s assistant curator of motion pictures.
Boston Phoenix film writer Gerald Peary’s new documentary For the Love of Movies: The History of American Film Criticism — which he’ll present in person Friday, Dec. 11 — begins with a somewhat ominous observance for those who write or read about cinema: “Today, film criticism is a profession under siege. According to Variety, 28 reviewers have lost their jobs in the last several years.”
Although American film criticism is evident as early as 1911, this survey takes us back only as far as 1937, when the lean and tough writings of Otis Ferguson (whose bright career was cut short by his death in WWII) appeared in praise of fast-paced and efficient genre films, like the MGM thriller Night Must Fall. The most important U.S. film critic of the immediate postwar years was the gifted James Agee, who wrote lovingly of films that celebrated small-town family life, like Meet Me in St. Louis, a film that concentrates on “making the well-heeled middle-class life of some adolescent and little girls in St. Louis seem so beautiful that you can share their anguish when they are doomed to move to New York.”
While The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther dominated with his post for more than a quarter century, his two biggest contributions were in championing important foreign releases like Kurosawa’s Rashomon and inspiring a whole generation of film critics to rebel against what they saw as his rather conventional tastes. That generation included New York-based writers Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris, whose own argument over the auteur theory spawned two separate groups of cinephile acolytes.
The ’70s saw the move of film criticism to television with the birth of a weekly review program featuring Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, but both critics continued to write voluminous columns for their respective Chicago daily newspapers. Meanwhile, Siskel and Ebert’s generation also includes a number of critics with unique styles and great passion for the movies, like Dave Kehr, Jonathan Rosenbaum, and Stuart Klawans, who have largely remained devoted to the written word. At each screening, the Dryden will provide a complimentary copy of the related review with each ticket.
The screenings of “For the Love of the Movies”
7 p.m. Sunday, November 1 | Bosley Crowther
RASHOMON (Akira Kurosawa, Japan 1950, 88 min., Japanese/subtitles)
8 p.m. Thursday, November 5 | Jonathan Rosenbaum
THE CIRCLE (DAYEREH, Jafar Panahi, Iran 2000, 90 min., Farsi/subtitles)
7 p.m. Sunday, November 8 | Gene Siskel
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (John Badham, US 1977, 119 min.)
8 p.m. Thursday, November 12 | Roger Ebert
GATES OF HEAVEN (Errol Morris, US 1978, 85 min.)
preceded by WERNER HERZOG EATS HIS SHOE (Les Blank, US 1980, 20 min.)
7 p.m. Sunday, November 15 | Otis Ferguson
NIGHT MUST FALL (Richard Thorpe, US 1937, 117 min.)
8 p.m. Thursday, November 19 | Pauline Kael
HUD (Martin Ritt, US 1963, 112 min.)
8 p.m. Tuesday, November 24 | Dave Kehr
GIGI (Vincente Minnelli, US 1958, 116 min.)
8 p.m. Thursday, December 3 | Stuart Klawans
CHRONICLE OF A DISAPPEARANCE (Elia Suleiman, Palestine 1996, 88 min.,
7 p.m. Sunday, December 6 | Andrew Sarris
THE COLLECTOR (William Wyler, US 1965, 119 min.)
8 p.m. Thursday, December 10 | Gerald Peary
THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE (Sylvain Chomet, France 2003, 80 min.)
8 p.m. Friday, December 11 | Gerald Peary in Person! | Rochester Premiere
FOR THE LOVE OF MOVIES: THE STORY OF AMERICAN FILM CRITICISM (Gerald Peary, US 2009, 81 min., Digital Projection)
8 p.m. Thursday, December 17 | Jack Garner
VOLVER (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain 2006, 121 min., Spanish/subtitles)
8 p.m. Saturday, December 19 | James Agee
MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (Vincente Minnelli, US 1944, 113 min.)
Tuesday, December 22 | Dave Kehr
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (Vincente Minnelli, US 1951, 115 min.)
Admission to each film is $7 general admission and $6 students and members. For more information please visit dryden.eastmanhouse.org or call (585) 271-3361.
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