Critical Communication and the Coming of Sound: How Talkies (Re)Made the Film Review

Introduction: Screening the Past continues its tribute to the legacy of Tom O’Regan (1956-2020) by publishing, for the first time, this essay co-authored by Huw Walmsley-Evans (also of University of Queensland). Tom sent it to me in 2018 for my opinion, as it had not yet found a home at that time. It offers an elaboration, along a different axis, of work that Tom & Huw had previously done, for instance in “Towards a History of Australian Film Criticism” that appeared in this journal in 2015. We warmly thank Huw and Rita Shanahan for permission to premiere this piece, alongside its companion from 2018, “Southern Connections: Nation(s), Logistics & Infrastructures, and Cultural Circulation”. (Adrian Martin)

Written discourse on film prior to the arrival of sound was predominantly found in newspaper and magazine film columns. From the silent period and into the transition to sound, the coverage of the cinema in these columns was varied. Playing a key role in shaping the cinema [1] itself, newspapers and magazines took on a function that the cinema could not do well by itself: that of noting, parlaying, publicising and archiving. It did this through stories, digests, notices, tit-bits, gossip and publicity. A film column could consist of any combination of industry gossip, reportage or public relations blurbs on upcoming productions, opinion pieces on the state of the emerging industry or art form, learned critical essays, plot summaries of films in release and coming attractions and, eventually, reviews. Reviews could be as limited as a capsule consisting of a few lines of description and evaluation, or as extended as an article running to multiple paragraphs.

But by the early1930s, with the coming of sound and other related changes in film technology, cinema viewing and exhibition, the fully-fledged extended review format had emerged and was adopted en masse by newspapers and magazines. This review format combined the film criticism that had been present earlier only in the most astute film columns, with the snapshot nature of the capsule review and the film guide characteristic of the trade press’ film review. How the film review emerged at this intersection of the developing technologies and institutions of the cinema itself and the related forms of publishing and critical communication is the focus of this essay.

This is not to say that there were not named, or even well known, film critics who wrote reviews during the silent period. In the United States, Richard Abel finds regular reviews beginning to be added to the “menu” of film discourse at some newspapers from 1914. [2] In 1915, the Chicago Tribune’s Kitty Kelly and Mae Tinee were hailed by the paper as its “experts” in writing about motion pictures and, by 1916, Kelly’s multi-paragraph reviews would be quoted in syndicated papers and film advertisements in other Midwestern cities outside of Chicago. [3] At this time in the U.S. there were others, too, who were improvising various formats of reviewing and experimenting with the integration of these – to greater or lesser extents and with varying levels of commitment – into the mixed coverage of a film page or column.

By the 1920s, the film reviewer was gaining more traction in USA. The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and biographer Carl Sandburg, for instance, was film reviewer for the Chicago Daily News between 1920 and 1928, and notably drew on the ready availability of a vocabulary of narrative, performance and visualisation provided by adjacent literary, theatre and art criticism. [4] In the UK, the same could be said of Iris Barry and C.A. Lejeune’s silent film columns for the Daily Mail (1925–1930) and the Manchester Guardian (1922–1928), which were substantial works of film criticism in their own right, occasionally taking the form of a review of a particular film. [5] This is why Barry, Lejeune and their colleague Walter Mycroft (London Evening Standard 1922–27) are seen as innovating film criticism in the UK during the 1920s before the coming of sound. Abel finds that in France by the mid-1920s, several critics could be singled out as exemplars of reviewing as critical practice: “in the reviews of [ƒmile] Vuillermoz, [Léon] Moussinac, and [René] Clair,” writes Abel, “traditional aesthetic standards were now beginning to assert their power.” [6] Surveying the emergence of film criticism across four major national nodes, Mattias Frey states that “by the early 1920s, some journalists were able to more or less sustain an independent status as reviewers […]” in France, Germany, Britain, and the United States. [7]

While this might make it seem like film reviewing is fully institutionalised by or within the final decade of the silent cinema, it is important to keep in mind that fully-fledged critical reviews were more the exception than the rule during the silent cinema period. While the film column format predominated, which it did during the silent era, film critics usually discussed individual titles in the form of a review only occasionally; as Wasson summarises, reviews were “one part of a much larger remit”. [8] Similarly, Abel situates the exemplary French reviewers of the mid-1920s within the broader context of the film reviewing at the time, which, when practised at all, went little beyond “comments on the felicity of the film adaptation to its source in drama or fiction” and “evaluations of the separate contributions of each phase or component of its production.” [9] In other words, as most often practised, the film review in the silent era came in an attenuated form, compared to the later extended critical film review.

While film criticism in news media had developed as an extension of an available literary journalist vocabulary of description, evaluation and sense-making to negotiate aesthetic and part-aesthetic works (novels, poetry, plays, fine art), the trade review had developed from the 1910s to estimate a film’s box office potential and exploitation value for independent exhibitors. The new extended film review format, in a sense, served both functions, but also gave film coverage a distinct, self-contained and purposive form as a film-by-film guide. In taking this more stable, consistent and predictable rhetorical form, film criticism became more widely practiced, acquiring a new reach and centrality to public life.

What is notable about the emergence of film reviewing is that it takes some time to catch on. In the English-speaking world at least, it is the film reviewers of the 1930s and 1940s who forged formidable and enduring national and international reputations. There was C.A. Lejeune at The Observer (1928–60), Graham Greene at The Spectator (1935–40), Otis Ferguson at the New Republic (1934–42), Alastair Cooke at the BBC (1934–1937), and in the 1940s James Agee at Time (1941–48) and The Nation (1942–48) and Manny Farber at New Republic (1942–47), among others. [10] Their and others’ work was notable enough to be anthologised – either at the time of writing or many decades subsequently [11] – suggesting something of the public appeal of this new kind of film reviewing and its enduring literary value as “letters”.

Why was the film review unevenly and inconsistently deployed until the early 1930s, despite the techne of the review having long existed in the treatment of adjacent culture industry products (most significantly the play and the book), and a commonplace for newspaper and magazine journalists, publishers, and readers? As Abel states of the American general interest publishing landscape circa 1910, “for decades newspapers had offered readers – quite regularly, usually in the weekend editions – reviews of current books, stage plays, operas, and art exhibitions.” [12] If films existed, and the critical review existed, why should it take until the sound era for the film review to become routinely prevalent in newspapers and magazines?

We argue that the normalisation of extended film reviews in general interest journalism was very much a consequence of the new institutional configurations associated with the sound film, as newspapers and magazines recalibrated their relationship to the sound cinema’s new status as a self-contained, distinct and increasingly prestigious cultural form. Certainly the newfound prestige of the cinema owed itself, in part, to the prioritising of cinema as a distinct cultural form in the increasingly extensive “specialist” print infrastructure for cinema that now complemented and contrasted with the general interest newspaper and magazine. Around the time of the transition to sound, this specialist film criticism reached a higher pitch through adjacent books, publications and the work of emerging film societies. Some of the ways of thinking about film evinced by this specialist film criticism and appreciation even found its way back into the booming reviewing in general interest publications. [13]

But a greater stimulus to the general uptake of film reviewing was the new configurations of the cinema itself; the changes to film technology, texts, exhibition and reception. These new conditions and settings were conducive to the mass rollout of film reviewing in the general press, consolidating film reviewing as a pragmatic aesthetic response to commercial films in their day-and-date release.

