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Book Review

Britton on Film: The Complete Film Criticism of Andrew

Tony Williams

Britton on Film: The Complete Film Criticism of Andrew Britton edited by Barry Keith Grant with an Introduction by Robin Wood. Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press,2009.

Highly prolific during his relatively brief period as a film critic, Andrew Britton (1952-1994) is not as well-known today as he should be. Several reasons account for this. He was, perhaps, the last representative of that lost generation of well-educated critics acquainted not just with film but also other highly relevant areas of literature, politics, psychology, and philosophy very few display in their criticism today. Andrew was learned and well-educated in the positive sense of these terms, combining the personal with the political, not in any superficial trendy manner, but with honesty and integrity. He meticulously investigated the areas he chose to explore returning with original insights designed to show the relevance of his findings to a wider audience, not necessarily academic. He was neither flamboyant nor pompous but someone who knew what he was talking about and had the expertise to support his findings, challenging though these often were to grasp at a first reading.

At the same time, his writings were never deliberately obscurantist in the manner of Screen, a journal he would later criticize in a brilliant article saying things few dared to utter (let alone listen to) in that era of academic terrorism. His entire output attempted the full attention of the reader to engage in a dialogue that would often lead to relevant and unexpected conclusions rather than the one-dimensional type of academic articles favored by most institutional professional journals today.  Rather than the self-serving careerist often found in institutions ready to obey inferior higher administrators and show contempt towards learning and students by devising courses such as “Irony in the Public Sphere” featuring Spiceworld and Wayne’s World or running a “midget Western” such as The Terror of Tiny Town (1938)  in a class designed to promote self-serving intellectual superiority to the material, let alone contempt for the Western genre itself, Andrew was a very serious person, dedicated to learning, someone who would be regarded as a threat in most university departments.1  Today’s corporate model of higher education would not welcome such an original talent who would neither be “collegial” to those who did not deserve it nor passive in situations where University Presidents were discovered to have plagiarized their dissertations or towards Board of Trustees admitting unqualified students due to political pressure.2

It is welcome that Wayne State University Press is publishing this collection of essays. If not the “complete film criticism”, this volume contains the vast majority of Andrew’s work formerly only available in journals difficult for the general public to access. I mention the “general public” deliberately since the outstanding quality of Andrew’s writings not only deserves an audience within the academic field but also one outside, namely, that growing number of dedicated serious readers and lovers of film whose contributions to certain internet sites provide a welcome antidote to the deterioration of cinema studies in most universities today. They will, hopefully welcome this collection and continue the important tradition Andrew inspired both in his person and writings.

During 1976-77, I studied film at Warwick University having the benefit of not only experiencing Robin Wood’s last year in England before he departed to Canada but also that close-knit, serious-minded, graduate student community which he inspired in which the Howard Hawks sense of “having fun” never contradicted the then-serious mission of higher education before it became a corporate product under New Labour. Andrew not only delivered lectures as the Department’s sole PhD student (the rest of us studying for an M.A.) but also monitored seminars in a highly distinguished manner. Several of Andrew’s future articles emerged from such situations. I often told Robin Wood that he “spoiled” us all in that unique, academic Camelot, humane environment. Little did we know what we would encounter later especially on discovering that barbarians were also inside, as well as outside, the university gates! After Warwick, I saw Andrew occasionally on visits to London such as one where we both saw the original version of Robert Aldrich’s Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977) at the National Film Theatre. I last spoke to him on the phone in 1989 when he was still in Toronto contemplating his return to England.


Twilight's Last Gleaming (1977)

To say that his death in 1994 is a “great loss” would be an understatement. He wrote significantly during his lifetime and had much more to offer. Without the availability of this collection of essays that Wayne State University Press has published in a 533 page edition that most publishers today would automatically reject, he would continue to be a neglected voice. This book should bring his writings to the attention of a wider audience that needs to read important works of this nature today.

