Since retirement, I’ve been playing a lot more tennis, reading widely, and writing mostly shorter pieces, usually reviews of film books, movies, and DVD/BluRay restorations of classic films. That work includes reviews of books about David Fincher and the Coen Brothers and of BluRay releases of films like Billy Wilder’s The Apartment and Vittorio De Sica’s Miracle in Milan. You can find most of that work in Cineaste.
My most recent book, Complete Film Criticism: Reviews, Essays, and Manuscripts, an edition of James Agee’s movie reviews, criticism, and commentary, is the fifth volume of the University of Tennessee Press’s series–the Collected Works of James Agee. A Knoxville native, Agee was also one of the first great movie reviewers in the U.S. Between 1942 and 1948 he reviewed movies both for The Nation and for Time magazine. In 1944 the British poet wrote The Nation to praise the “astonishing excellence” of Agee’s reviews, calling his column “the most remarkable event in American journalism today.” My collection constitutes the first time that all of Agee’s reviews for Time will appear in one volume. It will also include all the reviews in The Nation, all his other published articles on movies (like the famous “Comedy’s Greatest Era”), and a number of unpublished pieces housed in the Agee special collections at the University of Tennessee and the University of Texas at Austin.
My previous book is on Chaplin’s City Lights, written for the British Film Institute’s Film Classics series. The film was Chaplin’s fourth (of eight) United Artists feature film and his first to be released after the American film industry shifted to sound. The famous final shot of City Lights, reproduced on the cover of the book, thus stands–the the opening shot of Modern Times (1936)–at the precise center of Chaplin’s United Artists career, and some believe these to be Chaplin’s greatest films.
In his autobiography, Chaplin writes that City Lights was a difficult film for him to make. The production records bear this out: my book discusses the strains that the filmmaker faced as he conceived and made the film, which included the financial challenges that confronted Chaplin following his divorce from Lita Grey and his tax difficulties in 1927, as well as the aesthetic challenge posed by the emergence of the talkies while he was working on the movie. The book is in part a production history of the film, based on extensive research of Chaplin’s studio production records, which have recently come available to scholars at the Cineteca di Bologna in Italy.