The Institution of the Silent Cinema
According to André Gaudreault and Philippe Marion, the cinema as an institution does not come into being at the same time as the apparatus of the moving image camera – circa 1895 – but rather around half-way through the invention’s second decade, from the beginning of the 1910s. [14] For Gaudreault and Marion, “the cinema” crystallised into what we mean by that term only once it began to be perceived as its own “Cultural Series”.

For fields such as cinema, in which there exists a form of communication among various agents, the institution tells the agents responsible for producing utterances how to express themselves in order to “address” the others, while telling the agents receiving these utterances how to read them. Clearly normalisation and codification, in the case of the cinema, did not appear the day the Cinématographe or the Kinetograph appeared on the scene. Time was required for production codes and norms – and thus interpretive codes and norms – to appear. [15]

In the early 1910s, the codes and norms of the cinema-as-we-understand-it came into being. These included such fundamentals as the star system and the turn from shorts to feature-length products, the accompanying turn from “attractions” to more involved storytelling, and the development of more regularised patterns of distribution and exhibition.

As Gaudreault and Marion encourage us to see, there is a relationship between the form that the cultural product of the cinema takes and the form that its cultural mediation takes. When we look at forms of writing and responding to the silent cinema at the time, we typically find a mixed format consisting of film comment and a film round-up, rather than an explicit and consistently developed film review format. We need to read and value these forms of attention and criticism in terms of their relation to the silent cinema itself. They are a print response to the particularities of silent cinema as a social, cultural and economic institution. While an institutional cinema (in Gaudreault and Marion’s sense) existed from the 1910s, it differed from the remade institution of the cinema that would come in to being with sound. In many particulars, the institutional formations of the silent cinema militated against regularised film reviewing as a form of critical communication.

21st century revisions to our understandings of silent cinema’s history point to its intrinsic variability across time and space. While the film reels and publicity for films provided some consistency to the filmic text and its paratexts, the character of silent cinema’s live performance presence (or absence) as part of silent cinema’s decidedly mixed program varied across screenings, types of theatre, cities and regions. How a film might be received by the viewer could depend on the (local) availability of musicians, lecturers and performers or the showmanship of the exhibitor, and this situation changed with broader industry developments. [16] The silent cinema generally offered its audiences a semi-finished product (the film), which was completed by variable live performance.

With cinema chains establishing their own vaudeville circuits to accompany film exhibition, silent film screenings jostled with signature cinema stage acts, music and orchestras, film narrators, film prologues, dancing troupes, sing-alongs and talent contests. [17] Film accompaniment could also take different structural forms: while musical accompaniment of films during their screening was the norm, Trevor Griffiths has shown how in Aberdeen, Scotland, actors “voicing” the film as elocutionists were a standard feature of film screenings until as late as 1926. [18]

The silent cinema therefore existed in two economies: one centred on the film reel and its projection and distribution, and the other centred on locally managed live performance. As Donald Crafton observes, this had the consequence that some audiences were going to the cinema as much to “participate in several locally specialised forms of entertainment” as to see a film. [19]

With great variation in a film’s aural and live accompaniments, all performing as part of the cinema event, such combinations introduced great unevenness into film viewing. An inappropriate or distracting music accompaniment could change the orientation of the audience to the film, as when the Chicago Tribune’s Kitty Kelly described a “rapid fire Keystone” being “saddened by organ music evidently intended for funeral or church use.” [20] In the London cinemas of the early 1910s, the small cinema orchestras “rarely attempted to tightly synchronise their music with the films they accompanied”; [21] a narrator could undermine the preferred reading of the film promoted by its producers and marketers; a “flash” prologue in the 1920s might convince one audience of a film’s quality while the absence of such a prologue might see the same film struggle in more general release without such backing; and a good elocutionist, lecturer or resident musical ensemble could become the centre of attention, rather than the film.

In the face of all of these local contingencies, a countervailing effort was made by exhibitors and distributors to bracket out the film from these variable accompaniments and viewing contexts. The film trade assiduously promoted its performers, its stories and its filming. From the mid-10s, as Rick Altman has shown, the “discovery that music can be used for emotive as well as sound effect purposes” was used to concentrate “attention on the film’s narrative” rather than performers and local celebrities. [22] For their part, newspapers and magazines took up the trade’s lead, zeroing in on the most consistent element to film presentation: the film itself.

By contrast the intensely local, variable and contingent nature of the live performance component within the newspaper or magazine reader’s target market made this less newsworthy. It was cast as a “low esteem” and “ephemeral and tributary phenomena”. [23] In larger cities where these live performance components could be very significant to the experience of a film’s season, newspaper editors faced a dilemma in their coverage. A mostly regional press could not ignore live performance components in the same way a national newspaper, such as UK’s the Daily Mail for which Iris Barry wrote, could. In Syracuse, New York’s “The Film Girl” expected her readers to also comment on the “musical programs” accompanying the film. [24] In the 1920s, the Chicago Daily News’ solution was to have Carl Sandburg concentrate on the filmic part of the picture show, assigning another reporter to cover the stage shows, vaudeville acts and orchestras that rounded out the program. [25]

These accompaniments and stage shows evidently mattered to the reception of films. In a humorous piece on film criticism in The American Cinematographer in 1921, the regular column “Jimmy the Assistant” alluded to the particular problems created by such varied circumstances of screening for the reliability of film “reviewers” in newspapers.

When that picture was produced in the big cities it had all kinds of special color perjection [sic], imported orchestras, and a lot of special props to put it over, and it looked like a clean-up. It was a novelty, so all the reviewers went into hystericks [sic] about its sublimity, and all that kind of highbrow stuff. When this same picture went out into the cold, bleek [sic] world to make a living, all by its lonesome, and got showed in just a regular picture house, with no special nothing to help it out, it was a sad, sad, story. They walked out on it. [26]

This inherent variability meant that a film could only be critiqued in terms of the one component of the overall film performance that changed the least: the screening component. But even here there was some variety. The form a cinema program might take could vary; the stated preference of “The Film Girl” for attending a “really good old fashioned kind of a movie show consisting of a two reel feature and about three good one reel photo plays” rather than its feature-centric counterpart (which was higher-status and commanded a steeper ticket price) shows that the advent of feature filmmaking in USA did not immediately sweep away earlier forms and practices. [27] Features and shorts overlapped and intermingled throughout the silent period, with features gradually becoming ascendant. Even having set screening times for films could be a novelty prior to the 1920s. In the 1910s, pre-advertised start times for films was something that critics and audiences had to lobby to secure from exhibitors. The Film Girl made a point of flagging for her readers that one particular film was sufficiently complex that it was important to arrive at the beginning of the film! [28]

The idea that one might be going to see a movie, rather than “to the movies” gained currency gradually over the course of the silent cinema period. [29] Prior to the coming of sound, as Nicholas Hiley points out, “the commodity that most patrons wished to buy from the exhibitor was not access to an individual film, but time in the auditorium”. [30] While the 1920s would see the picture show program progressively give way to individual titles as the new basic unit of exhibition, this process was necessarily unevenly achieved. Films circulated in an exhibition environment where it was not only suburban and regional exhibitors, but also some first-run central business district theatres that had a “Weekly Change” policy. The Haymarket in central Sydney, for instance, only abandoned “its twelve-and-a-half year policy” of “Weekly Change” with sound. Its rationale in doing so was to “house extended season Talkie attractions”. [31]

When it came to films themselves, during the silent era, exhibitors would vary a film’s running time by adjusting the speed of the projector, and there was much more local “editing” of films than there would be later. Abel notes that Kitty Kelly, reporting on the screening practices of Chicago-area theatres, found acceptable the Strand’s practice of cutting a film to fit a “customary program length”, but thought the Ziegfeld was putting its reputation at risk by projecting films at a sped-up frame rate. [32] The spaces in which films were viewed were also marked by variation in their design, projection, stage and sound environments; the efforts made by early critics to tutor the viewing behavior of cinemagoers show that the culture of reception within these varying spaces also differed. “The Film Girl” offered the following advice to cinemagoers in 1915.

