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books

David Bordwell’s The Rhapsodes

Poster for Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, 1941.

The Rhapsodes: How 1940s Critics Changed American Film Culture, by David Bordwell. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. 176 pages.

A COMPARATIVE SURVEY of the writings of four American movie critics whose careers overlapped in the 1940s—Otis Ferguson, James Agee, Manny Farber, and Parker Tyler—might seem the perfect setup for a narrowly specialized monograph. In the hands of David Bordwell, however, there is no subject, filmic or otherwise, that cannot yield gleams of pleasurable understanding. For decades, whether alone or in collaboration with Kristin Thompson, Bordwell has exercised his meticulous and thoroughgoing scholarship on a staggering range of filmmaking practices—from early Hollywood to late Hong Kong, from the history of CinemaScope to the style of Ozu—parsing formal, technological, and economic intricacies while always keeping larger

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