Dwight Macdonald on film; James Agee; The new audiences
In the past films were made for the public. But now that we've divided up the film audience as we divided up other audiences this is all happened within the years and now we do have a kind of an art that Asika which includes also of course a lot of college cinema clubs and Shelties films too. So it was not profitable to make films for a special much more intellectual kind of a public. This situation and I was entirely different from what Raj when I first became interested in the movies which was at the end of the nineteen twenties and that was days almost nobody except a few isolated people have had any suspicion that you were under coming on the odd experience when you went to the movies. You are listening to Dwight MacDonald on film. During the past decade Mr. McDonald has been perhaps the senior critic among American film critics and during this past year he was distinguished visiting professor of film history and criticism at the University of Texas. These
programs were drawn from Bappa lecture series the topic for this final program. James the new audience as art. And now once again here is Dwight MacDonald. Now I want to begin with kind of a flashback about my own life in my called My Life with the movies right when I was a small boy I lived in New York City and every Friday night was movie night. And we used to go out to the local movie theater and we thought that's hot. Douglas fat banks and the vampires which was I fancy the vampires wore black hoods over their faces and they were a gang of international thieves and murderers. This was revived last fall at Lincoln's Satta was seven was too long too long and they still wanted to see it all at once I had no idea it was when I saw it at the child and I thought I still don't think
it's but it's cap it's really not. But hard to make that distinction that on very special occasions of the family we used to dine out go out to a restaurant and go to one of the downed power moving powers as I would call then the strand of the out other literally of the capital. And we used to then see the big productions and I must say that Griffith and Cecille B DeMille of about the same to me at that time. And. Now. That Philips actor Academy I went to high school big. I've had my first set of personal private awakening to the cinema used to go every Friday night to shop on the commercial FIFA. But you know in those days unlike now it was by no means taken for granted that kids would be interested in movies in a serious way. Everything has changed in the last 10 years. Back to
one of my classmates whom I knew and talked a lot with was a fellow named Ted Hough who later wrote I'd rather run a book on Chaplin and also probably had the best collection of stills of silent film that has ever been made and was an apology in fact on the whole development of the American movie he died fairly prematurely but anyway the curious thing is that although were that together we used to talk about books and plays and ideas but never had there was the talk about movies that we never discovered this interest until after we'd both gotten out of the exit. By Yale I was making notes privately movies on my own and then in 1927 when I was still at Yale to a mutual teacher accident I was put into touch with a brilliant young student at Exeter who would arrive the year after I'd left namely James Agee who are you proud of as a film critic. And we began to correspond.
There's a letter of his that I got recently from him an act of the mayor at Yale which shows the enthusiasm and the isolation really of the young and I as the French call them are. Lovers of cinema. Sunday June 26 1927 there's a lot of them Jim to me. I'm going into Boston to see stock love have you seen it. Despite its god awful title I imagine it's rather fine. At any rate being of the southern mountains it is of great interest to me as modify that was rather fine. It seems to have completely disappeared I've been making inquiries but no print seems to have survived it was a semi documentary film about life in the Kentucky hills the same milieu and fact that a fairly good Hollywood film was made about the same time a tolerable David by Henry King that was 1920 to sandwich a bottomless Cod Brown made stock love and he seems to be much disappeared after that. That's a funny
thing about movie you say there are very fragmentary and evanescent. The fact that a movie of this kind that impressed both of us could have been so. Complete disappeared and he goes on. I saw both variety and Potemkin and nothing to beat deride him for realism except bunso Himes greed. Have you seen it. That man has real genius I think it's time he's able to photograph the most i'm people shouting things and raise them to a symbolic significance assed attempt and I think it was pretty messy on the how good I mean it's good that he expressed himself this way but privately a model for the study and orchestration of movement. The face shots in a picture the repeated flashes faced of water south in the rocks down of the city line in a welt on a flat shining plane of concrete gave me just what I've been looking for on the movie a sort of keynote speech at topic sentence as it were. I have a raw desire he continues to direct. Ethan Frome and the first thing I
