L.S. Klepp
May 06, 1998 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Film historian Sarris brings a bit of everything to this enticing, encyclopedic book — political and social history, autobiography, psychology, formal sense, common sense. The only theory the book proves is that there?s nothing wrong with high-minded film criticism that a lack of narrow theory, snobbery, and populism won?t cure. (He keeps reminding us that the “serious” critics of the 1930s and ?40s were too busy lamenting the annihilation of cinematic art by the talkies or engaging in Marxist ax grinding to see the authentic popular art in front of them during Hollywood?s brassy Golden Age.) Both his long surveys of directors like Hitchcock and Hawks and his shorter appreciations of favorite performers like Garbo, Grant, Bergman, and Leigh suggest that when movies do become art, it?s the art of personality magnified into myth.

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