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Film Comment July/August Editor’s Letter: The New Cover & A New Column

By Gavin Smith on July 05, 2011

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Here at Film Comment hardly a week seems to go by when we don’t dream up a cool new idea for a regular department to add to the front (or back) of “the book” as we call it in the print world. If we were a monthly, or had a higher page count, we might have activated some of these ideas, but as it is we’re bursting at the seams with columns and sections—so much so that some of our trusty mainstays like Olaf Möller’s “Olaf’s World” or Harlan Jacobson’s “Brief Encounters” are occasionally sidelined for an issue (much to the dismay of these two longstanding contributing editors).

Sometimes, however, an idea is too good to pass up: a few years ago Andrew Sarris became available and we immediately invited him to come aboard to do a regular column, “The Accidental Auteurist”—The New York Observer’s loss was our gain.

Which brings us to the current issue. Contributing editor Dave Kehr has been on the magazine’s masthead since 1999. His first piece to be published in Film Comment, “Four Auteurs in Search of An Audience,” appeared in our Sept/Oct 1977 issue and since then he has contributed roughly one piece a year to the magazine (I counted). Over the years I’ve regularly attempted to entice him to take on what I imagined to be tempting assignments, with occasional success. (Most recently he wrote a memorable piece about 3-D and Avatar in our Jan/Feb 2011 issue.) Dave doesn’t commit to things lightly—a mark of how seriously he takes the work of critical writing. Much of his energy has been devoted to the blog that he launched some years back, davekehr.com: reports from the lost continent of cinephilia, which quickly became one of the destination blogs on film. This year he also published When Movies Mattered, a collection of writings from his years as critic for the Chicago Reader (1974-1986). 

A few months ago Dave called me and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: a regular column—yes, another regular Film Comment column—in which he would focus on overlooked and little-known American directors from the studio era. Since his goal is to continue Andrew Sarris’s pioneering work, he suggested we name this new department “Further Research,” in homage to the “Subjects for Further Research” section in Sarris’s still-essential 1968 book, The American Cinema.

In a brief note, Dave laid out his rationale for this undertaking: “Film theory is well and good, but in one important regard the early Seventies vogue for theory arrived at exactly the wrong moment for the emerging field of film history, diverting everyone’s attention to the male gaze and suchlike at a time when many significant studio-era filmmakers were still around to be interviewed and their films were still accessible enough to be discovered. All of a sudden, people just stopped looking for new figures of interest (the author, after all, was dead, or at best an oppressive ideological construction), and as a result we’ve basically been talking about the same few dozen figures for the last 40 years.  But I’ve come to believe that Hollywood—as well as the French, British, Japanese, Italian, and countless other national cinemas—are infinitely richer than that, and that a great deal of basic spadework remains to be done. I’d like to take this opportunity to identify some directors whose work has impressed me, and, I hope, encourage others to do the same.” 

Some of the future subjects awaiting (re)discovery with Dave’s help: Alfred Santell, George Sherman, Frank McDonald, William K. Howard, William Nigh, Gordon Douglas, William A. Seiter...  But first up is John H. Auer. Turn to page 22 to read Dave’s inaugural “Further Research” column.

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