After something of a long hiatus over the holidays, Ryan McNeil and I are getting back into the swing of our historical criticism series. And truth be told, we very nearly skipped Harry Alan Potamkin, unsure how to respond to his take on American cinema, which is informed by an appreciation for a Soviet cinema neither Ryan nor I are particularly familiar with. But we decided to give it the old college try, and ended up having a pretty good conversation around the edges of Potamkin, discussing regional cinemas and doing thought experiments about directors if they’d had different national backgrounds. Ryan’s version of the post is here.
Featured image: Aleksandr Dovzhenko’s Arsenal, which Potamkin quite admires
I don’t know that I have much to say in response to these two excerpts from Harry Alan Potamkin – he’s a bit esoteric and obsessed with Russian directors that I frankly don’t know enough about to even respond to his points.
Potamkin’s writing is really heady. It’s more a meditation than a reaction, which is good since I don’t think we’ve come across that yet in the writing we’ve seen so far (poetic views, philosophic views, yes – meditative, not so much). Once again, it stands apart from what we see as film criticism in our mind’s eye: “This is good…this is bad…here’s why.”
In the first excerpt we have from him, Potamkin calls out for more visionary artists to make good on the promise of cinema – he suggests that Hollywood is “uninspired competence” at best (the idea that Hollywood is artistically bankrupt has been around for a long time!) and looks to New York for help.
Hollywood is uninspired competence – at its best. Hollywood is empty facility. A critical mind is needed. New York is the concentration center of the critical mind. Even in the use of the instruments (putting aside for the moment philosophy), I look to the director who has not imbibed Hollywood. 
This isn’t the first or last time that New York has been seen as an “antidote” to Hollywood – indie pioneers like John Cassavetes from the ’60s have a New York sensibility as well. Why do you think this is? The bulk of Potamkin’s piece looks at Rouben Mamoulian, a stage director at the time though he’d soon make his mark on film; is looking to New York a call for an influx of stage talent, or something else? Can we square this with the other critics we’ve read pointing out the inherent disconnect between stage and screen?