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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Praising #Agee. By John von Daler

                 Inspired by The New York Review of Books, let me join in, not to sing the melody of praise about James #Agee's "Now Let Us Praise Famous Men", which I own but have never read, but to hum the bass line of a much deeper counterpoint: "Agee on Film". Read it. Just read it.
Never mind that you have not seen the movies, do not know the actors, do not even like popcorn. His reviews about movies, especially the ones from "The Nation" (Time Magazine castrated him) contain beautiful reasoning, wonderful ideas, and very special writing.
                And he could write, also his own films. If you do not know this, then you must include "The African Queen" and "The Night of the Hunter" in your Agee reading.
                But then read the reviews. If you want to learn how to write, or even better, how to think, then read Agee. I will shut up and let him take over. Look at this extremely nuanced description of Ingrid Bergman in "For Whom the Bell Tolls":
                "There is, on the other hand, Ingrid Bergman. Miss Bergman not only bears a startling resemblance to an imaginable human being; she really knows how to act, in a blend of poetic grace with quiet realism which almost never appears in American pictures. Hemingway's conception of Maria is partly adolescent I think, and for a while her understanding of the role seems still more so. She seems never to have dreamed that a young girl who has seen death and suffered gang rape cannot in all reason bounce into her role looking like a Palmolive ad. But in many moments of the early love stuff--in flashes of shy candor and in the pleasures of playing femme esclave--she does very pretty things, and later on she does some very powerful ones. Her confession of the rape is an exquisitely managed tearjerker. Her final scene of farewell is shattering to watch. Not that it's perfect. But its sources and intention are so right, and so astonishingly out of key with the rest of the production. She seems really to have studied what a young woman might feel and look like in such a situation (not a moving picture) - half nauseated and ninetenths insane with grief, forced haste, and utter panic. Semi-achieved though it is, it is devastating and wonderful to see."


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