In his introduction to this collection, subtitled “Andrew Britton and the Future of Film Criticism”, Robin Wood describes Andrew as “the greatest film critic in the English language.” Robin never praises anybody or anything lightly and his introductory pages deserve special attention and respect. Defining Andrew as both humane and intelligent, Robin mentions that his “neglect (I am tempted to say `suppression’) within most contemporary film studies programs is easily accounted for by that single word `humanity’” (xiii) It is one that marked his critical writings as well as his opposition to various examples of film theory two of his excellent essays in this collection take to task. In 1979, Movie published Andrew’s outstanding article, “The Ideology of Screen”, one that demolished the shaky foundations of a journal then notorious for its deliberate obscurantism, to say nothing of the intellectual terrorism it promoted. That same year, I was interviewed for a position as Film Officer in a Regional Arts Area. Rather than encountering open-minded individuals, I heard blustering and pompous remarks such as “How dare Andrew Britton write this article in Movie! Nobody will read Screen anymore.” Andrew demonstrated that this Emperor Journal had no clothes and its followers were grievously offended. No sense existed of any critical debate that the article should have inspired. Similar institutional silences also greeted his critical interrogations of Postmodernism and the Wisconsin School of Film Criticism. The opposition did not know how to respond and they possibly recognized that they had no case to answer. Instead, a damning version of “Rally round the flag, boys (and girls)” resulted. I did not get the position I applied for, especially when my University of Warwick connections became known, and had a lucky escape as a result.


Movie Magazine 26

Robin and Andrew collaborated towards promoting “a fully responsible criticism” that opposed supposedly scientific objective, but actually fashionable and superficial, theoretical “flavors of the month” These two individuals represented the best values of English literary criticism applied responsibly towards film studies. This type of responsibility combined the best intellectual levels of knowledge influenced by criticism, historical, research, and psychoanalysis used towards a subject then regarded as unworthy of being included in any British university. Both wanted to show the relevance of the highest achievements of Film to the outside world in the manner of the very different, but influential figure, F.R. Leavis. Robin and Andrew applied his insights and their own unique type of approaches in diverse and variant ways that could have gained the approval of Leavis had he not been biased against cinema and popular culture. Neither Robin nor Andrew were “Leavisites” in that inaccurate and denigrating sense of the term used by their opponents but critics who saw the relevance of art and culture to everyday life. They never regarded these areas as hermetic playthings as they now are in today’s irrelevant ivory tower dominated by a-political scholars engaged in reactionary postmodernist games.

Andrew wrote in an era when Marxism and Psychoanalysis were fashionable but also relevant to the broader contexts of human life. He approached the works in a highly dedicated manner. His intuitive perceptions make his writings more relevant today than those of his peers who quickly dropped these critical tools at the advent of Reagan and Thatcher to appropriate other fashionable discourses rendering them critically impotent when the storm outside threatened to attack the foundations of their privileged ivory towers. Robin concludes his introduction by stating that the “time seems right for Andrew Britton’s posthumous comeback, and I look forward to seeing his work disseminated among film students. His sharp perceptions, often unanswerable judgments, and at times brilliant wit should certainly appeal to them. These readings of individual films and of the work of major directors are surely unsurpassable in their depth of insight, their attention to detail, their fluent sense of the relations among director, genre, star presence, and historical background. We are living in a progressively deteriorating and collapsing civilization on a planet that may already be doomed by human greed and obstinacy. We cannot afford to lose the voices of intelligence and integrity in whatever field, in what may be the ultimate battle for life. Here is a voice that must not be lost.” (xviii)

Robin’s concluding sentences deserve quoting in full. They summarize not only what inspired him as a responsible critic throughout his life but also those very values motivating Andrew Britton in a very different way. Andrew explored diverse terrains of literature, psychoanalysis, and theory in a diligent and breathtaking manner often astounding his readers with the breadth of his knowledge and its inherent sincerity. I would extend Robin’s hopes towards dissemination of Andrew’s writings not just among film students but also to those informed circles of non-institutional readers found not only in The November 3rd Club, but also blogs such as www.davekehr.com. and the Shadowplay site run by David Cairns in Edinburgh. Many contributors there often exhibit love of film and incisive knowledge of critical issues rarely found in most branches of academia. The World Socialist Web Site also provides lively coverage not just of politics, but also Art and Culture in a manner worthy of Leon Trotsky whom Andrew admired and often cited in his writings. For any work to have relevance its relationship to issues affecting everyday life is crucial and this is the sense that motivated Raymond Williams to write, “Culture is Ordinary.” The time and effort will be worth any reader ready to undertake the rigorous responsibility of reading Andrew’s work that is actually accessible, challenging, and demanding.

