The two most frequent questions are: "How many films do you see a week?" "Don't you get bored with going to films?" I've been writing about them in TNR since 1958, with one intermission of a year and a half, have heard each of these questions at least once a week in that time, and am always pleased by them. As for the first, the number has varied sharply from none to 12--usually it's about three--but the point is that most weeks it wouldn't have been less even if I weren't a critic. And, grown gray in the ranks, I still get a thrill out of getting in free.
I dragged my feet about going to The Exorcist because of the gimmicky subject, and the adverse reviews I saw made me purr at my prevision. But this film about the diabolic possession of a 12-year-old girl has become such a huge hit that I thought I ought to grit what’s left of my teeth and investigate. I’m glad I did. In this case, anyway, vox populi vox diaboli. This is the most scary picture I’ve seen in years —the only scary picture I’ve seen in years. (Though I admit I don’t see many “horror” films.
Hurricane Marlon is sweeping the country, and I wish it were more than hot air. A tornado of praise—cover stories and huzzahs—blasts out the news that Brando is giving a marvelous performance as Don Corleone in The Godfather, the lapsed Great Actor has regained himself, and so on. As a Brando-watcher for almost 30 years, I’d like to agree. But from his opening line, with his back toward us, Brando betrays that he hasn’t even got the man’s voice under control. (Listen to the word “first.” Pure Brando, not Corleone.) Insecurity and assumption streak the job from then on.
The EwingsBy Michael O’Hara(Random House; $6.95)I came to bury Caesar, not to praise him, and was wrong on both counts. This is John O'Hara's last finished novel but not the last of the finished work that he left; and there's no point in pretending that he didn't know his job. That job is of some interest in American literary history.Through most of his career, even those who disliked O'Hara's work conceded that he was a sharp social historian, a ruthless investigator of sexual mores and a connoisseur of cultural data.
The first shot: in the middle of the vast Panavision-Technicolor screen, a closeup of two flowers, in soft focus. It looks like Red Desert revisited. There are distant buzzes on the sound track. The camera moves lowly over a greensward with figures on it, still misty and gentle. Then--wham!--we cut to a roadway, the buzzes turn into roars, and cars are whizzing at us. It's a racing picture! Those opening ten seconds of Winning are a sketch of the changes in American culture in the past decade or so.
The Movies, Mr. Griffith, and Meby Lillian Gish with Ann Pinchot(Prentice-Hall; $7.95)The Studioby John Gregory Dunne(Farrar, Straus & Giroux; $5.95) For a long time, there have been rumors that Lillian Gish was writing an autobiography centered on D. W. Griffith. Ten years ago when I was in book publishing, I tried to get the manuscript and was told by Miss Gish that it did not yet exist. Now the book is published, and anyone with the smallest interest in films can be glad.No one would reasonably expect it to be literature of any kind, and it isn't.
Max Ophuls’ Lola Montes was made in 1955, in France and Bavaria, and, except for some festival showings, is now seen here for the first time in unmutilated form. (A butchered, dubbed version was released in 1959.) This is an important event both because of what the film is and is not, and because of what it crystallizes in critical approaches. Lola Montes was Ophuls’ last work; he died in 1957. He was a German Jew, born Max Oppenheimer, who changed his name because his family objected to his becoming an actor.
Stop-Timeby Frank Conroy(Viking; $5.95) Frank Conroy's first book, Stop-time, is an autobiography, published at the age of 31. His life, though somewhat unconventional, has not been highly extraordinary or unusually exciting, and it has certainly not been celebrated; yet his account of it is extraordinary and exciting, and it will, I hope, become celebrated.When a writer's first book is a novel, it is often an autobiographical act of vindication. He wants to show the world how it has undervalued him, how his parents or teachers or girls or employers did not see his sensitivity and worth.
Bonnie and Clyde Warner Brothers "I have a bad memory for facts," Stendhal once wrote, and Flaubert said later that "everything the artist invents is true." I don't mean to imply that Arthur Penn, the director of Bonnie and Clyde, or Robert Benton and David Newman, its writers, have anything like that kind of stature, but the principles hold up.
Death Kitby Susan Sontag (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; $5.75). One critic (R. W. Flint) called Susan Sontag's first novel, The Benefactor, "a Marius the Epicurean for the 1960's." I concur, although not for Flint's reasons. For me, the resemblance is that Miss Sontag's novel, like Marius, is a product of literary and philosophic cultivation, not of art. The Benefactor is a skillful amalgam of a number of continental sources in fiction and thought--two of the prominent ones, seemingly, are Hesse and Artaud--and it contains a good deal of well-fashioned writing.