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Good Writing About Films—and Books

As talented film critics continue to lose jobs right and left, a small ray of sunshine has broken through: a new outlet where good writers are writing essays about notable films based on equally notable books. The estimable Michael Sragow is serving as curator and primary contributor to this site, called The Moviegoer, which is an enterprise of Library of America. Mike’s initial essay, about Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans, which you can read HERE, sets the bar high. Not only is he intimately acquainted with James Fenimore Cooper’s book and Mann’s adaptation, but he’s aware of the 1936 film and the beautiful 1920 silent feature by Maurice Tourneur and Clarence Brown.

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(When I asked him which iteration of the Mann film he used as his source–knowing that the director likes to tinker with his films–Mike told me, “When I re-watched it I skipped the intermediate “director’s cut” that came out on the first DVD and went straight to the “definitive director’s cut” on Blu-ray. Apparently he went overboard on that first director’s cut and even eliminated “I will find you!,” but this last one was more like fine-tuning — some snips of expository or overly explicit dialogue got trimmed, some bits of action got extended. It played well for me and he’s adamant that this is the last one.”)

Sragow has lined up an impressive list of contributors for this biweekly feature; here is the current rundown:

  • 2/10 – Carrie Rickey on The Age of Innocence
  • 2/24 – Michael Sragow on The Maltese Falcon
  • 3/9 – Terrence Rafferty on The Innocents
  • 3/23 – Farran Smith Nehme on Little Women
  • 4/6 – Michael Sragow on Billy Budd
  • 4/20 – Harold Schechter on True Crime in American Cinema
  • 5/4 – David Denby on The Heiress
  • 5/18 – Charles McGrath on The Thin Man
  • 6/1 – Michael Sragow on Member of the Wedding
  • 6/15 – Megan Abbott on Laura
  • 6/29 – Wendy Lesser on Purple Noon
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If you are unaware of Library of America, it is a non-profit organization, currently in its fourth decade, that “champions the nation’s cultural heritage by publishing America’s greatest writing in authoritative new editions and providing resources for readers to explore this rich, living legacy. The Moviegoer is produced with initial underwriting support from trustee Amor Towles. Additional funding and partners will be sought in the year ahead to help broaden the reach of the program. It takes its inspiration and its Catholic compass, from Walker Percy’s famous novel and, in the words of curator Sragow, ‘aims to generate new enthusiasm for cinema as well as literature.’ ”

Michael Sragow has written for a number of leading newspapers and The New Yorker (where I’ve always enjoyed his capsule reviews of vintage films) and currently serves as West Coast editor and critic for Film Comment. He is the author of the definitive biography Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master and the editor of the two-volume Library of America James Agee edition.

You can subscribe to The Moviegoer for free at www.loa.org and I encourage you to do so. Movie and book lovers alike should support this enterprise and show that there is still a healthy audience for intelligent and informed writing of this kind. I wish The Moviegoer a long and fruitful life.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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