Monday, April 30, 2007

Sarris, Film History Sage

More nuggets of insight from Andrew Sarris: I was rereading American Cinema this weekend for the intro course and found a couple more great quotes. The first ("this suggests the classic highbrow gambit of elevating lowbrow art at the expense of highbrow art") pithily expresses what took me many more words to do.

The second in some way articulates the reasoning behind my 1947 project:
Film history is both films in history and the history of films... For every I Was a Fugitive From the Chain Gang and Our Daily Bread, there were a score of "Thou Swell" romances in which money was no object. Yet the escapism of the thirties was as much a reflection of the Great Depression as any topical film on unemployment.
By now, thanks in large part to auteurism, the situation has changed: the Thou Swell romances may still be forgotten, but even the topical dramas are overlooked in favor of more canonical, auteur-directed genre films. The experience of the late 40s shows that for every Out of the Past or Best Years of Our Lives are dozens of forgotten - or I should say near-forgotten, since there are film buffs out there who have seen them - genre pictures. While I do deem topical filmmaking an interesting and significant development of the postwar years in particular, I want to see what exactly the "times" were - both the history of films and the films in history.

In our haste to make Sarris a straw man we overlook the wonderfully inductive thinking behind his project. It seems worth rethinking how central a film historical project is in the heart of auteurist criticism.

1 comment:

Pacze Moj said...

I'd also add, film as history (something like Saving Private Ryan as a popular understanding of the D-Day landings); and, maybe, history as film (how the technical aspects of film have shaped how we understand and write history).

Not sure if these grow out of Sarris, though.