Garbo to Fargo spans the range of this prickly grab bag by the Time reviewer.
In the introduction to this collection of essays (his favorite form), Schickel (Clint Eastwood: A Biography, 1996; Brando: A Life in Our Times, 1991; etc.) cites his purpose and method. As collective movie memory erodes through deaths and the transience of popular culture, Schickel aims to preserve parts of the move past by examining film with “the same kind of rigor and passion…that any good historian will bring to explorations of other aspects of the past.” Rather than constraining him, this goal opens him to easy, informed pieces that re-create the film world. Among the most free and revealing are the profiles of Charles Laughton and Andrew Sarris, the former for explicating Laughton’s joyful artistic flamboyance, the latter for recalling the battles incited by the American Cinema and the unaffectedness of its creator. All of the profiles share an urgency and sureness befitting a man who, like profile subject Clint Eastwood, is “on the back nine” of life. They exhort readers to remember Irene Dunne or Satyajit Ray or King Vidor – and Schickel will tell you why. Less convincing (but ripe for debate) are the thought pieces. The observations (such as the reasons behind the AFI best-of-the-century list tilt toward midcentury films) are pithy, but some arguments are weak (like the speculation on how the absence of censorship might have made the Golden Age of movies even more golden – yes, and what if Napoleon had an Uzi…). But he prefers Notorious to Vertigo and so is redeemed.
Though some arguments reveal their armature and a few essays read long, Schickel lays his words out cleanly and is ready for the parry. Read it when you want a conversation with an ideal common viewer.