The first requisite is to enter the theatre quietly; next remove your hat as quickly as possible; never, never read the sub-titles from the screen; never say anything which you may happen to know about the play or the players; never talk at all until you leave the theatre; and do not keep time to the music with your feet. [33]

In the same year, Vachel Lindsay was suggesting that “the perfect photoplay gathering place would have no sound but the hum of the conversing audience”. [34]

The hybridity and variability of silent cinema offerings, in their turn, shaped the kind of coverage film received in newspapers and magazines. The use of the capsule review recognised the sometimes limited and decidedly mixed attention given by audiences to the films themselves. Like the extended film reviewing that would later complement this film writing, these film columns were designed as a service to readers: they were to help inform and guide their readers’ film viewing and help them keep abreast of the cinema. As a film review would only cover a part of the cinema-going experience and the film might not even be the principal attraction, those writing film columns often veered towards providing general discussion of films and filming, typically referencing a variety of films and sometimes only obliquely addressing films in release. [35]

Specialist Film Criticism and Theory
Apart from the institutional conditions of the silent cinema, another break on the general dissemination of film criticism in the form of film reviews was the low standing of the cinema, which abated gradually over the course of the silent cinema period. Although Abel finds that in France the general press (newspapers and literary periodicals) were treating film seriously by the early 1920s, in the English-speaking world there were still prejudices to be surmounted. Harold Ross, as editor of The New Yorker – established 1925 – dismissed Nunnally Johnson’s proposal that he contribute film reviews by saying “movies are for old ladies and fairies.” [36] While pioneer efforts and experiments in film reviewing in the popular press certainly made their own contributions toward carving a space for extended consideration of individual films in general interest publications, parallel interventions in the form of dedicated film books, magazines, journals and organisations were also developing. From film’s institutional inception in the early 1910s, over the silent era, through the transition to sound, and sound’s early years, this film criticism, while outside of the general interest press, worked alongside it to establish film and, with it, film criticism’s cultural legitimacy.

A steady stream of cinema books beginning with Vachel Lindsay’s The Art of the Moving Picture (1916, 1922) and Hugo Munsterburg’s The Photoplay: A Psychological Study (1916) advanced the case for the cinema as a distinctive cultural form. Newspaper film critics straddling the silent and early sound periods – Barry with Let’s Go to the Pictures (1926) and Lejeune with The Cinema (1931) – joined these lists from the mid-1920s. Gilbert Seldes, regarded by historian Michael Kammen as “one of the earliest serious film critics”, first published his much reprinted and revised The Seven Lively Arts in 1924, [37] notably proposing that the movies, as well as comic strips, musical comedy, vaudeville, radio, popular music and dance had their own particular aesthetic interest as popular art. [38] In addition to these books, there was a flurry of publications during the transition to sound, such as Paul Rotha’s authoritative The Film Till Now (1930), which established film as having a notable international history, and Rudolph Arnheim’s philosophy of the silent film Film as Art (1932, 1933), which placed the cinema at the heart of larger aesthetic concerns.

Although of typically limited circulation, specialist cinema and cultural magazines that emerged during the late silent/transition to sound period showed film was becoming “an integral part of theoretical and aesthetic projects capturing the imagination of critics, writers and filmmakers across Europe and, to a lesser degree, the United States and Canada”. [39] Among these were the London-based Close-Up (1927–33), coming at the cusp of sound, The Philadelphia-based Experimental Cinema (1930–34) launched during the transition to sound, and the Edinburgh-based Cinema Quarterly (1932–35) founded as the sound cinema was stabilising and the documentary cinema was starting to be seen as a non-commercial alternative and antidote to it. These journals were explicitly internationalist in their outlook, coverage and authorship. Experimental Cinema, for instance, announced itself as the only magazine devoted to both “the principles of the art of the motion picture” and promoting a “world-wide cinema ideology”. [40] Each journal included translations and contributions from filmmakers including Sergei Eisenstein and V.I. Pudovkin, or film writers such as Béla Balázs and Léon Moussinac. They saw the cinema as having the most promise in experimentation outside the commercial sound cinema, whether in the Soviet cinema or the emergent documentary movement. These journals were animated by, on the one hand, a contrarian need to develop and preserve aspects of cinema as an aesthetic and critical medium seen in late silent film’s considerable achievements, and, on the other hand, to imagine a different and alternative future for the sound film than that unfolding in commercial cinema houses under Hollywood’s direction.

The late silent period also saw the beginning of the film society movement. The first film societies provided support for and a catalyst to film writing in specialist outlets while sometimes also informing daily and weekly newspaper film writing. Beginning notably with the London Film Society in 1925 and the Edinburgh Film Guild in 1929 (which published Cinema Quarterly), film societies ensured a multifaceted response to the cinema in the late silent period (1925–29), during the turmoil associated with the coming of sound (1929–32), and after the consolidation of the sound film (1932–). Film societies provided a forum for discussion and screenings, and explicit consideration of film both as art and as a vehicle for social and cultural transformation. They also had an agenda to represent and acknowledge past film achievements as well as current, less mainstream achievements in their independent programming. While not the force that film societies would become after World War II, these film societies grew over the ‘30s and combined with the milieu around the specialist film magazines to provide extended discussion of films and filming. These provided a resource for newspaper and magazine critics, while also serving as a parallel discourse to that provided in newspapers and magazines.

Like their contemporaries improvising reviewing in newspapers, what silent film theorists like Arnheim and Lindsay, film critics like Barry, Lejeune and Mycroft, and film historians like Rotha did, was to foreground one, albeit prominent, side of this hybrid film/live performance equation. As film critics they were used to bracketing out sound. They focused on the one constant in the film exhibition of the silent period – the film itself – consequently exalting a cinema of images. [41] Unsurprisingly then, the sound film was derided by Rotha as a “cacophonous omnipresence”. [42] With so much flux and uncertainly accompanying the transition to sound, and with the unevenness of the initial part-sound films and their static studio-based methods and aesthetic, films were more like tests than texts. [43] Rotha (1930), Arnheim (1932 German, English translation 1933), together with a number of writers in emerging specialist film magazines such as Close-Up, unsurprisingly saw the cinema as having achieved a more extended elaboration as an aesthetic form with the silent film than with the contemporaneous sound film.