thought of was my first and final shots. Then he describes them in some detail I won't go into all the detail but I just go to some to give you an idea of the fact that a.g at this time obviously had this seems to me anyway an extraordinary cinematic eye. I begin with the death of Ethan's mother an oblique shot from near the ground of a coffin being lowered into a grave ALAP dissolved becoming a shot from the coffin lid with rain blowing the lens. And the light above telescoping in a small rectangle You see even that of the schoolboy he was thinking in very concrete directorial times before Wrath of the grave rough dug and so on and then at the end Ethan Xena and Matty in the kitchen on a winter night Mattie sitting very straight you know hunched notifying them leaning near the fireplace dissolve into three graves down to crazily leaning one straight between them. Nights now with them then a series of those out there to the right of them. Back then slowing down to a stop for the gravestones half buried in the snow. It seems to me
this would have some of the symbolism I admire so and so hot and then he goes on have you ever thought of trying to direct in the movies. I'd give anything if I had the guts to try it. I want to start with I rocked out much more powerfully as movies and I was writing and I think I could be held entirely without subtitles. Seems to me that the last laugh that the German side of them of the period. Has opened almost a new feel for us out of psychology. What couldn't be done with it in the movies. Unfortunately John he was than that a pretty lousy picture about fraud in the movies but anyway he's quite right a great deal could be done in fact for many an eight and a half did a certain amount with Freud and movies I would think. Well Jim Madge and I correspond about many things at that time poetry novels ideas and personal topics but I sent it on what it was a then the most namely the movies we both felt this is the most exciting and important form of our time and mission was to ascend from there writing into that of actually directing a movie.
We were both tired of words which is sort of ironical because Agee's that he was a genius with words and I'm not so bad myself. I of my generation was the mouse but talented writer just in a purely technical sense of knowing how to make with words and I was very tired of rage when I think of how many words have written since then and even more tired. A few years later when I was a staff writer on fortune I remember about a lot of fans who'd made the blue Angelo and other films as you remember offering to write for him and send in a lot of toy article I'd written in the little magazine about him. And I made the big mistake of offering to work at 75 the whole of the week. Naively thinking that he would like to save money and take advantage of as a cost on a concert if I had five hundred dollars a week I probably would have gotten a job because he would have been impressed with me and I might now be an old
director instead of an old movie critic. But I replied by politely he was grateful for the prize but he didn't offer me his job. Now of course if I had been born 40 years later I probably would have been making my own little movies right now. Because this seems to be done on all campuses all over the country. I have a youngest son a hobbit. Who has made two movies and is working on a third. Not by a lot of ambitious but the movies I like. And this is not unusual because he is interested in it but so are many people. But anyway I wasn't born then so I just have to keep on writing about movies in our time across closer than I did to becoming a director. In fact if he'd only lived another three or four years I'm sure that he would have been allowed to been married in fact to direct a movie but he died as everything
else than of life he was the most unfortunate person in almost every way. Fight was really against them just at the time when he was becoming extremely well-known as a brilliant script writer as well as a brilliant movie critic. Out of all kinds of connections in Hollywood John Hewson and that other. Connections and the he could have sometimes made a movie. When you read his movie criticism you see that here as a frustrated Iraq that because almost redirects the movie that he's reviewing In fact one of the effects of his criticism is the fact perhaps that he's imaginative and brilliant in looking at a movie. I can see what can be made out of it that he often makes it sound like something much more interesting than what you see when you go on his advice and look at what's there on a screen. But anyway he didn't make it is it now or in the last 15 years and world cinema. There's been a
change in the change is that up to around 1950 or south. Almost all movies were made either for box office or for the state and there are few exceptions made by for some reason almost all the French one we saw his out of the conduit by Viggo. And Bono well made lies there on the Shan on the loo with Dolly and cocktails but of a powered and his office. But that's about all you can think of that were made in the way that these underground films in America are made which obviously not made for the box office. Everything else was in the box and Russia for the state. But then it since 1950 we've had something that really hasn't happened before on his to the movies and that is the development of something that sort of in between box office and auto or underground films like that of the conduit. And this all began with Bergman as I've told you for certain reasons a historical and geographical in Sweden Bradman was able to write he first of
