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With: Patricia Clarkson (narrator), Jami Bernard, Richard Corliss, David D'Arcy, Roger Ebert, Owen Gleiberman, Molly Haskell, J. Hoberman, Harlan Jacobson, Stanley Kauffmann, Stuart Klawans, Harry Knowles, Karina Longworth, Leonard Maltin, Janet Maslin, Elvis Mitchell, Wesley Morris, Lisa Nesselson, John Powers, Rex Reed, B. Ruby Rich, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Andrew Sarris, Richard Schickel, Lisa Schwarzbaum, A.O. Scott, David Sterritt, Mike Szymanski, Kenneth Turan, Scott Weinberg, Michael Wilmington
Written by: Gerald Peary
Directed by: Gerald Peary
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 80
Date: 03/17/2009

For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism (2009)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Thumbs Up

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

As a film critic, I found this documentary by Gerald Peary to be interesting and entertaining (not to mention that I know a few of its participants). I'm not sure how it will play with everyday audiences, but I imagine that anyone who reads film criticism -- or loves movies -- will find something to like. Peary traces the rough arc of film criticism through the century, beginning with the earliest critics (who tended to be hired by Hollywood). It talks about the great ones, James Agee, Otis Ferguson and Manny Farber, who worked roughly through the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, and then moves to the Bosley Crowther era. The New York Times critic was the most powerful in the country and reigned for 27 years, generally choosing message films over anything with a personality. In the 1960s, a pair of upstarts finally challenged him, Pauline Kael on the West Coast and Andrew Sarris on the East Coast. Those two earned attention by starting a famous rivalry, Sarris by introducing the auteur theory to the United States and Kael by challenging him on it. The doc continues into the television era with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, and finally up to the internet era, starting (for better and for worse), with Harry Knowles. Lots of modern-day critics provide commentary along the way. Peary's production is clearly rough-and-tumble, snatching and grabbing footage over the course of nearly a decade, though he clearly relishes presenting all the opposing, contradicting views about this unique and bizarre job. Of course, there's much more information that could have been imparted here, but For the Love of Movies is a good primer for the curious. And it contains lots of great film clips. All that, and Patricia Clarkson (a critics' darling) narrates!

(The Roxie Cinema in San Francisco will be playing the film starting November 13.)

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