Andrew Sarris has long been one of America's most celebrated writers on film, author of the seminal work The American Cinema, and for decades a highly regarded critic, first for The Village Voice and more recently for The New York Observer. Now comes Sarris's definitive statement on film, in a masterwork that has taken 25 years to complete.
Here is a sweeping--and highly personal--history of American film, from the birth of the talkies (beginning with The Jazz Singer and Al Jolson's memorable line "You ain't heard nothin' yet") to the decline of the studio system. By far the largest section of the book celebrates the work of the great American film directors, with giants such as John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, and Howard Hawks examined film by film. Sarris also offers glowing portraits of major stars, from Garbo and Bogart to Ingrid Bergman, Margaret Sullavan, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Clark Gable, and Carole Lombard. There is a tour of the studios--Metro, Paramount, RKO, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, Universal--revealing how each left its own particular stamp on film. And in perhaps the most interesting and original section, we are treated to an informative look at film genres--the musical, the screwball comedy, the horror picture, the gangster film, and the western.
A lifetime of watching and thinking about cinema has gone into this book. It is the history that film buffs have been waiting for.
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Andrew Sarris, the film critic who made the auteur theory of the French cineastes palatable to American sensibilities in The American Cinema and thereby taught generations of filmgoers to regard films as the creative products of directors rather than vehicles for stars, introduces "You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet" by writing, "The first lesson one learns almost immediately after undertaking to write a comprehensive and critically weighed history of the American film is that one can never finish; one can only stop." But Sarris has managed to extend his meandering journey through the first two decades of American sound film to quite some length; film fans and readers may only feel regret that it must come to an end.
This is not so much a sustained historical argument as a series of reflections, primarily rooted in Sarris's reminiscences of roughly seven decades of film viewing and reviewing. Addressing broad categories (genres, directors, and actors), he zooms in for extended consideration of particular subjects (the Astaire-Rogers musicals, John Ford, and Vivien Leigh, among many others), creating intimately detailed miniature portraits that provide such studiously loving descriptions of classic scenes they may make the reader wish to hole up with a copy of the book and a VCR after having secured the services of a video store that makes deliveries. There is even a short final chapter in which Sarris discusses such "guilty pleasures" as My Foolish Heart, the only film ever made based on a J.D. Salinger story.
People who know movies, or think they do, will no doubt find something about which to disagree with Sarris. This is as it should be; "You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet" is as much a commencement point as it is a summation.About the Author:
Andrew Sarris is film critic for The New York Observer and was for 29 years the critic for The Village Voice. The author of the seminal The American Cinema, he teaches at Columbia University and lives in New York City.
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