The Institution of the Sound Cinema
While theorists’ responses to the sound cinema could sometimes take the form of jeremiads, the public response and the response of critics in the general press tended to be favourable. As Donald Crafton observes, “filmgoers abandoned with few regrets a cherished form of entertainment”, acting as if they had been long dissatisfied with it and seeing the sound film as an improvement. [44] For Lejeune in her 1928 “Year in Retrospect” column, the “talkies” had “carried the cinema a definite step forward towards perfect mechanisation, and in an age of pace and economy that step will not be retraced.” [45] Even within the specialist film magazines there were enthusiasms for the possibilities created by the sound film. Writing for a variety of small circulation film publications including Close Up, Harry Potamkin welcomed the encroachment of sound, predicting a “compound cinema” that would “fulfill the aspirations of many twentieth century artists for a form containing multiple, heterogeneous elements”. [46]

For their part, newspaper and periodical publications picked up and exploited this public interest in and enthusiasm for the sound film. In Britain, Geoff Brown describes a swelling of the “rank and file” newspaper critics who “had their hands full keeping track” of a cinema that had, with the coming of sound, “cement[ed its] place […] as the mass entertainment medium par excellence”. [47] France, meanwhile, had a highly diversified ecology of film criticism prior to the coming of sound, as well as highly-wrought theories of film predicated on the silent cinema. Consequently, it experienced the arrival of sound as an institutional “death” to a much greater extent than did USA, UK and most of all Australia, where it marked film reviewing’s birth.

But even in France the “rapid development and diffusion of the sound film” led to “even greater coverage by the daily and weekly press.” [48] This suggests that it was the fact of the new sound cinema itself that demanded greater coverage and attention. Considerable column inches were devoted to its roll-out, celebrating the transformations it had wrought at each level of production, distribution and exhibition. A film reviewer writing in a newspaper was more likely to follow his or her readership and present sound as a new beginning for the cinema. Some might even see themselves as living through an “Elizabethan age of entertainment” as Australia’s Kenneth Slessor did. [49] The explosion of critical writing about the cinema in 1930s newspapers and general interest magazines is therefore explicitly and centrally an exploration of this new sound cinema for a readership and film-going audience that perceived its difference, distinctiveness and improvement over what had gone before.

But it was not just the novelty of the remade cinema that led to this explosion of coverage. If the sound cinema was not an entirely new medium, it certainly took a different institutional form. As Gaudreault and Marion point out, the history of cinema abounds with institutional deaths and rebirths. In their estimation, the coming of sound represented the death of the silent cinema and the birth of a new institution, in the same way that the cinema’s first institutionalisation in the early 1910s had marked the death of the form and economy of “Kine-Attractography” that preceded it. [50] Like other new media developments Lisa Gitelman has charted, the sound cinema encouraged changes in both “[h]abits of public participation” and related “technical and economic structures. [51] In the same way that the norms and patterns of the silent cinema militated against reviewing for most of its history, the new norms and patterns of the sound cinema were conducive to it.

Most significantly, by integrating and stabilising the sound “track,” sound cinema radically standardised film performance. This turned film into a tight and highly constructed audio-visual experience that was now consistent, self-contained and self-sufficient. As a delimited and defined object screened in increasingly cinema-only theatre programs, the sound cinema provided a common film experience that, unlike the silent film, was significantly independent of the time, place and circumstance of a film’s screening. Cinema screenings were now rendered more equivalent, whether in national or international circulation. Definitively separate from the theatre, the cinema was now a rival to live performance itself, rather than the rival live performance outlet it had been. In place of the cinema event of the silent period with its screening plus live performance, there was now a stable film text consistently projected and received throughout its dissemination.

But just as the sound film itself eliminated the effects of space for its geographically dispersed audiences by creating an invariant – save for persisting local censorship – audio-visual text, so too the places for the projection and amplification of this sound, the cinemas themselves, became likewise space independent. Whereas silent film criticism had bracketed out film’s aural accompaniments, seeing them as distractions, the new “electrical cinema” made sound central to the cinema, its marketing, and eventually its criticism. [52] This new electrical cinema embraced a model kind of sound reproduction that, in being largely reverberation-free, was “clear”, “direct” and “easy to understand” and, above all, replicable. [53] This “modern sound” was a cornerstone of the various electro-acoustic devices upon which sound in the cinema was based: the microphone, the amplifier and the loudspeaker. [54] And this one “best sound” could also be found on the phonograph, radio, loudspeaker and telephone. [55] This was a different sound than that of the music halls, skating rinks and initial cinema venues of the silent cinema’s first appearance. Those original cinema screening and live performance venues had possessed their own “acoustic signature […] representing the unique character (for better or worse) of the space in which it was heard”. [56]

Through their wiring for sound and modifications to seating, walls and ceilings, carpeting, projection, amplification for the recorded sound and image, and rising use of (silent) air conditioning, cinema venues came to more closely resemble each other. While variations persisted, these were now relatively minor compared to before. The sounds that were produced (which were increasingly also present in venues not requiring amplification) had little to say about “the places in which it was produced and consumed”. [57] As well as sonically standardising the cinema, these remodellings enabled the industry to signal an enhanced status for the sound cinema. When coupled with the claims for cinema excellence and artfulness accompanying the development of the Academy Awards in 1929, cinema had entered into a new “economy of prestige”. [58] The combination of higher filmmaking budgets for what were now mostly studio-based productions, and the significant transformation of the conditions of viewing, encouraged the further identification of the cinema with higher-quality entertainment.

This new sound film required more directional, focused and attentive listening on the part of its audiences. With film audiences now needing to comprehend dialogue and listen closely for sound cues, they needed to learn to view the cinema silently. This was a far cry from the “hum of the conversing audience” that had characterised much silent cinema viewing with its forms of attention initially modeled on variety’s and vaudeville’s forms of interaction with the performance and performers. [59] Even the kind of snacks eaten during film screenings changed, as peanuts in shells gave way to popcorn and shelled peanuts. [60] Talking was now increasingly confined to before and after a film’s viewing.

With the sound film becoming more its own self-contained and complete object, the film was now more like a book, magazine, newspaper or radio program. Like them, it promised to be the same everywhere. Now institutionalised and projected in cinemas as a finished, complete and often prestigious product wired and acoustically treated for sound, the newspaper and periodical interest in the cinema took a new turn. Editors of general interest publications increasingly decoupled their newspaper’s cinema and theatre coverage in recognition of their increasing separation, and appointed more named film critics. They did so with a view to having them provide a more explicit guide for readers focused on the sounds and images of new films in release. These critics’ task was to, in Alastair Cooke’s words “pick out the kinds of movies and say roughly what they had to offer” of the “650 feature films” it was “physically possible to see” in Britain’s major cities each year. [61] While it predated sound, sound’s arrival institutionalised the office of the film critic by providing fertile ground for film reviewing to approach cinema as its own discrete and distinct cultural and aesthetic form.

There was also a certain acceptance of the close relationship between film publicity and the film review in this newly widespread, day-and-date reviewing. While the review could and should still be independent, publicity was also a precondition for the review. While it had ever been thus in the popular press, at the coming of sound there was a greater sense of coziness or quid-pro-quo that some scholars have represented as a falling-off of standards of independence and originality compared to the pioneering silent years. [62] In France, in Abel’s estimation, the forum of the popular press “depended more heavily than before on the film industry and its alliances with the newspaper consortia”. [63] Brown characterises the state of British reviewing in the 1930s thus: “Hospitalities at press screenings were lavish. With drink in one hand and the press hand-out in the other, it was easy enough to coast along and offer readers a reflection of the distributors’ rosy assessments or the leanings of newspaper proprietors”. [64]

Certainly a tension existed between the industry publicity machine and the independent, critical review. Commenting in 1938 on the previous “ten short years” of this (new kind of) film critic’s existence, Cooke suggested that, for the newspaper editor at least, the film reviewer could be best thought of as a “sort of cross-breed between a dramatic critic and a motor correspondent”. [65] In being not quite a drama critic and somewhat akin to a motor correspondent (where studios, like motorcar manufacturers, brought out new models with various attributes and affordances marketed as selling points on a seasonal basis), this disparaging estimation of what management wanted from its film reviewers points to the role operating on a contingent journalistic plane or “beat”, in this case the film beat. In the popular press, the film critic was now undertaking a more segmented (by film title) and modularised (reviews only with occasional longer cinema feature articles) writing task. With the increasing patronage of film reviewing by both publishers and studios, the risk of commercial capture also increased.

