Thursday, February 16, 2006

51. A Dangerous Thing


(Note: The following serves as a preface--or perhaps an apology. We'll see.)

I have to confess that I am just now reading the film criticism of James Agee, and finding it almost intimidating. For those of you who know film criticism well, I am humbled--an occupational hazard--by your exasperated sighs. But I've always liked watching movies in the dark, ha-ha, so I don't read that much serious criticism. (Interestingly enough, Agee begins his tenure at The Nation in 1942 by pleading ignorance himself; I feel better already.) I knew Agee was a Name in American film criticism, one of the fathers of the Kael Generation. But I had no idea he would be so formidable. The only glimmer of hope I can see is that I'm not always agreeing with him--and that he isn't always changing my mind. But I've only started, and either my adulation and anxiety or my suspicions and relief will grow as time goes by.

I am merely serving notice that my little knowledge of Agee may be informing the next few pieces. It is a rut I will deepen purposefully, until I find a way out of my concern that Agee is so good I'm just wasting my time and that I should just be telling you to find the American Library volume, Film Writing and Selected Journalism, if all you want is brilliance (or--and here I admit I do read a bit now and then--what J. Hoberman, writing on the new volumes on Agee, calls criticism as "cultural stream of conscious"). After all, he died in 1955, so Agee never got to review Son of Flubber, Weekend at Bernie's, or Monkeybone. Sooner or later, then, you're going to have come crawling back to me. And I'll take you back, with, I promise, only the faintest glimmer of a condescending smile.

Hold on; Agee dies in 1955; I'm born in 1956. If there's anything to that reincarnation stuff, maybe ...

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