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Combustible Celluloid Review by Jeffrem M. Anderson: Agee was the father of American film criticism. Although he was a contemporary of Otis Ferguson and Manny Farber, he was perhaps the most influential -- so much so that his review of John Huston's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre; (1948) got him hired to write the screenplay Huston's 1952 The African Queen. Agee on Film c Combustible Celluloid Review by Jeffrem M. Anderson: Agee was the father of American film criticism. Although he was a contemporary of Otis Ferguson and Manny Farber, he was perhaps the most influential -- so much so that his review of John Huston's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre; (1948) got him hired to write the screenplay Huston's 1952 The African Queen. Agee on Film collects Agee's criticism from 1942 to 1948, from both The Nation and Time. It's fascinating to see Agee's week-by-week prose, burying deeper into movies with a very small amount of space than most critics ever get in their lifetimes. He could take a beautiful movie like Jean Renoir's The Southerner, praise it for its virtues, but drive a nail into exactly what did not work about the film. His most breathless essay is his three-part exaltation of Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux, which is just about worth the price of the book all by itself. Another of his greatest reviews, praising the great Curse of the Cat People (1944), is here as well. This recently re-issued book also contains lengthy essays on Sunset Boulevard and D.W. Griffith and an appreciation of silent comedy. I re-read this book in 2005 and now consider it the most valuable film book written in English. The out-of-print Agee on Film Vol. 2 collects Agee's screenplays, including The African Queen and the brilliant The Night of the Hunter. (1955).


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Combustible Celluloid Review by Jeffrem M. Anderson: Agee was the father of American film criticism. Although he was a contemporary of Otis Ferguson and Manny Farber, he was perhaps the most influential -- so much so that his review of John Huston's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre; (1948) got him hired to write the screenplay Huston's 1952 The African Queen. Agee on Film c Combustible Celluloid Review by Jeffrem M. Anderson: Agee was the father of American film criticism. Although he was a contemporary of Otis Ferguson and Manny Farber, he was perhaps the most influential -- so much so that his review of John Huston's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre; (1948) got him hired to write the screenplay Huston's 1952 The African Queen. Agee on Film collects Agee's criticism from 1942 to 1948, from both The Nation and Time. It's fascinating to see Agee's week-by-week prose, burying deeper into movies with a very small amount of space than most critics ever get in their lifetimes. He could take a beautiful movie like Jean Renoir's The Southerner, praise it for its virtues, but drive a nail into exactly what did not work about the film. His most breathless essay is his three-part exaltation of Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux, which is just about worth the price of the book all by itself. Another of his greatest reviews, praising the great Curse of the Cat People (1944), is here as well. This recently re-issued book also contains lengthy essays on Sunset Boulevard and D.W. Griffith and an appreciation of silent comedy. I re-read this book in 2005 and now consider it the most valuable film book written in English. The out-of-print Agee on Film Vol. 2 collects Agee's screenplays, including The African Queen and the brilliant The Night of the Hunter. (1955).

30 review for Agee on Film, Vol. 1: Essays and Reviews

  1. 4 out of 5

    Victor Morosoff

    Parfois trop personnel, voire subjectif pour ce que j’entends d’un critique. Souvent, c’est carrément frustrant de voir comme Agee change de tonalité et ses louanges se transforment à l’improviste en descentes aux enfers. Mais j’avoue qu’il a de l’intuition. Et particulièrement ses textes visionnaires sur les films européens prêtent à l’enthousiasme. 3,7/5

  2. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    This is some of the finest film criticism one could ever hope to read by an American writer (although Pauline Kael's collected reviews hold a special place of affection in my memories). Agee's 1940s reviews for the magazines "The Nation," "Time," and "The Partisan Review" are included in this volume, and, not surprisingly, they are witty, acerbic, and extremely well informed. The earliest reviews have an edge of nastiness that I find unattractive, but the critiques from the end of World War II t This is some of the finest film criticism one could ever hope to read by an American writer (although Pauline Kael's collected reviews hold a special place of affection in my memories). Agee's 1940s reviews for the magazines "The Nation," "Time," and "The Partisan Review" are included in this volume, and, not surprisingly, they are witty, acerbic, and extremely well informed. The earliest reviews have an edge of nastiness that I find unattractive, but the critiques from the end of World War II to 1950 exhibit an extraordinary humanity, generosity, and perception. I was particularly taken with his three-part dissection of Charles Chaplin's "Monsieur Verdoux" (1947) which Agee considered a masterpiece (and which I have never been able to catch), and with his kind assessments of films I hold dear, such as "The Song of Bernadette" (1943), "Since You Went Away" (1944), and "Sunset Boulevard" (1950). For a variety of reasons, he cared less for other films which I hold in high regard, such as "Double Indemnity" (1944), "Meet Me in St. Louis" (1944), and "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946). But his judgment is sound, and I can understand the reasons for his objections. What is most distressing about this book is to take in how many films have been lost or have simply disappeared into the vaults forever. I don't think I recognized about one third of the titles that Agee reviews (although I am more a student of 1930s films than those of the 1940s). And there are many, many foreign films he cites as influential that are probably gone forever. We are not very good at preserving our film heritage, alas. However, so much artistic work of other types is lost forever, too. For example, the critically important composer Claudio Monteverdi wrote ten operas between 1604 and 1643, and only three have survived. Sigh. So many treasures gone. But I digress from Agee! The one structural flaw I find in the book is that Agee frequently reviewed the same films for "The Nation" that he did for "Time," so sometimes we see two reviews of the same movies. This occasionally enlarges our understanding of those works, but at other times it is simply annoying. And I must admit that it is very difficult for me to read acres and acres of film reviews back-to-back and nonstop. I should have dipped into this every so often and interspersed it with forays into other things...like Simenon novels.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Marie-pierre Stien