By providing a guide to films for its readers, in the context of ever-present promotion and publicity, film reviewing entailed a different though related attention to that of the “international and intellectual film culture” Wasson identifies as having emerged in the late silent period. [66] While this newspaper and general interest film criticism, as noted, would sometimes draw upon these adjacent strands of intellectual film writing, the very day-and-date circumstances of film screening in general interest, wide-circulation publications entailed a related but different critical assessment. If the specialist publication and film book took time out to reflect and consider directions in film and filming, the daily circumstances of a film reviewing beat required the critic to be “in the flow” of the daily news rounds. Newspapers and magazines contributed to another, more quotidian, public film culture, not to be confused with or subordinate to the “international and intellectual film culture” Wasson identifies.

The Aesthetics of the Film Review
One way we might conceptualise the distinction between the film reviewing that came into full bloom with the coming of sound from preceding and adjacent forms of film criticism is by thinking about it as a pragmatic aesthetic response to the commercial sound cinema in its day-and-date release. As cinema-going increasingly became organised around the showing of feature films starting at set times, requiring and rewarding silent and full attention – rather than the uninterrupted march or flow of a mixed program of shorts and live performance – it was also, in a more pronounced way, marketed as a series of discrete filmic experiences. This discrete filmic experience of the new “electric cinema” with its synchronized sound ensured, for the first time, that film exhibition had the kind of standardised, complete form akin to that of the book, a season of a play by a company in a particular theatre, or of fine art works on exhibition at a gallery or museum. At the same time, cinema’s growing cultural standing registered in books, specialist journalist and trade sponsored awards, and gala events such as the Academy Awards, which further supported this individualising attention: Oscars were awarded for the individual excellence of particular films and the creative achievement of its particular creators.

In such circumstances the available forms of critical notice that had attended the discussion of aesthetically valued cultural forms in general interest news outlets were increasingly applied to film. Newspapers, magazines and radio adapted literary journalism’s critical communication frameworks for the review of individual films. Film writing now stressed a film’s individual achievements; it sought the ways a film’s various parts contributed to a unified whole; and it looked to a coordinating creative intelligence shaping the film, variously located in directors, actors and producers.

This shift made sense in journalistic terms. The film review provided a ready means to cast a film as a day-and-date event news story. The review format gave such “news events” a reliable and predictable scaffolding that was consonant with both cinema trade advertising’s focus on individual film releases and the ways viewers were, courtesy of the sound film’s affordances, increasingly attending to particular films. Writing on a particular film as the preferred vehicle for undertaking more general discussions of the cinema and its progress fitted longstanding journalistic norms, working from the particular to the general. Now couched in a literary journalist format, critical communication practices not only helped guide and inform their readers’ cinema-viewing, but also amplified the viewers’ film experience.

Rather than a lesser version of the criticism provided by specialist publications, newspaper and general interest magazine criticism was of a different kind. The pragmatist aesthetic philosophy inaugurated by John Dewey in Art as Experience in 1934 [67] is helpful in elaborating its critical aesthetics. Like Deweyan aesthetics, film reviewing’s primary purpose was to enrich the experience of the movies for critic and reader alike by enabling them “to have more intense and more fully rounded out experiences of their own”. [68] This was achieved in film reviewing by attending to films as discrete aesthetic experiences, where the viewer and critic alike framed the film “for [their] enjoyed receptive perception”; i.e., for the film’s appreciation, perception and enjoyment by each. [69] The critic’s “office”, then, not only turned on his or her experience of the films in question but also on “the deepening of just such experience in others”. [70]

Deweyan aesthetics not only speaks positively to the consumer guide aspects of film reviewing with its explicit formulation of an aesthetics from “the consumer’s rather than the producer’s standpoint”, [71] but also points to the ways both the film reviewer and her readership must recreate the film in their respective “individualised experience(s)” of the film and its review. Dewey’s account of the beholder working from his or her own particular “point of view and interest” to gather together “details and particulars physically scattered [throughout the work] into an experienced whole” [72] readily speaks to the ways reviewers formulated their reviews in the context of the particular mastheads they worked for and how they laboured to create coherence in both the films in review and in the logic of the review itself.

Likewise, Dewey’s stress upon the communicative and participatory aspects of the aesthetic experiences to be had in art and everyday life alike dovetails with the media outlet’s orientation to establishing rapport and a sense of community with their audience. As Dewey would write: “communication is not announcing things […] [It] is the process of creating participation, of making common what had been isolated and singular”. [73] Just so. A film review is valued by its readers not so much for its critical judgments as for the ways it creates participation on the part of its readership, how it makes common the insights, observations and experiences of the film critic; and, in turn, how reviewing encourages readers to respond with their own insights, observations and experiences, encouraging them to take a critical stance towards the films and the reviews. For Dewey and the film reviewer alike, the critic is recipient-oriented, providing her readers with “new clues” and “guides” to shape their “own experience”. [74]

Film Reviewing as Meliorist Film Criticism
In the gaps between the discrete experiences of film viewing and reviewing – in anticipation of the next film and reflection upon the last – general interest newspaper and magazine film critics also adopted a meliorist aesthetic stance. It recognised both the flaws and the merit or potential of day-and-date cinema screenings. According to another pragmatist philosopher, Richard Shusterman, the long-range aim of meliorism is to direct “inquiry away from general condemnation or glorifications so that attention may be better focused on more concrete problems and specific improvements”. [75] Whenever they had the scope to do so, these 1930s film critics made suggestions for improvement. Sometimes it was a problem with a film’s structure or its casting, or some aspect of technique that future films might remedy; at other times, particularly in the transition to sound, it could be the circumstances in which audiences watched films, from their seating to their experience of the sound and the screen.

This methodological pluralism is something of a signature component of a film critic’s armoury in general interest publications, borne as it is out of the quotidian experience of cinema-going and the necessity of accounting for the cinema in its everyday variety and metronomic rhythms. This orientation cast the cinema as achieving aesthetic merit and serving worthy social ends and goals through a variety of ways and means. This was the basis for Alastair Cooke’s 1930s reflection that the critic’s review “does not come to them primarily as a concept; it comes directly as sensation”. [76] Again consonant with pragmatic philosophy’s emphasis on “experience”, the reviewing critic deals with and responds to what is before her by making it an aesthetic experience. Sharing and beholden to journalism’s event focus, such film criticism typically responded to and shaped its critical program film by film, review by review, over months and years. This is a criticism that responds necessarily to the cycles of release of the mainstream film beat; what A.O. Scott would later describe as “the endless succession of nows shaping our perception of the world”. [77]

The parallel tradition of film criticism in specialist film periodicals and books was marked by a different orientation. This was a film criticism that was less attached to and constrained by the “now” of films and filming currently before publics. The film critic could range more widely than films in current release; they could cover films and filming at greater length – moving from the general to the particular. Such publications included retrospective assessments of films and filmmakers, historical standpoints on the cinema and its development, discussion of contemporary trends in filmmaking, the theorising of film and its effects, translations of notable essayistic writing, and detailed evaluations of significant contemporary films – each offered in the form of an extended essay. In doing so, these publications marked out an evaluative and reflective space variously complementary and antagonistic to that of newspaper, magazine and radio film reviewing.

