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January 15, 1958 - Image 3

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Wednesday, January 15, 1958

THE MICHIGAN DAILY MAGAZINE

Wednesday, Jonuary 15, 1958 THE MICHIGAN DAILY MAGAZINE Page Three

Page Three

'The Liveliest Art'
BUT ARE THE MOVIES BETTER THAN EVER?

THE LIVELIEST ART. By Ar-
thur Knight. New York,
1957: Macmillan Co., 360
pp. (with indices). $7.50.
By BURTON BEERMAN -
HE LIVELIEST ART" is what(
its author calls the movies, in
a -ook devoted to a critical his-
tory of that art. This is an im-
portant book; for several reasons,
not the least of which is the fact
that, aimed at the intelligent
h moviegoer it is the first one of its
kind in many years to be popu-
larly available in the United
States.
There is no better time than
now for the publication of such a
book, when more Americans are
seling more movies than ever be-
fore; when movies made in this
country are being shown success-
fully in almost all the countries
of the world; and when the mo-
tion-picture industry appears,
'more than ever, to devote its en-
ergies on one hand to the creation
of box-office personalities, cast in
the image of the typical pre-adol-
escent mind, while it gropes with
the other hand for technical in-
novations that might function in
the name of economic expediency.
All this, while Hollywood (with
notable exception) virtually dis-
misses both artistic considerations
and social responsibility.
The presence of television in
millions of homes, both as an out-
let for old films and as itself a
visual art, has put -the need for
cultural self-preservation in al-
most everybody's lap. Without a
basic knowledge of the movies as
an art, the moviegoer stands like-
ly, in his ignorant passivity, to let
the artistic potential of the film
* die that a superficial assembly-
line filmed product may flourish.
In his book, Knight takes a basic
step toward the eventual spread
of that knowledge.
UCH.A basic knowledge <goes
beyond a mere listing of films
and stars and directors. The sev-
eral luxurious books that offer a
pictorial history of the movies can
R hardly offer an understanding of
the art. Even more futile is the at-
tempt by some so-called critics to
- dwell at length on the esoterica of
a particular film, and to group
several such observations in a
book and pass it off as a history
of the motion picture. Those auth-
ors are inadvertantly restrained
by their own canon, and, however
individual their utterance, can
only write in terms of personal
relevance, a condition that dis-
qualifies them from creating such
a popular history.
The Liveliest Art succeeds
where the more superficial book
and the more specialized offering
could not. It is neither superficial
nor too narrowly personal, but
neither does Knight succumb to
the temptation of loosely linking
an impressive list of films, re-
plete with all manner of factual
data, on a unifying thread of crit-
ical banalities. Rather, the auth-
or attempts to underline the ar-
tistic possibilities of the movies,
and to help his reader see how a
welt-made creation endures as
art, a thing of strength; while, at
the same time, he shows how deli-
cate such a work is in its making,
prone to destruction by uncon-
trollable outside pressure.
To this end, Knight has two
themes especially recurrent
throughout the book. One is that
the film is a directorial art, that
its aesthetic strength is contingent
on the power of a director, the
artist, "to shape and discipline his
material according to the com-
mand of his inspiration." The oth-
er main point is the dependence

of the movie upon its audience
who, from the beginning, "dictat-
ed which themes, which forms,
which tec'hniques the film makers
might most p ofitably follow up."
THE FOCUS is on the director;
but, because the camera was
in invention, the author must be-,

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gin with the inventors; and he
must come back to them, again
and again, as each new contribu-
tion that they make revises the
rules of the art. The director, un-
able to control these technological
inroads, must adjust his method
or efse fall back of artistic pro-
gress. It is necessary for Knight,,
when examining such outside con-
siderations, to include the two
types of businessmen whose exist-
ence affects the film. There is the
creative producer who, like Thom-
as Ince-the first of them, com-
bines his gift for artistic expres-
sion with his experience and his
knowledge of the exigencies of
business, to further more mean-
ingful endeavors of the movies.
But there also is the kind of busi-
nessman who must make an in-
dustry of an art, and knowing a
work of art demands an audience,
knowingly perverts the attraction
of that audience for his personal
gain,
The greatness of a director is
rarely determined strictly on the
basis of his introduction of an
artistic tool. It is more the man's{
ability to utilize existing methods
in some new and valuable way
that offers a key to his import-I
ance. Consider D. W. Griffith inI

his traditional role as "The Father
Of Film Technique." He did not
invent the various elements of
film making; instead, he took such
devices as the close-up or the
camera angle and created from
them the filmic art. It has been
the same for his successors. While
Murnau was not the first director
to take the camera on to the city
streets, it was his judicious use of
that procedure which lent to a
simple story like The Last Laugh
some of the most vital qualities
of that picture. It is Edwin S.
Porter whom we remember for
the initial use of parallel editing,
in his work The Great Train
Robbery, Yet it remained for a
contemporary director, learning
from previous experiment, to ex-
tend Porter's methods to the
limits of coherency. Such a di-
rector is Stanley Kubrick, and the
film in question is The Killing.
Even with his deep reverence for
the director as an artist, Knight
does not completely ignore the
innovator, and pays due homage
to all of them, makers of a world's
art.
IN ONE RESPECT, Knight is too
generous. This is when he gives
S~e LIVELIEST, Page 15

ARTHUR KNIGHT
... and a critique of the filmic art

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