Barry Keith Grant divides this anthology into four major parts. The first comprises five articles dealing with Hollywood Cinema: “Cary Grant: Comedy and Male Desire”; A New Servitude: Better Davis, Now, Voyager, and the Radicalism of the Woman’s Film”; “The Devil, Probably: The Symbolism of Evil”; “Sideshows: Hollywood in Vietnam”; and “Blissing Out: The Politics of Reaganite Entertainment”. They all form an excellent introduction to this anthology demonstrating Andrew’s critical intelligence and comprehensive knowledge of film as well as exhibiting a keen grasp of gender issues, sexual politics, history, and ideology characteristic of his best work. His unique article on Viet Nam War cinema contrasts highly with the lack of any parallel work being done today in the areas of the Iraq War and Afghanistan, the sole exceptions being the critical interrogations by David Sterritt and Joanne Laurier on the supposed merits of Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq War drama, The Hurt Locker. The short, but penetrating, “The Devil, Probably: The Symbolism of Evil” interrogates American and English roots of the Gothic tradition in relation to the seventies horror film and finds that tradition valuable, but problematic. “We rarely find in the horror movie, as we do in the American literary Gothic, the possibility that the transgressor may embody a positive critique of the norms. We don’t because (a) the social pressures inhibiting the suggestion of such a possibility operate, in Hollywood, with infinitely greater stringency, and (b) the hesitation registered by the Gothic is so fragile.” (71). Before arriving at Warwick University, Andrew had gained a first class degree in English and American Literature from King’s College, London, and this influence shows in his film criticism. Like Robin, Andrew recognized the centrality and relevance of the best achievements in literature to film. He also understood that Hollywood Cinema owed much to those formative cultural traditions existing within the novel and the particular influences writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, and Herman Melville had on cinema. Robin and Andrew laid the foundations for an exciting project linking literature and film in a critically intelligent manner far removed from the usual mundane “Literature into Film” adaptation class or numerically corporate “bums on seats” policies practiced by English Department Heads appealing to the lowest common denominator by catering to their prejudices showing how “cool” Quentin Tarantino actually is and strategically wishing to show Deans that they, too, could play the numbers game as well as any College of Business or Engineering. Andrew’s writing and teaching represent a challenging seriousness that few could emulate or actually counter. He showed what an English Department incorporating Film could be capable of. Had his pioneering work continued, he would have been readily able to combat the denigrating associations of “useless Media Studies!” used today against university film study in Britain’s increasingly reactionary philistine atmosphere where good courses are indiscriminately lumped together with those that are certainly mediocre and bad. Sadly, this is not the case today and various institutions where film studies is tolerated as in certain Colleges of Mass Communication (more aptly named Colleges of Miscommunication and Mediocre Arts) often reveal a corporate mentality, rabid anti-intellectualism, and denigration of the real potential of Film Studies. “This is a production department and you don’t count.” Woe betide any solitary film studies faculty existing in such institutions who criticize films such as Friday the 13th and others that intellectually insecure and vicious professors see as their models to knock on the gates of an artistically worthless El Dorado! “People of integrity work in Hollywood”!


Now Voyager (1942)

