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American Movie Critics: Carl Sandburg

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.

Carl Sandburg is best known as a poet, of course, and his particular evocation of Chicago and social realism. He also spent eight years (1921-1928) as a movie critic for the Chicago Daily News, filing weekly film reviews before concentrating on his other writing. He’s the second poet we’ve looked at in American Movie Critic, and the first weekly reviewer. His brief reviews carry some of his poetic sensibility as well as a real concern for how audiences would relate to the films at hand – the critic-as-consumer-guide is not my favorite mode of criticism, but I have to admit that Sandburg does that quite well and very readably. With no further ado, let’s jump into our conversation.

JANDY HARDESTY:
The six Carl Sandburg reviews selected here are all positive, though I’m sure he can’t have liked everything he reviewed over the eight-year period he worked as a critic. As we get into more critics who are writing about specific films (as Müsterberg was not, and Lindsay only was in passing), our reactions to the reviews may be affected by whether or not we’ve seen the films in question, so my first question to you is, have you seen any of the six films Sandburg reviews? And for the ones you have not seen, does Sandburg make you interested in seeing them? What about his writing do you think pulls you over (or not) to his side?

RYAN MCNEIL:
Zip. Zilch. Nil. Nada. I have at least heard of two of them (Nanook of the North and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), but the other pieces were a mystery to me.

We haven’t touched on this yet, so this is as good a point as any to bring it up – I actually decided before digging into the book that I wasn’t going to deliberately watch the films the critics are writing about as we go through the book. Besides the obvious lack of free time, I felt like it shouldn’t be necessary to discuss the writing and what these critics bring to the table. More often than not, critics see films before the audience anyway, so the average reader has no point of comparison anyhow. If one ignores for a moment that these films are all quite old, the rule still stands: I should be able to gain something from the writing. Further, sight unseen I should feel a nudge towards the film, or a tug away.

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