Good Writing About Films—and Books

Daniel Day Lewis-479             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
  • 2/24 – Michael Sragow on The Maltese
  • 3/9 – Terrence Rafferty on The
  • 3/23 – Farran Smith Nehme on Little
  • 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
  • 6/1 – Michael Sragow on Member of the
  • 6/15 – Megan Abbott on Laura
  • 6/29 – Wendy Lesser on Purple Noon          

Library of America Logo-680 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
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
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.

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February 2024