    I bought this book (used) hoping to learn about older movies and watch them on Netflix. Unfortunately, most of the movies Agee writes about have long disappeared from the screens (any type of screen). Unless you are a student with access to a film library of some sort, the only thing left is to ponder on the ephemeral nature of stories and Agee's crisp prose. I bought this book (used) hoping to learn about older movies and watch them on Netflix. Unfortunately, most of the movies Agee writes about have long disappeared from the screens (any type of screen). Unless you are a student with access to a film library of some sort, the only thing left is to ponder on the ephemeral nature of stories and Agee's crisp prose.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lukas Evan

  6. 4 out of 5

    Tom

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

  8. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

    Why would you read this book? I'm obviously a fan of Agee's prose so the answer is simple for me. But there is a more generalized value to this book. Agee has very particular views about film, and does a good job developing it throughout his criticism. No surprise here, his aesthetics are based on life as actually lived and his rules for a good film include using amateur actors or people with no acting background at all, but who have a good understanding of human interactions, a focus on a story Why would you read this book? I'm obviously a fan of Agee's prose so the answer is simple for me. But there is a more generalized value to this book. Agee has very particular views about film, and does a good job developing it throughout his criticism. No surprise here, his aesthetics are based on life as actually lived and his rules for a good film include using amateur actors or people with no acting background at all, but who have a good understanding of human interactions, a focus on a story that actually occurred in the real world, and shoots which occur on location (no studios). He was on the lookout for particularized stories and characters, insights into people and places in your life, and a moral ambiguity or subtlety that makes the viewer do the work. Agee was also a film score skeptic, convinced that it was relied on too much to elicit what the plot and the characters should be communicating, or to buttress and conceal a weak performance. The book is also a great excuse to watch some early movies that I would not otherwise see (also you got to put the criticism to the test). Treasure of the Sierra Madre was decent, but doesn’t stand up as much as Agee’s words about it. The Marx Brothers movies are laugh out loud funny and full of so many great moments. But the movies themselves aren’t very good, and get worse as they go along. That clan was a vaudeville act; their strength was in a series of discreet, witty scenes, a couple musical interludes, and some slapstick humor, all hung loosely around a plot. The early movies play to this formula, but their more movie-like movies flattened their anarchic humor and talent. Duck Soup, for instance, I thought was wildly overrated. It's a real loss that the Marx Brothers vaudeville acts existed before the technology to record arrived. Monsieur Verdoux is as good as Agee says. There is a scene in that movie where Chaplin takes a woman in off the street to test a poison he just made. After talking with the woman, Chaplin decides to let her go without killing her. I saw this as a depiction of humanity that Chaplin’s character still had, but Agee has an entirely different take on this scene. It’s pretty persuasive and opened up another way into this film that hadn’t occurred to me. I guess that’s to say, you should read this book because it is genuinely insightful as well.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

  10. 4 out of 5

    Cinematic Cteve

  11. 4 out of 5

    Michael Adams

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mickey Fisher

  13. 4 out of 5

    King Clover

  14. 4 out of 5

    Wim Grundy

  15. 5 out of 5

    Andrej Gustincic

  16. 4 out of 5

    J

  17. 5 out of 5

    LD

  18. 5 out of 5

    Rusty

  19. 4 out of 5

    Berna Labourdette

  20. 4 out of 5

    Michael Mingo

  21. 5 out of 5

    Michele Davis

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ron Antonucci

  23. 5 out of 5

    Michael

  24. 5 out of 5

    John

  25. 4 out of 5

    A.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Lee Levinson

  27. 5 out of 5

    Acc

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sheri Davenport

  29. 5 out of 5

    Derek

  30. 5 out of 5

    Bryan--The Bee’s Knees

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