Clive James is arguably the best arts critic extant. He is witty and erudite and possessed of an incredible knowledge of so many of the arts. His recent article in the Atlantic, “Hollywood: A Love Story” is one of the finest pieces of arts criticism I have ever read. It is many things at the same time. It is actually a book review of David Thompson’s The New Biographical Dictionary of Film. And while he reviews the book James actually uses the book as a foil for his own loving remembrances of films and actors. He remembers, in wonderful style, the actress Janice Rule and noted that in the film Invitation to a Gunfighter “she drove Yul Brynner to extremes of behavior that verged at times on acting”.
Maybe I liked this piece so much because I’ve come to the conclusion that my love for movies is generational. It was the thing that I did, my wife did and my friends did almost religiously throughout our formative teens and twenties. James, talking about the younger Thompson says, “Most people of his generation who have spent their lives seeing every properly released movie even if it stars Steven Seagal are incapable of judging them. The reason is simple: those people are monomaniacs. Thompson has found time to do other things: read books, breathe clean air, cook and eat real food. It takes someone with greater resources that a mere buff to ask whether his chosen field might not have reached a point in its history where the best movies, being aimed successfully at an audience that wants art, are no longer for everyone. On the other hand, such a moviegoer can see that he might just be getting old.”
I might just be getting old and that’s why I like movies that are well crafted and critics who write with craft.