Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dave Kehr: When Movies Mattered (a book)

Dave Kehr: When Movies Mattered. Reviews from a Transformative Decade. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2011. Summer reading at Punkaharju, July 2011.

Dave Kehr is one of the best film critics in the world, currently a dvd critic for The New York Times. When Movies Mattered is a collection of his reviews from 1974 to 1986 for Chicago Reader. Kehr reviewed both new and old films. A special section in the book is devoted to what can retrospectively be seen as "the end of classical Hollywood". Old masters directed their last films, and New Hollywood was blooming. There is also an appendix of Dave Kehr's top ten lists of those years. The book is full of surprises. Many films discussed are not the obvious and familiar ones. After Hours is the Martin Scorsese film included, and Sudden Impact is the Clint Eastwood selection. Worth reading are Kehr's reviews on Manoel de Oliveira's Francisca, and Roberto Rossellini's Blaise Pascal. There is a section on Jean-Luc Godard's films of the period.

The reviews are from the golden age of American film criticism. There was a large, active audience for film culture, and there was ample space in newspapers and journals for extended, serious writing on the cinema. This book is another proof that the perception of the high quality of the writing of those times is not just a golden memory. Film writing such as this is great literature with lasting value.

Where I disagree is the use of the past tense in the title "When Movies Mattered". Movies still matter for new generations, but it is a disaster what has happened with film criticism in print media.

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