Culture Notes: Movietone News Revival

movietoneThe Parallax View website has taken on a mighty, and mightily welcome, project: the online posting of the contents of Movietone News, one of the “little film magazines” that lived in the 1970s. Published by the Seattle Film Society under the editorship of Richard T. Jameson, future editor of Film Comment, the magazine appeared from 1971 to 1981, along the way gaining admirers such as Robert Altman, Andrew Sarris, and Molly Haskell, who called it “the best publication on film in the English language.”

I first pored over old issues of Movietone News in the periodical racks at the University of Washington library, completely taken with its short reviews and meaty longer pieces. A couple of years later I was writing for MTN, much to my astonishment (my first real, honest-to-Jehovah published movie review was a skeptical short take on Star Trek–The Motion Picture). Seeing my name listed on the Movietone masthead for the first time as a “Contributing Writer” was one of the very large moments in my young life.

But even if I hadn’t ended up writing for the magazine, I would cherish its movie literacy, its film-for-film’s-sake approach, and its slightly hothouse sense of being a haven for personal critical voices. Parallax View instigator Sean Axmaker, with Jameson’s approval and participation, is rolling out the MTN back issues in reverse order; thus the final issue is on deck first. An intro page is here.

The longer pieces in this issue include a warm conversation with that splendid character actor Strother Martin, and a quite wonderful “interview” with John Sayles–actually a long transcription of an appearance by Sayles before a U of W screenwriting class in 1980, around the time Return of the Secaucus Seven had come out (I was in that quarter-long class, which also featured appearances by Jonathan Demme and the Airplane! guys; the ambitious undertaking had been co-organized by Jeff Dowd, the irrepressible publicist who would later gain fame as “The Dude,” the real-life basis for the Coen brothers’ Lebowskian fiction). PDFs of the original magazine are also clickable as you read through the Parallax postings.

I post links to my own reviews below because that’s what I do on The Crop Duster, not because these deserve more attention than the other pieces; I hope they will lead people to read more MTN. Authors have been offered the chance to amend their now-ancient work, but I declined (although there’s a factual correction in my Coal Miner’s Daughter review). I think these things should stand as they were, for better or worse. I was extremely young. These were my Quickies on:

The Changeling.

Coal Miner’s Daughter.

The Big Red One.

Can’t Stop the Music.

Best Boy.

When Parallax reels the magazine back into the 1970s, I think people will newly appreciate the richness of this amazing magazine, which deserves its place in any account of the glory years of American film criticism. Welcome back, Movietone News.