Part Two contains eleven articles on several Hollywood films. However, problems about editing decisions now appear. Naturally, Andrew’s sole book Katherine Hepburn: The Thirties and After can not be included for reasons of space – and this work also is essential reading for those interested in serious film criticism. Detour reappears from the 1993 Movie Book of Film Noir but why is not the equally excellent The Lady from Shanghai (that also appeared in the same collection) present? Such a lack (Lacanian implications, aside!) appears incomprehensible in a volume whose sub-title is “The Complete Film Criticism of Andrew Britton.” Complete it is not. “Selected” is a more accurate term and one wonders whether Barry Grant actually knew what he was doing as editor in the first place. “Notes on Pursued” is the truncated version of Andrew’s original Framework article drastically re-edited by Ian Cameron for the 1996 Movie Book of the Western. The original version that appeared in Framework 2.4 (1976): 4-15 was written as a response to Paul Willeman’s article on the film in the 1975 Edinburgh Film Festival Raoul Walsh booklet. This version eliminates not only much of Andrew’s important criticism of Willeman in an article originally sub-titled “a reply to Paul Willeman” but also many of his lucid readings from psychoanalytic texts. Grant presumably knew about this original version since it appeared in the same issue including that excellent article on The Reckless Moment and he needed to mention the original version in this book. It is a shame that Grant did not use the first version since this article needs to be seen in its original context as the genesis of what would become “The Ideology of Screen.” Here Grant’s practice resembles that of a corporate philistine Hollywood executive allowing a truncated version of what is believed to be originally a long and difficult film to go into distribution in the mistaken belief that audiences will appreciate it rather than trusting them to explore the complex nature of the first version. Ironically, Paul Willeman never responded to his article in the same way that devotees of Screen, the Wisconsin School, and Postmodernism never replied to Andrew’s brilliant challenges to their different attempts at academic hegemony. Also, since Grant includes “Metaphor and Mimesis: Madame de” that opens with a response to Paul Willeman’s contribution to a BFI booklet on Max Ophuls, this important context is missing from the heavily cut version of Pursued that appears here. Grant dates the Pursued article as 1996 and has no idea that the original article was written in 1976!  Although Andrew’s cineACTION response to the author of that miserable article “Pedagogy and the Perverse Text” is happily excluded, there are others that needed inclusion since they reveal the excellent critical and intuitive insights also characterizing his writings. His response to Rosalind Delmar’s review (that he took great offense towards) of Richard Dyer’s monograph Gays in Film that appeared in the 1978 summer issue Screen Education is one such example. As Brad Stevens comments “Since Barry Grant left out several of Andrew’s texts that were responses to pieces by other writers, it made sense that he would prefer the shorter version of the Pursued piece, but it was obviously a mistake to suggest that this was written in 1996. Andrew may have been incredibly talented, but even he wasn’t capable of writing articles after he had been dead for two years!”3  Are we thus expected by Grant to envisage a George Romero scenario in which Andrew joins forces with Big Daddy from Land of the Dead to attack the fortress of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with David Bordwell now cast in the role originally played by Dennis Hopper?

However, turning to these eleven articles, they are all worthy of reading ranging from key films such as Meet Me in St. Louis, Spellbound, The Reckless Moment, and Mandingo to those which have not stood the test of time such as Jaws, 10, The Great Waldo Pepper, and The Other Side of Midnight. These are still worth looking at to experience the same type of excellent criticism brought to the others. Andrew’s short article on The Exorcist unveils what really occurs in this film and the following comment should have been borne in mind by Mark Kermode who has called this problematic work, “The greatest film ever made” in his misguided BFI monograph ill-advisedly allowed to go into a second edition. “The horror movie increasingly forgoes the disaster movie’s insistence on the final restoration of ideological confidence, but The Exorcist, in its allegiance to the purifying/sublimating rites of Catholicism, retains it.” (232) It goes without saying that Andrew’s criticism puts to shame both Kermode’s monograph and its mostly shoddy companions in that institutional BFI series. There are exceptions, of course, as Robin’s Rio Bravo and his 1998 BFI monograph Wings of the Dove contributions show, and it is a tragedy Andrew never lived to contribute, assuming he would have been asked in the first place.

As well as the excellent psychoanalytic interrogation of Spellbound and the analysis of the family in Ophuls’s underrated family melodrama The Reckless Moment, the really outstanding articles in this section are those on Meet Me in St. Louis and Mandingo. Originally published in a 1977 issue of the Australian of Screen Theory (and not in 1994 as Grant again erroneously states!), Meet Me in St. Louis: Smith, or the Ambiguities” demonstrates again, Andrew’s excellent grasp of American literature and how he applies it to Hollywood cinema.4 Mandingo represents one of his greatest readings of a critically despised film, an attitude still followed by most critics to the present with the notable exception of Robin Wood.5 This, perhaps, is the best example of Andrew’s status as a highly accomplished radical film critic and a good introductory text for readers who may not be as familiar with the theoretical concepts used in other articles. It is an accessible article written for any intelligent reader who will soon ignore the prejudices of reviewers mentioned in the beginning of this essay and who will look deeply into this film and realize that Mandingo’s current derogatory status is unjustified. By close reading, intuitive attention to visual detail, performance and gesture, and making a clear case for its significance, Andrew demonstrates conclusively that in “its rigorous vitality and energy, it embodies qualities which are the opposite of defeatist. Mandingo is a masterpiece of Hollywood cinema.” (261)