all because he had a great deal of talent and then he was able to have a free hand in making movies and buy a round. In the early 50s bagman was making some movies which became the first great successes in this country about 10 years ago. He really started the cinema movement of a hip and then following Bragman we have of course in France the new valve rock the new wave of Chief directors been to follow him and God and and we have directors like and money and the cause for the money and Antonioni and then we have Curacao in Japan and almost nobody in England I don't think but anyway I do these films really made for a different box of us in other ways in the past films were made for the public and certain great directors like Griffith and Chaplin
were able to be successful this way and make good films. But now that we've divided up the film audience as we divided up other audiences this is all happened within years and now we do have a kind of an art which includes also of course a lot of college cinema club that show these films too so it was not profitable to make films for a special much more intellectual kind of a public. This situation and I was entirely different from what rise when I first became interested in the movies which was at the end of the 900 20s and that was that almost nobody except a few isolated people like myself had any suspicion that you were undergoing an odd experience when you went to the movies. But now we have courses like this cross for that matter. And the difference was made clear to me somebody recently at one of the faculty rive said Tommy that she knew in some way she took a cross a cross 20 years ago in movie history. And when she went to some other logic college they wouldn't give any credit for what I said that's not a
subject. Patchett in the subject. But anyway this is the Jang one shouldn't overestimate this change too much they are NOT audience is constantly disappointing. For instance in the last couple of years the big successes have been movies like run potato soup with kind of a sentimental novel about race relations which all the liberals want to because it's a. About the new graduates I want to know not a thing about race relations and negroes had a clock which isn't sentimental but is a very bad underground film I thought. But that went on for months and months. The seventh potential is symbolic for you in the film by this talented American director who writes in England called jars of lousy and who was considered very hot stuff by many intellectuals and of course Tony Richardsons Tom Jones that I never will be able to convince anybody of that I guess. But anyway these
were the big successes and then also I was certain sexy things like well Polanski's repulsion for instance that new policy in Iraq that that's going very big in the OT that is now and right in spring with a graphic rape and his the silence with lesbianism masturbation and sexual intercourse All right there for you. Actually this silence is a beautiful film beautifully done and it isn't. Is that all that if you got that with any ideas of getting the blue film you got it I mean does suggest a few thing people I think didn't like it probably when I got into it but anyway I'm sure that was a lot of the other kind of extremely good films modest films that don't have either a big name attached to them any big name is sure to go over with the crowd today because everybody's so afraid that they're going to be called Square and us not been bribed by unknown directors and especially the don't have any either side or our Sex and the family is not one
example with a film by Louis Moll called a firewall then apparently beautiful film about two years ago. Which didn't do anything I think it lasted for three weeks or so in the rock and never got outside New York there was a very good movie called The bandits of August Salala that was about. One and a half years ago my decided to everybody the thought that I now thought this was one of the most really serious and interesting sort of semi documentary films about poverty in Italy. This never got anywhere. I think that only lasted a week and there were two films by this very interesting young that Iraq and army had interacted namely the fiances was the last one and their pop star which was translated long into sound of Trumpet's was the first one. Now these are very quiet reflective films very much like Antonioni is filmed except they're about poor people. But beautifully done and absolutely honest and quite innocent Patton equate these two films flop completely one after the other. I mean I separated by a period of a year each of
them flopped completely Saudi Janice owns a chart of them put them on again they believed in the films because they got terrifically good as amended by including by the crowd and they put them on again as a double bell. And I even like everybody in favor the first performance and the same thing happened I just couldn't get people got to see it. So one shouldn't I would estimate this aspect of the thing. And nineteen twenty nine I read an article called Ireland and the movies and I just brought you with a few sentences from a. And being a young author movies are French and the Russian the public and I compare them to the plays of Elizabethans writing because they're not Jenna considered odd at all. This is just a resident in a lot of what I've said about the way we all got of them then and often that I consider the very antithesis of rock just as Elizabeth and Latin as despise the popular drama of their time. And it's well known I had gone to bed as Lisbon Dramatis didn't even