Such publications sought to supply the “missing beat” not available in or simply overlooked by the newspapers and commercial cinema houses: avant-garde, documentary, international cinema, the Soviet cinema and neglected mainstream releases. Their writers were not tied to representing and promoting mainstream cinema so much as promulgating supplementary considerations and alternatives of various kinds. They promoted deliberation on the very nature of film form and meaning. They espoused different kinds of filmmaking. They sought what they saw as more appropriate conditions for film viewing, which they found in film society and repertory screenings with their implicit assumption of public discussion and deliberation. They schooled reception in an explicitly independent film criticism, taking a measured distance from entertainment and industry. These several qualities sat uneasily with day-and-date reviewing.

Alastair Cooke, writing in 1938, responded to the challenge these forms of criticism posed for film reviewing, acerbically describing them as dedicated to fostering “an independence committed to certain slogans and a priori ideas”. [78] Provocatively setting his comportment of meliorist criticism against writers on cinema associated with these more deliberative, campaign-oriented publications, here Cooke was defending film reviewing in what would become familiar terms, coming from the sometimes direct but most often implied criticism of writers in these specialist publications and books – while himself contributing to these same publications!

By the 1930s, a lasting dichotomy had seemingly been set in place. First there was day-and-date film reviewing with its implicit meliorist ambitions, its focus limited to films in review set by mainstream distribution, and favoring a present-ist focus with an aesthetic of improvement. Generations of readers and listeners would become familiar with this reflexive, meliorist orientation as it became a normative feature of newspaper, magazine, radio and television reviewing. Such meliorist reviewing has come to continuously define the sense, scope and limits of the film review for general interest publications.

On the other side of the ledger – and substantially coincident with the coming of sound – was a film writing that created spaces for talking to what was missing from the mainstream movie menu. It spoke to the problems of paying too much critical attention to the mainstream of films in release, and too little attention to minor-stream films in limited or non-commercial release. Writing within smaller circulation film publications, such “film culture” writers could provide a supplement to both the films in current release and to meliorist day-and-date reviewing. It wrestled back from the trade some of the trade’s agenda-setting role. Above all, these writers could promote particular, alternative ways of being with film; they could champion film movements and critical orientations to film; and they could eschew the meliorist perspective of the newspaper and magazine.

Changing the Settlement
In changing the settlement between the cinema and media, the new settings associated with the sound cinema transformed the relation between cinema and film reviewing. In the silent period, the film was part of a larger ensemble of elements and was, as such, a semi-finished product. It needed to be completed by the local provision of film’s musical and sound accompaniment and live performance events. While these circumstances encouraged film writing in general-interest print and radio, to develop it would need the circumstances of sound cinema with its tidy separation of cinema from live performance and its making-over of cinema into a much more self-contained and complete object – one requiring the full attention of audiences – to see the further development and wide extension of film reviewing. While both silent and sound cinema relied upon the central figure of the cinema theatre as a stable place for the continuous mounting of films, the sound cinema’s distinctive form of theatrical exhibition encouraged the implicit recognition of the cinema as a distinct cultural form. In this context, the consolidation and the extension of the film review was very much part of a process by which newspapers and magazines and their film reviewers improvised their new relation to film.

Just as the advent of the sound cinema and the demise of the silent cinema did not inaugurate completely new structural forms of filmed storytelling, so too with kinds of film writing. Instead, newspaper and magazines reshaped their writing about film, variously amplifying and contracting, adjusting and revising aspects of it to exploit the new circumstances that sound cinema presented. The comparatively minor role played by the extended film review in columns during the silent period became, with sound, a more central newspaper and magazine activity; the omnibus film column gradually morphed into the film review with a focus on individual films.

Just as the transformation of the cinema with sound took time to work itself through – for example, live performance and cinemas with stages continuing to be built and used throughout the 1930s and ‘40s – it took film writing varying lengths of time to make adjustments to these new circumstances. It was not until the mid ‘30s that C.A. Lejeune’s film columns became explicit film reviews, although her film writing was gradually modifying and reworking itself for the Manchester Guardian and then The Observer with the coming of sound. [79] Meanwhile, Kenneth Slessor’s film reviews for the Australian weekly newspaper Smith’s Weekly took on the extended review format in early 1931 as part of the newspaper’s strategy to provide comprehensive coverage of the new sound film. [80] Smith’s, despite its popular culture focus, had offered no sustained or comprehensive film coverage prior to the advent of sound.

The film writing of the silent and transition-to-sound periods provided a number of preconditions that allowed the subsequent normalisation of the practice of film reviewing as meliorist critical communication. Film criticism was becoming a regular, professional position in a wide number of newspapers and magazines. A vocabulary of film analysis, description and evaluation was being improvised. The principle of independent commentary and review had been established. Additionally, forums for both an aesthetic and wider public interest in film had been established outside the trade’s and newspapers’ immediate influence. Together these elements licensed an attention to film as film, with the review beginning to contribute, if not lead, a larger discussion of film as a matter of social and cultural import. Although these developments had been gaining momentum in the final five years or so of silent filmmaking, the extended and comprehensive reviewing of films was still a tentative and marginal practice for the institutions of the silent cinema and during the transition to sound. It was the consolidation of sound cinema that would see the film review become a more widely practiced and central undertaking. Before the sound period, film reviewing was not unlike the sound film that existed before the “coming” of sound circa 1927: it had been there on cinema screens in continuous experiments from the first decade of the 20th century, but it was intermittently practised, weakly developed and not particularly widespread.

Why has something so obvious as the connection between the coming of sound and the institutionalisation of film reviewing not been part of our histories of film criticism? Henry K. Miller has usefully observed how the sources that have been mined by generations of film scholars for insights on the formative development of film criticism and film culture have until recently tended to concentrate on what he calls the writings of the “specialised film sphere” [81] rather than general interest newspapers and magazines. While this specialised film sphere in English began in the later silent period, its significant development was subsequent to the coming of sound. Unlike the exhibitors and producers who faced the root and branch reconstruction of their operations, the impact of sound on publishing and writers for both general and specialist publications was one of providing new and more extended opportunities for cinema’s discussion.

Publishing enterprises were in a position to purposefully build bridges between the silent and sound cinema. Eisenstein’s influential silent and then sound film writings had their English language publication and impact after the arrival of sound. At a time when silent cinema disappeared from film programs, the new film histories naturally memorialised it. With the trade swinging in behind the sound film, specialised publishing outlets provided the space to both reflect on the sense of disquiet engendered by such a rapid shift (Close Up), and to promote the new medium and its possibilities (Experimental Cinema and Sight and Sound). The silent cinema theorist’s focus on the image, sharpened in Arnheim’s case by the coming of sound, could be later reworked and revised in print to better accommodate the sound cinema. [82] The subsequent formation of film studies and film theory, film in museum and gallery contexts, and alternative film cultures. necessarily prioritise these same specialist film publications and books and their related institutions: film societies, festivals, film centres of various kinds, museum linkages. If not always initiated in this decade, these institutional forms were consolidated in the 1930s. [83] This focused attention away from the film culture that was coming into being around newspapers and magazines at the same time – for many of the same reasons, but with different ends.

Such attentions have, as Miller argues, skewed our understanding of film culture and film criticism’s past, making it more “an affair of the elite” – of a small group of writers and thinkers attending to the cinema in new ways in small circulation publications. [84] But, as Miller suggests, what emerges once general interest publications are taken into account is not only the mingling of both majority and minority film cultures, but an alternative story of the aesthetic interest of the cinema: a story with its origins and sources of innovation in newspapers and magazines; in literary journalism and its coverage of art works.

