cover image Matinee Idylls: Reflections on the Movies

Matinee Idylls: Reflections on the Movies

Richard Schickel. Ivan R. Dee Publisher, $26.5 (318pp) ISBN 978-1-56663-260-7

Already the author of more than 20 books (Clint Eastwood; The Disney Version; etc.), Time film critic Schickel's now delivers a collection of 20 short pieces that take an introspective look at directors and actors past and present. Some of Schickel's treatments are standard, though diverting film-buff fare: admiring pieces on Greta Garbo, Bette Davis and Laurence Olivier, for example. Others evidence a more theoretical orientation, such as an analysis of Sam Fuller as a ""sort of Charles Ives, drawing on the vernacular only to subvert it with a big, blatting unforgettable off-key note."" Yet other pieces, like ""Cinema Paradiso: The Rise and Fall of a Film Culture,"" analyze film through its economic and historical contexts. Most interesting is Schickel's exposure of the connection between the film censorship guidelines of the Breen Office (""less than accurately known to the public as the Hays Office"") and Catholic mores: he notes that Breen even obtained church approval to engage a Jesuit priest to draft the famously puritanical movie codes. Schickel writes with extensive knowledge of mainstream American film, but his approach is eclectic. In his preface, he mocks ""the gibberish of post-structuralist academic criticism,"" for example, but many of his essays slip into post-structuralist terminology (""memory is the great deconstructor of movies""; ""the moguls were fiercely ethnocentric""). Evincing a nostalgia for classic Hollywood narrative, his casual ramblings are not rigorously intellectual, but offer unusually good-natured commentary in the notoriously difficult world of film criticism. (Nov.)