take the trouble to put the players through the press and Shakespeare was the supreme example of that you know as you know he had nothing to do with printing his plays they were just printed almost by accident because somebody got the idea they could make some money from it and they were printed from value of bad copies usually actors acting copies and the most the ghastly text all through. In fact some of the Ancient to have pride is a vascular Sophocles much better shape from a tax point of view than Shakespeare's text I mean the most obvious errors in the thing and so on but that any writer. What's interesting here is that the movies have not until recently either been considered as really odd and my field is a bit implies they have suffered a great deal in appearing so to speak. Thanks to a rag. Now France is in Macbeth I was really amazed to discover according to the edition here that one of the main ones Auden Shakespeare and the Jaime Cunningham is a very scholarly edition. Anyway he says absolutely bluntly that the first hundred and one of the first 137
lines that apply up to almost half way through Act 1 Scene 3 obviously not by same specs including the hard faced business about you know when to read again the which is on the heap and it only really begins in the hammer on the second time which is common and I rather not even then but after that when Macbeth and Banquo come in and then I saw the witches. Now if this is so it certainly does. I mean getting essentially. But he's absolutely sure that this is somebody as this is by the way is interesting if it's true because it shows that the level of achievement a lot in those days was so high that you could really have some probably unknown parts and it might have been Middleton who was pretty good. But when they sex pervert you could have been patch up a play of Shakespeare in such a ride that it wouldn't be obvious to the casual reader. But anyway in the same way about the movies. Just think of what happens to a movie after a mad and after the director has finally made his final print.
First of all the producer comes in and Brad often insist on all kinds of cuts and changes but especially cuts I mean the classic example of course is strong Times greed which was originally so bad as to run as well as like Andy Robb really did but I was must have been much better than raw but it was passed around 8 hours and I finally cut it down to three hours and of last time and had nothing to do with the downie thing we can have a sea of greed is not at all what he had in mind and also tend I just took the route as I was terribly shopped around by the bureaucrats after was man I will never see the original of that. And then the exhibitors have their rock at the film and they sometimes do terrible things fences with clips that Antonioni film that was shown here recently. The last five minutes of it in which the stars don't appear and which are very good was just simply left off and most exhibitions out of town I'm told. And when he was the best part of the film and then of course funny by TV what happens to a film on TV so anyway I mean there was that the similarity that until recently anyway. Nobody took them
at all seriously. Now Pauline Kael kinds of rounded interesting. Thing and at least initial part of that I think it was in which she deplores the fact that movies aren't taken seriously now and not noticed back in a book to read of the movie because they want to that's the big thing in a standing point the great advantage is that film has not been forced on us. It has been on like jazz and popular music something we wanted with no doubt the best intention in the well poetry classical music even painting sculpture not tattoo of frost on it. And that's we were deprived of them. And nobody says you have to like a movie. Not that is until you got to the on House and age tended to shock the web browser. There was now upon I had just I had to write at last there were some areas in which I was told aside by sounds but teachers don't let us decide for ourselves that set up a neat batch of masterpieces for art appreciation. Well now I don't do that and it's true I do think that there are a lot of masterpieces and I showed them
to you. But anyway when she goes on to say that the idea of why she shouldn't have anything like this kind of a cross you should have a cross in which you would have the Ratty is kind of cheap Hollywood producers and directors and the most awful kind of underground filmmakers coming up to the gills with the pod and everything. Union bosses and organs of God and have those guys come easy and talk about the movies because then it would show you what the movies really are and none of the nonsense about that they're like literature or architecture. Well. She has a point because in this culture of explosion we're living in. Critics have much too much influence and people are much too scared whether something's in it or not and whether they have good taste or not. And they're much too willing to sit through 70 minutes of that ridiculous film In fact I understand that. 200 people were there at the end of the film which I think is a great criticism of his college that
they didn't have the guts and in that audience to just simply realize that they were being Ahad because raw is an in thing. But anyway so she's right there and she's right about a lot of Sontag's kind of fancy right to try to show that some really Vidal film is really a great film just because it is so dull. She's right about that but on the other hand her attitude is this is the type of criticism really it tends to be much too much that of a very bad school kid I don't know it didn't occur to me when I was at school that I write books I liked architecture. I lime priding I like to study and probably I guess doesn't she seems to be this is something that you have to be forced to do and I think that the same thing is true of movies of course if you don't want to see a movie. I think I have adequate as a final thing at it and it's one that assumes that OT is something that can only be forced on a normal person well maybe that's because I don't think most people will ever be interested in OT or letters or anything else I think that most people
