February 2011 | L. D. Mitchell

Collecting the Literature of Film Criticism

If past ceremonies are any guide, there are going to be a lot of unhappy people at the conclusion of this evening's broadcast of the 83rd Annual Academy Awards.

After all, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is the group that awarded the 1941 Academy Award for Best Picture to How Green was My Valley instead of Citizen Kane; that awarded the 1997 Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role to Roberto Benigni for Life is Beautiful instead of to Edward Norton for American History X; that took 82 years to honor a woman with The Academy Award for Achievement in Directing (and has in fact only nominated a woman for that honor four times in its entire history).

The world's first feature-length film, The Story of the Kelly Gang, was produced in Australia in 1906.  (This distinction resulted in this film being added [in 2007] to UNESCO's Memory of the World Register.)   It was quickly followed by feature-length films from France (1907), Russia (1911), Great Britain (1912), the United States (1912), Japan (1912), India (1913), Brazil (1913) and South Africa (1916).   It may be small consolation to those who do not walk away with a statuette this evening that criticism of virtually every aspect of cinema is almost as old as the history of cinema itself.

Perhaps the most important of the earliest works of film criticism, Béla Balázs' Der Sichtbare Mensch Oder Die Kultur Des Films (The visible man or the culture of the film) dates to 1924 (image above left via Lame Duck Books).  The book attracted enormous attention upon publication, and was quickly translated into almost a dozen languages.

Unfortunately, then as now film criticism generally has meant journalism.  Unless one wants to collect long runs of various newspapers and magazines, collecting the literature of film criticism usually means going after the various anthologies and "collected works" of such criticism that have been produced over the past century or so.  Some collectors even go so far as to focus their efforts only on the works of particular critics or criticism of particular types of film.

However you choose to focus your efforts, you're going to need lots of bookshelves.  WorldCat records over 27,000 titles for this subject....