A brilliant idea dullishly done, as Rosenberg (ed., Testimony, 1989; trans., The Book of J, 1990) asks 23 well-known novelists, poets, and literary critics to name their earliest life-changing movie--and then to sit through it again today via videocassette. The job finds many of Rosenberg's contributors recalling the theaters and neighborhoods where the first viewing took place--a theme that gets tiresome. Critic Harold Bloom takes the zany approach, however, choosing W.C. Fields's glorious The Fatal Glass of Beer, a 20-minute short that so knocked him out on first viewing that he had to be carried out of the theater for a drink and missed the main feature. Bloom, of course, recognizes his opportunity to enthuse about ""the aesthetics of outrage"" he finds embodied in the farce and compares Fields's film more than favorably with Titus Andronicus and Gravity's Rainbow. Which hints at a flaw in perhaps half of the contributors, who tend to overblow their themes. Meg Wolitzer, though, does well in recalling Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt as the first picture ever to reveal the confusions of a real adolescent girl faced with a male world, while Joyce Carol Oates on the ""cinematically immortal"" and ""mythopoetic"" figure of Bela Lugosi in Tod Browning's version of Dracula wavers between real feeling and ground-out academicism. Perhaps the most moving single moment in the book is Philip Lopate's description of taking a girlfriend to see Carl Dreyer's Ordet, with its audacious climactic resurrection scene in a which an atheist Danish farmer's dead wife sits up in her coffin and holds out her arms to him: Lopate cries and his girlfriend punches him. ""You see, you can take it in films, but you can't take it in life!"" she says. Other contributors include Jayne Anne Phillips on The Premature Burial, Russell Banks on Bambi, Leonard Michaels on Gilda, and Leslie Epstein on The Devil in Miss Jones. Too heavy-handed, too archetypal by half.