A noted critic celebrates the pleasure of movies.
By his own count, film critic Schickel (Conversations with Scorsese, 2011, etc.) has seen 22,590 movies. After a 40-year career as “a professional moviegoer,” he admits that he prefers popular movies to “art” films, although his eclectic list of keepers includes some decidedly arty directors, such as Wim Wenders and German expressionist F.W. Murnau. Beginning with the first two decades of the talkies, Schickel praises the exemplary Charlie Chaplin in a movie not well regarded by others, The Circus (1928). To the author, the climax, which “features Chaplin doing a high-wire act while beset by a troop of monkeys,” is “breathtaking in its intricacy, and its thrills.” Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) seems to him “the greatest of the Dracula movies,” but he believes Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and M (1931) to be overrated. Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) was “a great act of modernism”; William Wellman’s The Public Enemy (1931), an iconic gangster picture. The author remarks on virtually every director, from D.W. Griffith to Rouben Mamoulian (a “half-forgotten genius”), Clint Eastwood to Steven Spielberg. He thinks Woody Allen is “trapped by his gift” of creating comedy. Annie Hall (1977), though a huge hit, is only a “charming movie, but scarcely an overpowering one,” and Radio Days (1987) seems to Schickel “one of Woody’s most accomplished films.” Although he concedes that Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) “is not everyone’s dish of tea,” he deems it “an important film because there were not many before it that were essays in pure insanity.” A great admirer of Martin Scorsese, Schickel thought Mean Streets (1973) was clumsy, but Raging Bull (1980) and Taxi Driver (1976) were masterpieces.
Schickel found writing this collection “a rather playful business”; readers will find it infused with his joy.