I begin with a quote from Robert Frost, which pretty much sums up my professional career as dominated by one force, passion for film. This might sound pretentious but, having lived in three different countries (Israel, France, and the U.S.), the only element that has provided stability and continuity in my life, not to speak of excitement, is my love for film, my determination from a very young age to devote my life to the appreciation of movies. After three decades of teaching and writing about film, I still feel as a student, trying to catch up with a medium that’s rapidly changing and continuously reinvents itself.
Working as a critic has been a way of anchoring myself in the real world. Whether academic or popular, criticism has been a process of planting myself into American life, a process of transforming myself into an American citizen. It’s therefore no coincidence that most of my books are about uniquely American symbols: John Wayne, the Oscar Award, Small-Town America, the American Independent Cinema.
In 2004, after two decades of writing film reviews for Variety, Screen International, Box-Office Magazine, and other publications, I launched EmanuelLevy.Com, an on line movie publication and internet movie reviews website. My purpose is to illuminate film through the integration of art, politics, ideology, and business.
Based in L.A., at the heart of Hollywood, the site contains film reviews, analysis, Hollywood news, commentary, interviews, profiles of movie stars and film directors, DVD reviews, coverage of festivals and special events and, last but not least, Oscar predictions and Oscar news.
I studied sociology of culture at Columbia, where I received a Ph.D., at a time when there was M.A. but no doctorate in film studies. I belong to a small group of film scholars who have juggled two careers: teaching and criticism. Over the years, I have taught film at Columbia University, the New School of Social Research, Wellesley College, Arizona State University, and UCLA Film School (since 2003).
As a film critic, I had a prominent voice at Variety, the bible of showbiz, for which I wrote throughout the 1990s. I then assumed the position of chief film critic for Screen International, which I left to pursue more serious scholarship.
Over the past two decades, my film reviews and essays have appeared in a wide range of American and foreign-language publications, including the UK’s Financial Times, L.A. Times, Box Office Magazine, New Woman, The Advocate, Paste Magazine, Out, Arizona Republic, Phoenix New Times, Italy’s Ciak, Mexico’s Cinemania, and Israel’s Jerusalem Post, among others.
Reflecting the schizophrenic nature of the film medium itself, as an art form and mass medium of entertainment, I have written in different styles for different publications, ranging from the most popular to the most academic and esoteric.
My nine film books include:
And the Winner Is: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards (1986);
the definitive biography of the legendary Hollywood director, George Cukor, Master of Elegance (1994);
John Wayne: Prophet of the American Way Life (1988, paperback 1998)
Small-Town America in Film: The Fall and Decline of Community (1991);
All Abut Oscar (2003);
Vincente Minnelli: Hollywood’s Dark Dreamer, the first biography of the legendary Oscar-winning director, which came out in May 2009.
Cinema of Outsiders: Rise of American Independent Film
Cinema of Outsiders, the first comprehensive chronicle of the American Independent Cinema, was published by NYU Press in hard cover in 1999 and in paperback in 2001. Highly acclaimed, the books quickly became a textbook in over 40 film schools across the country. Still in press, the book is now in its 11th or 12th printing.
Cinema of Outsiders was on the Best-Seller list of the L.A. Times for several weeks. In a recent survey of NYU Press, Cinema of Outsiders was selected as the most popular film book in the 100 year history of that prestigious press.
Citizen Sarris: American Film Critic
My tribute volume, Citizen Sarris, American Film Critic, a collection of essays by directors, scholars, and critics in honor of the distinguished Columbia professor and Village Voice critic, was published in 2001. Celebrating Andrew Sarris as a critic–and the book–in New York and Los Angeles (over a weekend at the L.A. County Museum–courtesy of programmer Ian Birney) is till one of the happiest and proudest moments of my film career.
All About Oscar: History and Politics of the Academy Awards
All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards, was published in a new, expanded version in 2003 to commemorate Oscar’s 75th anniversary. First published in 1986 under the title of And the Winner Is, the book has been in print for 21 year.
It has taken five years of research and writing to complete Painting With Light: The Life and Times of Vincente Minnelli, the first biography of the legendary Broadway and Hollywood director. The book is now in press and will be published in December 2006 by St. Martins Press.
I am working on a new book, “Michael Moore and the New American Documentaries,” that will account for the recent popularity of non-fiction films vis-a-vis the broader socio-political context.
I have contributed to the Los Angeles Times as well as other newspapers, and have appeared on ABC’s Nightline, NPR, PBS, CNN, NBC, FOX TV, the Sundance Channel, and National Public Radio. Other related activities include participation in a number of documentaries and commentaries on several DVD editions, including Fellini’s City of Women and Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.
Of the numerous panels I have moderated at various international festivals, I am particularly proud of those dealing with the New Hollywood, the American Independent Cinema, Women in Film, Globalization Vs. National Cinemas, Politics and American Film in the post-9/11 era.
As it happens, I am the only critic in the U.S. to belong to all five film critics groups: the National Society of Film Critics (NSFC); the Los Angeles Film Critics association (LAFCA), of which I was president for two years, 1997-1999; the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA); the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA); and the International Federation of Film Critics (Fipresci).
According to a recent poll, I am the only critic in the U.S. who has served on 46 film festival juries, including San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, Dallas, and Palm Springs. Most recently, I was a member on the grand juries of the Montreal, Taormina, Locarno, Shanghai, and Venice International Film Festivals, and on the Fipresci jury at Cannes at its golden anniversary, in 1997. In 2003, as a member of the Dramatic Jury at Sundance, I was honored to be in the company of Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Forest Whitaker, and David O. Russell.
In 2004, I had the honor of serving on the Hawaii International Film Festival with two actors I admire: Maggie Cheung (“In the Mood for Love”) and Aussie David Wenham(“Lord of the Rings”). Last year, I served on the grand jury of the Rome Film Festival with my colleague Michel Ciment of the French magazine Positif.
To experience the joy of introducing films to live, often-young audiences, I have programmed film societies and festivals, among which I am particularly proud of the ASU Film Society, which showed a film every Friday throughout the 1990s.
In 1999, I established and directed the Scottsdale Independent Film Festival, an operation that ran for three years and show highlights from Sundance as well as other indies, until I relocated to L.A. During that time, two major figures, Gena Rowlands and Robert Altman, received career achievement awards from the Scottsdale Council of the Arts.
Samuel Butler once observed that, “Every man’s work, whether it be literature or music or pictures or architecture or anything else, is always a portrait of himself.” In that spirit, I hope that my criticism, though expressing a personal voice, will be relevant to those who love movies and want to know more about them.