The Rhapsodes: How 1940s Critics Changed American Film Culture

David Bordwell. Univ. of Chicago, $60 (160p) ISBN 978-0-2263-5217-6
Bordwell (coauthor, with Kristin Thompson, of Film Art: An Introduction), professor emeritus of film studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, sacrifices continuity for form in this otherwise illuminating text. The book revisits the 1940s film criticism of Otis Ferguson, James Agee, Manny Farber, and Parker Tyler, dubbed “rhapsodes” for their ecstatic, acrobatic writing style and committed cinephilia. Bordwell probes each critic’s work and shows how they took mainstream Hollywood film, and writing about it, seriously. Each gets a lengthy chapter’s analysis, but they become hastily sketched cameos in the others’ stories. A scant few details about each critic’s ethos are seized upon and cursorily called back in subsequent chapters in service of creating a unified project. Ferguson, the dominant figure here, was always on the lookout for honest stories of ordinary people. Agee emerges as the romantic of the group, seeking “a transcendent beauty in the ordinary world.” Farber treasured a style Bordwell dubs expressive naturalism. Tyler, finally, drew on ideas from psychoanalysis. Each chapter is compelling on its own, but comparisons of each critic to the others, while valid and potentially fascinating, are made in a hasty and unsatisfying fashion, leaving the work as a whole disappointingly fragmented. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 01/18/2016
Release date: 04/01/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 176 pages - 978-0-226-35220-6
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