Mandingo (1975)

During that stimulating period of 1976-77 where I studied for an M.A. in Film, three classes were offered for undergraduates: European Cinema, Hollywood Cinema and a seminar in the Western with faculty from the American Studies Department such as Edward Countryman and Ed Gallafent, the latter class highly memorable for the exchange of ideas delivered with Andrew and Robin also present. Those of us who were graduate students attended seminars organized by Robin influenced by those that took place in Oxford and Cambridge where we all discussed our work and engaged in challenging and positive intellectual debate. The third part of this collection contains five essays covering European Cinema. They range from articles dealing with Eisenstein, Humphrey Jennings, Max Ophuls’ Madame de, Bernardo Bertolucci, Jean-Luc Godard, and Werner Rainer Fassbinder’s Fox and His Friends. All contain brilliant insights into sexual politics and ideology with incisive critical interrogations into each film’s meanings that are second-to-none in comparison to our current era exemplified by “the poverty of film criticism”, a phrase I use ironically deliberately echoing Edward Thompson’s study The Poverty of Theory” (referring to Althusser) written several decades ago. I also recall Andrew’s ardent championship of Terry Lovell’s excellent 1980 monograph Pictures of Reality that also challenged several of the foundations of Screen Theory.


Madame de (1953)

Politics, like radical cinema, never really recovered from the failure of May 68. “Living Historically: Two Films by Jean-Luc Godard” rigorously analyzes problems affecting Vent d’Est and Tout Va Bien at the same time questioning Colin McCabe’s inaccurate and spurious conception of the “classic realist text” that caused as much damage to understanding English Literature as Laura Mulvey’s equally notorious “Visual Pleasure” article did to narrative cinema. Fortunately, we have advanced further since then and it is to Mulvey’s credit (but not McCabe) to have recognized flaws in the original argument and moved beyond orthodox Screen rigidity. Yet even in a decade when acolytes crossed to the other end of the road to avoid any contact with theoretical infidels according to whatever ideological fatwas emerged from the ayatollahs of 81 Dean Street, Andrew had already exposed flaws in the arguments of two articles then regarded uncritically as fundamentalist “gospel truth.” Seeing Tout Va Bien in a more positive light than its predecessor, he recognizes that “the film’s method is not an imposition of `knowledge’ – a set of truths and solutions – but an attempt to create that feeling awareness of our context which makes us fully individual, and which makes responsible commitment possible.” (365)

Awareness, responsibility, and serious commitment marked Andrew both as individual and gay man consciously aware of oppression and the false paths leading any ideological “outsiders” astray. Here, his essay on Fassbinder’s Fox and His Friends is exemplary. He again criticizes establishment misreading as well as exposing the dangerous flaws affecting film and director. “Its version of homosexuality degrades us all and should be roundly condemned.” (370) This article also complements his 1977 Gay Left 7 article aptly titled “For Interpretation: Notes Against Camp” that appears in Part Four ending with the warning sentence, “Camp is simply one way in which gay men have recuperated their oppression, and it needs to be criticized as such.” (383)


Fox and His Friends (1977)