By attending to the film review proper; by noting its difference from the film columns prevalent in the silent era but continuing into the sound era; by not collapsing either too quickly into a larger film criticism in which both can only ever be a minor, very common, but inconsequential form; and by giving due weight to reviewing’s ameliorist aesthetic orientations – by doing all this, we have been able to explore the film review and film column as particular responses to the experience of the silent and sound cinema, calibrated to journalism’s event and participatory communication foci. Recoupling the film review to the institutional reinvention of the cinema with the coming of sound allows us to recognise the film review as a form of critical communication attuned to the reproduction of self-contained aesthetic experiences on the part of reviewers and their readers alike.

In changing the settlement between the cinema and media, the new settings associated with sound cinema transformed the relation between the cinema and film reviewing. In the silent period, the film was part of a larger ensemble of elements and was, as such, a semi-finished product. It needed to be completed by the local provision of film’s musical and sound accompaniment and live performance events. While these circumstances encouraged film writing in general interest print and radio to develop, it would need the circumstances of sound cinema with its tidy separation of cinema from live performance and its making over of cinema into a much more self-contained and complete object, one requiring the full attention of audiences, to see the development and wide extension of film reviewing.

While both silent and sound cinema relied upon the central figure of the cinema theatre as a stable place for the continuous mounting of films, the sound cinema’s distinctive form of theatrical exhibition encouraged the implicit recognition of the cinema as a distinct cultural form. In this context, the consolidation and extension of the film review was very much part of a process by which newspapers and magazines and their film reviewers improvised their new relation to what was, for all intents and purposes, a new medium.

