We made it to the sound era! Barely. Alexander Bakshy was the first film critic for The Nation, and he was known even in his lifetime for his prescience – this piece proves that, as he stands up for the future of sound cinema in 1929, when most critics and film writers were wringing their hands that this gimmick called sound was destroying cinema as they knew it. And well, they weren’t wrong – silent cinema was made obsolete incredibly quickly, but Bakshy is bullish on the evolution, absolutely sure that sound cinema would find its footing and move cinema into a new and better era.
But if naysayers about sound cinema were wrong and Bakshy was right, what can we extrapolate about the way critics treat new technology (say, for example…3D) in our own day? Ryan and I grapple with a lot here under Bakshy’s inspiration.
You mentioned to me on Twitter after reading the Alexander Bakshy piece that it’s a perfect companion to the Mencken piece we read a few weeks ago. At that point, I hadn’t read it yet, but you were absolutely right! Where Mencken was hung up on the “idiotic and irritating technic” of editing, Bakshy welcomes the technical innovation of sound, even though he seems to acknowledge that not much had been done with it yet by 1929 (which was true). Mencken was stuck in the theatrical past, while Bakshy has a prophetic stance toward the possibilities of the future.
Interestingly, just from reading the little intro in the book, I was prepared for Bakshy to be another skeptic – a quote from his final review in 1933 is cited, where he calls the general output of Hollywood an “incessant flow of bilge.” I wish we had that full review anthologized here as well, because in this piece about the Talkies, he seems quite definitely, if cautiously, confident in the future of cinema.