Many inferior critics have misrepresented the achievements of Andrew and Robin. I’ve heard the comment made twice that they were using their classes “to promote homosexuality”, a demeaning remark designed to deflect attention away from the real challenges they represented. Having been present at many of their classes, I can refute this allegation. Both related the personal to the critical and political dimensions of both film and everyday life. They never used the classroom in such a doctrinaire and propagandist manner. At the same time, they were aware of several critical and ideological currents in the intellectual climate of the time that contained personal implications and explored them in different ways in relation to the films they studied and taught. Andrew was more familiar with the implications and pitfalls of theory than Robin was. He frequently attended Warwick University seminars on Lacan enabling him both to understand difficult ideas and then rigorously expose their false and inaccurate premises. Lacan was then regarded as a guru, the Screen version of H. Rider Haggard’s “She who must be obeyed.” Andrew never obeyed anybody. It is to his credit that he wrote the important article, “The Ideology of Screen”, one whose arguments still remain unanswered by devotees of that particular creed. The same applies to his 1988 critique of postmodernism accurately sub-titled “The Bourgeois Intelligentsia in the Age of Reagan” condemning a type of self-serving intellectual guru who still inhabit most English departments and institutional bodies such as the Modern Language Association and The Society for Cinema and Media Studies. That Screen article along with others dealing with critical movements such as the Wisconsin School, Postmodernism, Critical Theory and the Frankfurt School comprise the last part of this important anthology: Film and Cultural Theory. By now, the flaws affecting Screen and Postmodernism are well-known, except to those who still ignore and deny damning implications contained in Andrew’s above-cited articles. Significantly, Andrew also noticed certain links associating the Frankfurt School with Postmodernism that alternative internet sites such as The World Socialist Web Site often recognize in several of their features.

Although Andrew never lived to see the development of David Bordwell’s championship of cognitive film studies, he did recognize the intellectual poverty behind the Classical Hollywood Cinema opus. Although noting certain scholastic accomplishments in that work, Andrew immediately questioned its underlying philosophy that elevated mediocre work such as Sh! The Octopus to a strategic model text rather than recognizing the historical importance of the literary background and the creative achievements of Hollywood itself. Andrew’s essay took issue with a critical trend eager to reduce creative achievement to its most rudimentary forms (very much like a film production department slavishly following the contemporary Hollywood assembly line), denying the role of any creative director, and driving a stake into the heart of such dynamic and vital styles such as film noir.

“Its vile pedigree laid bare, and its promiscuous history of critical gang-bangs and one night stands held up for all to see, film noir falls to the ground in agony, clutching its bleeding ontologicals.” However, “Oblivion is generously withdrawn – but only on condition (it rapidly transpires) that film noir should agree to confine its `patterns of nonconformity’ within `specific and non-subversive conventions ‘(76) and that it should accept that it is as miserable as, and essentially indistinguishable from, all other objects of its kind. That is, film noir can be deemed to exist so long as it is prepared to lead a life of chastity from now on.” (448)

Many of Andrew’s best writings combine this type of wit and critical interrogation. But what did he champion as an alternative? It was that espoused by his 1986 essay, “In Defense of Criticism.”  In this article, he stressed important ideas. “No film theory is worth anything which does not stay close to the concrete and which does not strive continuously to check its own assumptions and procedures in relation to producible texts.” (373) He never attacked theory itself but stressed what is missing in most approaches that deny a criticism that can avoid the worst kind of academism leading to narcissistic, pedantic, introverted, and a-political approaches. “Obviously, there can be no criticism without theory, but it is equally the case that there can be no viable theory without a viable sense of the critical function.” (376) Today, we are faced with far more worse films than Rambo and Hail Mary cited in the concluding paragraph of this article. His final words are more relevant today than ever before. Andrew noted that criticism, by itself, can not change things “but it is therefore all the more necessary to attempt to maintain the sense of what an oppositional film culture is, or might be. The time, in fact, is now ripe for a reconsideration of the past and a revaluation of methods and strategies on the basis of a cogent radical position.” (377)

Publication of this weighty anthology at a time when several university presses are facing closure and others reducing their page lengths is something for Wayne State University Press to take pride in. It is important that these essays be read by a wider audience. However, despite my pleasure in re-reading these articles and discovering others for the first time, I can not end this review on a wholly positive note. Many errors and mistakes mar this collection and I can only hope that a second edition will appear soon under a different editor with the errors all corrected. This collection is still important and needs to be read. Fortunately, the problems are not enough to drastically affect its value but they still remain and need immediate attention.