are not. But that doesn't bother me. I don't try to force him to do it but I think you have to maintain. Here's a typical Hollywood expression of the extreme much most in imparting tales of criticism this is riled up he says. Critics of the movie passage can be divided in three categories the Marans about 85 percent that is the minds who know how many times Ginger Rogers was mad at what Jan Mansell's dimensions were and so on. And secondly there are the critics who write for the highbrow art magazine with a mass circulation of 700 rally has a secular nation of nine hundred thousand. They don't like anything unless it's been made abroad probably in Sweden by Ingmar Bergman. If they don't learn as well as language to understand what they're saying it would be interesting to read the comments then. Well I have. Yeah that's been pointed that out to me once he's a smooth guy that damaged and you know I would sometimes when I see some of these
serious English an American ought to see the possibility that we can always understand these with anyone who does a lot more on brown than just that I'm sure and I'm finding is that there are you critics here tonight and he was talking to a bunch of newspaper critics of the view was rather not including me who tried to be constructive and do us American films like the Apapa in which I took a pot of bright light and encourage filmmaking in Hollywood. So this is they typical Billy rod is one of my sophisticated people in Hollywood but this is what he had this idea that you have to be a highbrow in order to have any standards at all. Now I'm not sophisticated that expression and I would agree with this this is sort of in between my view and well I mean no in between of Sontag view on the Billy Riley view and not bagman read a dialogue which you have between him south and a scriptwriter bagman is just tying down this writer's script and imaginary dialogue.
Good morning good morning you look glum sent by them and have you read my script Yes I got it yesterday. Excellent piece of Reich. Factually artistically by that you mean it is rejected. Yes I'm sorry I don't want to quiet with anger especially when things are hard or rubbish which gets produced Bugman I understand your bitterness but do not share it. I know the conditions under which we write. I never pretended I can forget them either when conditions dictated by bankers accountants and the rest to be an artistic Philistines. These Their conditions were sapped Bagman and you are right it is not easy especially if we want to make Ondine masterpieces for eternity in the motion picture industry there is nothing so remote as eternity. Do not require from us most of all you know inside lies you can carve out if you wish I would call an entertainment. And a time that he was not with contempt but think for a minute while we were working for the public who keeps as the public demand should be met the public's before minds who have climbed the big top to before and I was damning some assaults to
amuse the public. We risk our necks and eye reputations to meet the demands made on us and efforts must be perfect so damning so devilishly and attaining that our audiences are taken out of themselves and forget there are lessons that deaf announcer robberies not done not how we justified ourselves completely but my script. It was not entertaining enough that was a problem. Perhaps it was too true to life. Bregman that could be you can be used to arrive at your right but only on condition that just some insults are entertaining and I think that's roughly where the truth lies. It is entertainment but it also was. You have been listening to Dwight MacDonald on film in this final programme Mr McDonald has discussed. James Agee the new audience and movies. As are these programs were drawn from Mr. MacDonald's lecture series during his recent tenure as distinguished visiting professor of film history and criticism at the University of Texas. This
series was produced by communication center the University of Texas for a national educational radio producer for the series Bill Joy to feel they are speaking. This is an E.R. of the national educational radio network.
- Dwight Macdonald on film
- James Agee; The new audiences
- Producing Organization
- University of Texas
- KUT (Radio station : Austin, Tex.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- James Agee; the New Audience; Movies as Art
- Series Description
- Series of lectures by Dwight Macdonald on film: its makers, its history, its future.
- Film and Television
- Media type
Announcer: Miller, Phil
Producer: Jordan, Bill
Producing Organization: University of Texas
Producing Organization: KUT (Radio station : Austin, Tex.)
Speaker: Macdonald, Dwight
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-16-18 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- MLA: “Dwight Macdonald on film; James Agee; The new audiences.” 1967-07-18. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 23, 2024. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-wp9t5w3g>.
- APA: Dwight Macdonald on film; James Agee; The new audiences. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-wp9t5w3g