cover image The Complete History of American Film Criticism

The Complete History of American Film Criticism

Jerry Roberts. Santa Monica Press, $27.95 (480pp) ISBN 978-1-59580-049-7

Acquisitions editor for Arcadia Publishing and former movie critic Roberts presents the first comprehensive history of American film criticism, an admirably far-reaching work-from Frank E. Woods's work in the 1908 New York Dramatic Mirror to today's prominent online critics-that unfortunately reads more like recitation than scholarship. Roberts's attempt at ""narrative history"" moves chronologically, but in disorienting spurts that attempt to align the history of individual film critics, many of whom had careers more broad or influential than the format to accommodate. Pauline Kael, for example, appears again and again in chapters about the 1960s, 1970s, and the Television Age, but never in a way that coherently explains her-despite Roberts's penchant for needless biographical details (anyone who wants to know what killed every film critic since the '10s will find out here). While sentences from individual critiques are included, longer passages are few and far between, making it difficult to understand the impact or viewpoint of a given critic; the selections themselves also seem arbitrary (for instance, Roberts includes virtually nothing about The Godfather). For ardent film fans, this book may prove worthwhile for its thorough collection of facts, but a great history of American film criticism has yet to be written.