As Brad Stevens noted in his Sight and Sound review, this so-called “Complete Film Criticism” also lacks the inclusion of Andrew’s article on documentary film, “Invisible Eye” that would have ideally complemented his cineAction article on Humphrey Jennings.6 Several errors occur in this book that cast grave doubt on Grant’s role as editor. The reprinting of “Cary Grant: Comedy and Male Desire” from cineAction! 7 (1986): 36-51 contains the same error that appeared in that version. Page 503, note three reads “An Affair to Remember is a close re-make of McCarey’s Love Affair (1939) in which Nickie had been played by Charles Boyer, and there are evident affinities between the Grant characters in Gaslight and Notorious and the Boyer characters in Gaslight…” This article first appeared in a monograph published by the Tyneside Film Theatre in 1983 and this version reads as follows. “An Affair to Remember is a close re-make of McCarey’s own Love Affair (1939) in which Nikkie had been played by Charles Boyer, and there are evident affinities between the Grant characters in Suspicion and Notorious….”(no page). Not only do the names of this Boyer character differ in both versions but Barry K.Grant has mistaken the name of a film he should have known about as well as failing to detect the error within the context of a sentence that should have made it obvious.

As Brad Stevens recognized in his brief, but cogent Sight and Sound review, Grant made another error that Andrew would have vehemently taken him to task for if he was still with us. In the letters section of cineACTION 29, (1992), 104, Andrew complained about a “grotesque editorial error in the published text of my essay on Now, Voyager” that he wished to bring to the attention of readers. Due to this editing error that Robin sincerely apologized for in the following letter, Andrew mentioned that “it does make nonsense of one of the most important theses in my article.” However, Grant allowed this error to continue. As somebody working in Canada and supposedly familiar with the contents of a distinguished Toronto film journal that published the work of a critic he supposedly respected, this is a really glaring and unforgivable error by somebody believing that Britton “was on a wavelength similar to mine.”(x) !

On p. 89, reference is made to an article written by Wood and Richard Lippe on The Deer Hunter that appeared in Body Politic. No reference to this appears in the bibliography and the full citation did not occur in the original Movie version. However, since both writers live in Toronto, Grant could easily have contacted them for a copy or done the type of library research most of us do in our own particular spheres. I also assume that the reference to “SAS” (a post-war British counter-insurgency force) on p. 94 that originally appeared in the Movie “Sideshows in Vietnam” article in reference to Cross of Iron is an error for “”SA” or “SS”? If so, that also could have been easily corrected. In his reproduction of the second part of the essay, “Sexuality and Power” Grant neither includes the essay by Noel Purdon that Andrew cites in his article in the bibliography nor does he supply the full citation that appears in a footnote accompanying that article in the original essay within the edited footnote that appears on note 3, p. 505 of this edition. For the benefit of readers who may wish to look up the citation, Purdon’s article appeared in Gay Cinema Papers 10 (Sept/October 1976). This occurs in the original (but not the reprinted) version. At the beginning of “Metaphor and Mimesis: Madame de”, Grant supplies a footnote indebted to a colleague in Brock University’s Department of Classics to clarify what Andrew may have meant in his use of the Latin term “salve mecum” (314). However, he does not perform the same type of diligent activity when Andrew critiques the work of linguist and sociologist Basil Bernstein (1924-2000) using the term “Bernsteinism” (390). Although the context may elucidate the significance of this character in the section, “Knowledge: Product or Process?” surely Grant could have visited the Sociology Department of his University to supply a footnote explaining the role of Bernstein and his theories as he attempts to do with a Latin reference? Again, some extra work on bibliographical citations would have been helpful.

Grant also misspells the surname of “Timpanaro” in the bibliography. The full citation referring to Eric Mottram in the reprinted “Ideology of Screen”, 397 (that Andrew does not supply) could have been researched and inserted in the bibliography. This also holds true for the reference to Don McPherson (400)

Although Grant acknowledges Linda 0’Doughda as being “astonishingly diligent in her copyediting of the manuscript” (xi) she should not be placed in the unfortunate position of sacrificial victim like that young Mexican soldier in The Wild Bunch who accidentally fires a shot at the title characters and pays for this minor error. Rather, if we follow that well known saying of President Harry Truman, “The buck stops here”, the blame clearly lies on the head of the General Editor of Wayne State University’s Contemporary Approaches to Film and Television Series, someone who describes himself in the preface as being entrusted with this important task “as an editor of some experience” editing the work of an author who “left little for even the most assiduous editor to do…..(x) Grant needed to do much more and deserves to be delivered into the tender hands of General Mapache and the Gorch Brothers to atone for such glaring examples of editorial incompetence that mar this work.

