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American Movie Critics: Andre Sennwald

[Ryan McNeil of The Matinee and I are reading through the American Movie Critics anthology and discussing each chapter as we go, crossposting on each of our blogs.]

After a few months’ hiatus while we did…other stuff…we’re back and chomping the bit to talk about Andre Sennwald, a daily reviewer at the New York Times from 1934 to 1936, when he was killed in a gas explosion at his apartment at the age of 28. A shame, since the two pieces we have from him are youthful and brash but insightful, and it would’ve been fascinating to see how he matured as a writer and critic.

We didn’t have a lot to say about his first piece, a defense of Josef von Sternberg’s The Devil is a Woman, but his second piece is a rumination on the place of Technicolor following its feature debut in Becky Sharp. As in our earlier discussion on Alexander Bakshy’s take on the sound revolution, we find plenty of fodder to jump into thoughts on 3D, technology, and whether cinema should aim for “realism” or not.

While there’s a point or two in Andre Sennwald’s piece on The Devil is a Woman that caught my attention, it primarily reads as the sort of “Why You’re Wrong About…” piece of contrarianism that dots the current landscape of film writing.

At least Sennwald’s contrarianism on The Devil is a Woman is a defense of the film, which I greatly prefer to contrarian takedowns! That said, I also have little patience with the “you just didn’t get it” method of defense that he employs at least once or twice in the piece. On a single viewing of that film, I must admit that I fell into the “you just didn’t get it camp,” though I’m more than willing to return to it with more von Sternberg under my belt.

Marlene Dietrich mocks the patriarchy in Josef von Sternberg's The Devil is a Woman

Marlene Dietrich mocks the patriarchy in Josef von Sternberg’s The Devil is a Woman

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