[1] Haidee Wasson, “The Woman Film Critic: Newspapers, Cinema and Iris Barry”, Film History: An international Journal 18, no. 2 (2006), p. 156.
[2] Richard Abel, Menus for Movieland: Newspapers and the Emergence of American Film Culture 1913-1916 (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015), p. 182.
[3] Abel, Menus for Movieland, 189; pp. 241–242.
[4] Carl Sandburg, The Movies Are: Carl Sandburg’s Film Reviews and Essays 1920-1928, ed. Arnie Bernstein (Chicago: Lake Claremont Press, 2000).
[5] An instance of how a review could find its way into her silent film columns is her review of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari – an attention licensed in part by the length of time this film had taken to arrive on British screens. See C.A. Lejeune, “The Week on the Film: The Cabinet of Dr Caligari,” The Guardian, 3 November 1923, Accessed 14 June 2017.
[6] Richard Abel, French Film Theory and Criticism 1907–1939 Vol. I 1907–1929 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), p. 213.
[7] Mattias Frey, The Permanent Crisis of Film Criticism: The Anxiety of Authority (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2015), p. 55.
[8] Wasson, “The Woman Film Critic”, p. 161.
[9] Abel, French Film Theory and Criticism Vol. I, p. 213.
[10] Of those mentioned, only Lejeune had been a silent film critic. Smaller nations like Australia produced their own versions of these critics. One of Australia’s foremost literary journalists and modernist poets, Kenneth Slessor, worked as a film critic over the 1930s for the Australasian weekly newspaper Smith’s Weekly. See Huw Walmsley-Evans, Tom O’Regan and Philip Mead, “Kenneth Slessor and the Sound Cinema: The ‘Chief Film Critic whose Reviews are Accepted as the Most Reliable in Australia’,” Screening the Past, n. 39, 2015
[11] This process began in 1937 with Alastair Cooke’s selection of British and American film critics for his Garbo and the Night Watchmen (London: Jonathan Cape, 1937), and in 1947 with Lejeune’s own selection of a decade of her reviewing in Chestnuts in her Lap, 1936–1946 (London: Phoenix House Limited; the C.A. Lejeune Reader (ed. Anthony Lejeune [Manchester: Caracanet, 1991]) was published 41years later; Agee’s posthumous Agee on Film in 1958 (New York: McDowell-Obolensky) with successive editions through the 1960s and beyond; Otis Ferguson in 1971 with The Film Criticism of Otis Ferguson [Robert Wilson ed., (Philadelphia: Temple University Press); Farber in 1971 with Negative Space: Manny Farber on the Movies (New York: Studio Vista, 1971); Greene in 1972 with The Pleasure Dome: The Collected Film Criticism 1935-1940 (ed. John Russell Taylor, London: Secker & Warburg); and finally Cooke (ed. Geoff Brown) in 2011 with Alastair Cooke at the Movies (London: Penguin).
[12] Abel, Menus for Movieland, p. 182.
[13] The boundaries marking general interest and specialist publications were fluid as critics contributed to both (e.g., Barry) and one could be defined in relation to the other (Cooke). See Frey, The Permanent Crisis, p. 58 and Alastair Cooke, “The Critic in Film History,” in Footnotes to Film, ed. Charles Davy (London: Lovat Dickson & Readers’ Union, 1938), pp. 238–263.
[14] Andre Gaudreault and Philippe Marion, The Kinematic Turn: Film in the Digital Era and its Ten Problems (Montreal: Caboose, 2012), p. 6.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Julie Brown, “Framing the Atmospheric Film Prologue in Britain, 1919–1926”, in The Sounds of the Silents in Britain, eds. Julie Brown and Annette Davidson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 205.
[17] Donald Crafton, The Talkies: American Cinema’s Transition to Sound 1926–1931, History of the American Cinema Vol. 4 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), p. 265.
[18] Trevor Griffiths, “Sounding Scottish: Sound Practices and Silent Cinema in Scotland”, in The Sounds of the Silents in Britain, eds. Julie Brown and Annette Davidson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 81.
[19] Crafton, The Talkies, p. 265.
[20] Abel, Menus for Movieland, p. 228.
[21] Jon Burrows, “The Art of Not ‘Playing to Pictures’ in British Cinemas, 1906-1914”, in The Sounds of the Silents in Britain, eds. Julie Brown and Annette Davison, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012, p. 111.
[22] Rick Altman, “The Silence of the Silents”, The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 80 No. 4 (1996), p. 706.
[23] Altman, “The Silence of the Silents”, 651; see also his Silent Film Sound (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007).
[24] Abel, Menus for Movieland, p. 213.
[25] Roger Ebert, “Introduction”, in The Movies Are: Carl Sandburg’s Film Reviews and Essays 1920–1928, ed. Arnie Bernstein (Chicago: Lake Claremont Press), p. x.
[26] Jimmy the Assistant, “Reviews and Reviewers”, The American Cinematographer, 2, no. 22, December 1 (1921), p. 11.
[27] Abel, Menus for Movieland, p. 207.
[28] Abel, Menus for Movieland, p. 213.
[29] Nicholas Hiley, “‘At the Picture Palace’: The British Cinema Audience, 1895–1920”, in Celebrating 1895: The Centenary of Cinema, ed. John Fullerton (London: John Libbey, 1998), p. 97.
[30] Ibid.
[31] “Going Talkie”, Smith’s Weekly, 4 May 1929, p. 16.
[32] Abel, Menus for Movieland, p. 228.
[33] Abel, Menus for Movieland, p. 213.
[34] Lindsay, The Art of the Moving Picture, (New York: Macmillan, 1916), p. 189. For a discussion of this point see Ian Christie, “‘Suitable Music’ Accompaniment Practice in Early London Screen Exhibition from R.W. Paul to the Picture Palaces”, The Sounds of the Silents in Britain, eds. Julie Brown and Annette Davidson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 106.
[35] For a discussion of film reviewing’s Australian uptake see Tom O’Regan and Huw Walmsley-Evans, “The Emergence of Australian Film Criticism”, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 2017. Published online 2.6.2017 DOI 10.1080/01439685.2017.1300409.
[36] Michael Kammen, The Lively Arts: Gilbert Seldes and the Transformation of Cultural Criticism in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 6.
[37] See Lindsay, The Art of the Moving Picture; Hugo Münsterberg, The Photoplay: A Psychological Study (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1916); Iris Barry, Let’s Go to the Pictures (London: Chatto & Windus, 1926), C.A. Lejeune, The Cinema (London: Alexander Maclehose and Co., 1931); and Gilbert Seldes, The Seven Lively Arts (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1924).
[38] Kammen, The Lively Arts, p. 8.
[39] Wasson, “The Woman Film Critic”, p. 154.
[40] “Announcement”, Experimental Cinema, February 1930, inside front cover.
[41] Richard Brody, “Iris Barry: The Secret Heroine of the Cinema”, New Yorker, 10 October 2014.
[42] Paul Rotha, The Film Till Now: A Survey of the Cinema (London: Jonathan Cape, 1930), p. 10.
[43] Crafton, The Talkies, p. 6.
[44] Crafton, The Talkies, pp. 250, 265.
[45] C.A. Lejeune, “The Year in Retrospect”, The Observer, 30 December; reprinted in C.A. Lejeune (ed. Anthony Lejeune), The C.A. Lejeune Reader (Manchester: Caracanet, 1991), p. 82.
[46] Russell Campbell, “Potamkin’s Film Criticism”, Jump Cut, no. 18 (August 1978), 23–24. Lewis Jacob collected his film criticism; see Harry Potamkin, The Compound Cinema: The Film Writings of Harry Alan Potamkin (New York: Teachers College Press, 1977). See also Stephanie Van Schilt, “A Portrait of Harry Potamkin”, Screening the Past, no. 32 (2011),
[47] Geoff Brown, “Criticism: The 1930s: Movies for the Millions”, BFI Screen Online, accessed 6 December 2017,
[48] Richard Abel, French Film Theory and Criticism 1907–1939 Vol. II 1929–1939 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), p. 5.
[49] Kenneth Slessor, “Smith’s Sums Up the Offerings of 1932, Bird’s Eye View of Film History in Australia”, Smith’s Weekly, December 31, 1932, p. 8.
[50] Gaudreault & Marion, The Kinematic Turn, p. 6.
[51] Lisa Gitelman, Always Already New: Media, History, and the Data of Culture (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008), p. 44.
[52] See Crafton, The Talkies.
[53] Emily Thompson, The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America 1900-1933 (Boston: MIT Press, 2004), p. 3.
[54] On the modern sound and the deployment of microphones, loudspeakers and phonographs, see Thompson, Soundscape of Modernity, pp. 233-235.
[55] For a discussion of this “one best sound”, see Thompson, Soundscape of Modernity, p. 324.
[56] Thompson, The Soundscape of Modernity, p. 3.
[57] Ibid.
[58] James English, The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards, and the Circulation of Cultural Value (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008).
[59] Vachel Lindsay, The Art of the Moving Picture (New York: Macmillan, 1916), p. 189.
[60] Crafton, The Talkies, p. 262.
[61] Cooke, “The Critic in Film History”, p. 247.
[62] See Frey, The Permanent Crisis, p. 48, for a discussion of how German silent film critics “actively reckoned with industry interference” and “agitated seriously for the autonomy of film criticism, both as a discourse and as a profession”.
[63] Abel, French Film Theory and Criticism Vol. II , p. 5.
[64] Brown, “Criticism: The 1930s”.
[65] Cooke, “The Critic in Film History”, p. 247.
[66] Wasson, “The Woman Film Critic”, p. 155.
[67] John Dewey, Art as Experience (New York: Perigee, 2005).
[68] Dewey, p. 113.
[69] Dewey, p. 49.
[70] Dewey, p. 338.
[71] Dewey, p. 49.
[72] Dewey, p. 56.
[73] Dewey, p. 253.
[74] Dewey, p. 327. Robert Sitton confirms something of this orientation in his discussion of Barry’s Let’s Go the Movies, written at a time when she was a film columnist, seeing Barry’s most significant contribution as lying in how the book “affectingly captures the allure of film-as-experienced, telling us a great deal about why viewers are drawn to pictures in motion”. See Sitton, Lady in the Dark: Iris Barry and the Art of Film (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), p. 131.
[75] Richard Shusterman, Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty, Rethinking Art, 2nd edition (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000), p. 177.
[76] Cooke, “The Critic in Film History”, p. 251.
[77] A.O. Scott, Better Living Through Criticism (London: Jonathan Cape, 2016), p. 183.
[78] Cooke, “The Critic in Film History”, p. 247.
[79] Some of the extent of these changes is recognised, albeit negatively, by Anthony Lejeune in his introduction to his edited collection of his mother’s film writing, where he casts the palpable difference between her silent and later sound cinema writings as owing to the former exhibiting “the strengths and weaknesses of youth” and displaying a sharp through “immature mind”, compared with her more measured writing from the 1930s. See Anthony Lejeune, “Preface” in C.A. Lejeune, The C.A. Lejeune Reader, ed. Anthony Lejeune (Manchester: Caracenet, 1991), p. 12. The Guardian’s recent republishing of a selection of Lejeune’s silent film serves to underline this sense of difference. See her “The Week on Screen: The Women”, Guardian, 16 January 1926 5/3/3/1425381851376/Film-16-January-1926-CA-L-001.jpg.
[80] Walmsley-Evans et al., “Kenneth Slessor and the Sound Cinema”.
[81] Henry K. Miller, “Return to the Lost Continent”, New Review of Film and Television Studies, Vol. 12, No. 4 (2014), p. 413.
[82] Rudolf Arnheim, Film as Art, trans. L.M. Sieveking and Ian F.D. Morrow (London: Faber and Faber, 1933); and, on the legacies for film and media studies, see Scott Higgins (ed.), Arnheim for Film and Media Studies (New York: Routledge, 2011).
[83] See Lee Grieveson and Haidee Wasson (eds.), Inventing Film Studies (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2008); Wasson, Museum Movies: the Museum of Modern Art and the Birth of Art Cinema (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005); and Jamie Sexton, Alternative Film Culture in Inter-War Britain (Exeter: Exeter University Press, 2015).
[84] Miller, “Return to the Lost Continent”, p. 413.

© Huw Walmsley-Evans & the Estate of Tom O’Regan, 2018

About the Author

Tom O’Regan & Huw Walmsley-Evans

About the Authors

Tom O’Regan

Tom O’Regan (1956-2020) was Professor of Media and Cultural Studies in the School of English, Media Studies and Arts History at the University of Queensland. His books include Local Hollywood: Global Film Production and the Gold Coast (with Ben Goldsmith and Susan Ward), The Film Studio (with Ben Goldsmith), Australian National Cinema, and Australian Television Culture.

Huw Walmsley-Evans

Huw Walmsley-Evans teaches at the University of Queensland. He is the author of Film Criticism as a Cultural Institution (Routledge, 2019).View all posts by Tom O’Regan & Huw Walmsley-Evans →