A Decade Of American Film
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If Simon is alternately penetrating and perverse as a theater critic, he is generally solid but unexciting on film--as made clear in this collection of 250 short reviews, all from the Seventies, all dealing with US movies. (Plus a handful of pieces on critical theory and other critics.) True, the familiar blind-spots and personality problems do surface here: the shrill assaults on un-beautiful women (including "homely" Diane Keaton as well as Streisand and Minelli); the elitist boorishness (the Rolling Stones' music is "worthless"); the odd prejudices which cause Simon to find Annie Hall "unfunny comedy, poor moviemaking, and embarrassing self-revelation"; the urge toward gratuitous personal attack. But, for the most part, these reviews reflect a steady, stern, if condescending esthetic: "the film critic must be equipped with a sliding scale, and be able to assess both art and mere entertainment on their relative merits." Thus, Simon is ready to enjoy well-made, unpretentious fare (the James Bond movies, Rocky, The French Connection). And he's highly responsive to small-scale artistic successes--like Badlands or Michael Ritchie's best satires. More typically, however--often in reaction against those critics who intellectualize "low cravings"--Simon devotes himself to skewering the dishonesty, murkiness, and emptiness he finds in middle-brow movies with pretensions. Occasionally this provides welcome balance--as in a shrewd, though unpleasant, look at the manipulations at work in the acclaimed documentary Harlan County U.S.A. In more cases (The Deer Hunter, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, etc.) Simon illuminates the flaws less well than several other critics. And some movies are lambasted, straw-man-style, for pretensions they don't really have. Still, Simon displays creditable flexibility in mixed coverage of erratic directors like Robert Altman; and, even with his self-limiting horror of the middlebrow (serious critiques of Hitchcock, Hawkes, Ford, et al. are scorned), he makes the most of his hard-nosed intelligence and un-academic good taste. So, all in all, these are sturdily argued, generally sensible pieces of short film criticism--but without the originality or eloquence needed to make this massive compilation (so much of which deals with bad and/or minor movies) a significant addition to the film-criticism shelf.
Pub Date: Jan. 22nd, 1981
ISBN: 0517546973
Page count: 466pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1981