We are not all movie lovers, those of us who as children in the war-time Forties spent our Saturday afternoons in movie houses. We went because there was nothing else to do, because everyone went, and because it was dark, dirty, and liberating inside. We were a wild audience, hardly spectators at all; our childhood moviegoing had more to do with the theater of participation than the cinema we know now. Reading the names of those New York West Side theaters which serve our literature as bridges to the common generational unconscious, I think not of the screen but of that great Elizabethan pit, the children’s section, where the fists and food and insults flying made the movie necessarily incidental; the aisles down which the matrons chased us as we escaped into forbidden sections to smoke, find perverts in every row, throw candy from the balcony, chant—even on occasion to run across the stage so that it was the shadows of our images which, flashing between the projector and the screen, blotted out the faces of the stars.
We are all movie lovers now. Or at least we are concerned; forming queues in any weather in order to be informed, involved, even enlightened. Although it sometimes seems that today it is the film critics who are liberated while we are more often stuck for hours before a clean well-lighted screen.
Movies, film, flicks, cinema—lately that most self-conscious of forms. One does not even know quite what to call it, there being in the choice of terms an implication of judgment on the value of the form itself. Moviegoing has become formal even as the form loosens. Once I would leave a bad movie as swiftly as I would shut a dull book. Now I stay through it all watching for what should not be missed. Movies are like an old pol become a statesman; what he says is not so much improved as the value given it.
The line between art and junk movies has always been blurred. Long ago, a pan from Bosley Crowther meant the movie was likely to be good, but there are no such dowsers any more. The critics know that art is everywhere, look high and low with the same kind and serious gaze. Flaws which in other forms might invalidate the work are passed over as minor. If you don’t like the content, look at the cutting. This aficionado attitude flourishes within a general absence of standards so that we all waste a good deal of time looking at junk. Perhaps this is because we still believe that film belongs to us in a way that the older, the more aristocratic arts do not, and so demand less from it. Movies today are good to look at; anything more is gravy.
One becomes grateful for bits and pieces: a night-long drive on an English highway in Charlie Bubbles; Godard’s quick flashes of intelligence; bright colors, speed, surprise; a sense of weather; a joke. In…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.