Cover image for It's only a movie! : films and critics in American culture
It's only a movie! : films and critics in American culture
Haberski, Raymond J., 1968-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Lexington, Ky. : University Press of Kentucky, [2001]

Physical Description:
x, 249 pages ; 24 cm
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PN1995 .H213 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Once derided as senseless entertainment, movies have gradually assumed a place among the arts. Raymond Haberski's provocative and insightful book traces the trajectory of this evolution throughout the twentieth century, from nickelodeon amusements to the age of the financial blockbuster.

Haberski begins by looking at the barriers to film's acceptance as an art form, including the Chicago Motion Picture Commission hearings of 1918--1920, one of the most revealing confrontations over the use of censorship in the motion picture industry. He then examines how movies overcame the stigma attached to popular entertainment through such watershed events as the creation of the Museum of Modern Art's Film Library in the 1920s.

The arguments between Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris's heralded a golden age of criticism, and Haberski focuses on the roles of Kael, Sarris, James Agee, Roger Ebert, and others, in the creation of "cinephilia." Described by Susan Sontag as "born of the conviction that cinema was an art unlike any other," this love of cinema centered on coffee houses, universities, art theaters, film festivals, and, of course, foreign films.

The lively debates over the place of movies in American culture began to wane in the 1970s. Haberski places the blame on the loss of cultural authority and on the increasing irrelevance of the meaning of art. He concludes with a persuasive call for the re-emergence of a middle ground between art and entertainment, "something more complex, ambiguous, and vexing -- something worth thought."

Author Notes

Raymond J. Haberski Jr. is assistant professor of history at Marian College in indianapolis.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

In this informative and entertaining work, Haberski (history, Marian Coll.) uses historical perspective, logical and chronological structure, and an unassuming but convincing voice to trace the shifting role of movies in American culture. The representations from significant social and film critics (Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris, and others) are well selected, and fresh insights are gleaned from archival sources. Haberski examines the "lively art" in a lively fashion, centering not on the content of movies but on their positioning in the contrived hierarchy of the arts. Accounts of the epic challenges faced by Theodore Dreiser in making An American Tragedy into a film, Iris Barry's establishment of the film collection of the Museum of Modern Art, and Lincoln Center's launch of its first film festival are revealing and engaging. The work's culmination in an atavistic lament over the current "vanishing of cultural authority" and the powerlessness of critics is forgivable because of its contagious delight in the wit, wisdom, and words of the critics who shaped American film culture. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries. Ann Fey, Rockland Community Coll., Suffern, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Haberski (history, Marian College) traces the rise and decline of film criticism from its humble and primitive origins in the early days of the cinema to the current era of megablockbusters and occasional independent films. The author surveys early roadblocks to acceptance of movies within US popular culture, including restrictions and censorship and the eternal struggle between art and commerce. He also examines attempts by both filmmakers and critics to forge an aesthetic for mass consumption of film. Haberski posits that the cinema achieved its highest level of acceptance in the 1960s, as exemplified particularly by contentious critical debates between Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris. This, Haberski argues, was the golden age of the American film as art, a period from which film criticism inspired an era of "cinephilia" leading to the rise of art house theaters, coffee houses, and university film courses. Writing in breezy prose, Haberski laments an era of decline since the 1970s and proposes solutions for striking a better balance between "art" film and popular mass entertainments. Producing an interesting survey of familiar ground from a unique perspective, Haberski has written a book that will serve both serious students of the cinema and those looking for an introduction--a fine achievement. All collections. J. Fisher Wabash College