Sunday, July 12, 2015

Trampy Writing

I've been looking through The Essential Chaplin, a series of reviews and essays about Charlie Chaplin and his work.  Introduced and compiled by Richard Schickel, it's got over 30 pieces, written at the time Charlie was releasing the films as well as those looking back.  Many are well known to Chaplin fans--for instance, James Agee's impassioned (almost insane) defense of Monsieur Verdoux.

The pieces are arranged chronologically according to what part of Chaplin's career they deal with.  Most are fascinating--and not all are positive.  The only thing that stands out in a negative way are the occasional political comments referring to issues that seemed burning then, but now seem pointless, only distracting us from the writer's point

One piece, written in 1964 by Andrew Sarris on the re-release of Verdoux, says "all the sick jokes of the past have finally come home to roost" in the nomination of Barry Goldwater (whose name he refuses to spell properly in some sort of joke I don't get), and "we'll all be laughing on the way to the concentration camp." Then there's J. Hoberman's 1989 retrospective, who seems to go out of his way to put down Reagan.

These writers--notably in the age of New Journalism--probably thought they were making witty thrusts that their readers would automatically agree with.  All I can say is if they thought they were writing for the ages, maybe they should have thought twice about the cheap putdowns.

I shudder to think of what it will be like to compile film criticism written while George W. Bush was in office.

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