I supply these corrections not to reproduce any parallel to my encounter years ago evoking a response - “How dare he write this review! People won’t read the book as a result” - but more in the hope that these errors will be corrected and make it better in a second edition that should be re-titled “The Selected Film Criticism of Andrew Britton”. More work needs to be done in re-publishing other examples of his writings especially the reviews he wrote for Framework and other publications.

To conclude, as mentioned above, these flaws do not really undermine the significant nature of this work. It is a highly relevant study with issues still important today. Sadly, Andrew is no longer around to engage in debating several issues such as to whether Lacanian psychoanalysis still represents an important critical tool and if the status of Zizek today is really deserved. One regrets the lost opportunity to read a debate between Andrew and Reynold Humphries who does use Lacan and Zizek in a more critical and serious manner than Screen ever did.7 However, many problems still remain in the way this collection has been edited. It is an affront to the memory of such a meticulous scholar that they do occur when they could so easily have been detected and altered had some more diligent work been done by this “editor of some experience.” Remembering that screening of Twilight’s Last Gleaming mentioned above, I recall how the audience responded to the comment, “There are no midgets in the United States Air Force” but now another one haunts me after reading this collection. “I chose the wrong man for the job”. Hopefully, these mistakes will not deter anyone who is prepared to read this very important work of film criticism and it is to be hoped that Wayne State University Press will soon bring out a corrected edition, perhaps by a different editor (Brad Stevens, maybe?) having essential qualities of meticulous observation and comprehensive knowledge who would avoid the howlers and inaccuracies that mar this work. In the meantime, an inserted list of errata accompanying all future copies of this edition would be highly welcome.


Movie Magazine 27/28

Notes.

  1. As Humphrey Bogart once said on screen, “I kid you not.” These incidents actually happened and I keep the names of the perpetrators anonymous if only to protect the guilty since neither would have any appropriate sense of shame. Also, a former Chair of my English Department wanted me to teach a Core Curriculum class in the sense of a “feel good” experience and “bite my tongue” rather than criticize the films of Quentin Tarantino now regarded as a “cool deity” not only by most students but also some misguided academics! If only Andrew had lived to subject this figure to his type of well-deserved withering criticism.
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  2. Any resemblance to the state of Illinois is purely accidental and these examples should not be taken to refer to any person, either living or dead.
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  3. Brad Stevens. Facebook email message 7 August,2009, 2.14 pm.
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  4. Although Grant cites the cineACTION 35 (1994) issue in his acknowledgements to journals “for permission to reprint material which was originally published in their pages” this article was not “originally published” there. Had Grant done his homework as editor he would have discovered that this essay originally appeared in The Australian Journal of Screen Theory 3 (1977). Grant would also have found the name of Noel Purdon on the editorial board who he could have contacted about the missing reference in the version of “Sexuality and Power, or the Two Others” incompletely reproduced in this supposedly “complete film criticism” anthology.
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  5. Wood, “Mandingo: The Vindication of an Abused Masterpiece,” Sexual Politics and Narrative Film: Hollywood and Beyond. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998, 265-282.
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  6. The review appeared in the April2009 issue of Sight and Sound on p.93. For this important missing article see Andrew Britton, “Invisible Eye,” Sight and Sound New Series 1.10, March 1992): 26-29.
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  7. I think here of two works by Reynold Humphries -   The American Horror Film: An Introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press (2002) and The Hollywood Horror Film 1931-1941: Madness in a Social Landscape. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. 2006. Possibly, Andrew would respect the integrity behind the use of Marxism and Psychoanalysis in the second book especially and engage in a very positive dialogue with the author. Alas, this also is no longer possible.
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