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Once derided as senseless entertainment, movies have gradually assumed a place among the arts. Raymond Haberski's provocative and insightful book traces the trajectory of this evolution throughout the twentieth century, from nickelodeon amusements to the age of the financial blockbuster.
Haberski begins by looking at the barriers to film’s acceptance as an art form, including the Chicago Motion Picture Commission hearings of 1918–1920, one of the most revealing confrontations over the use of censorship in the motion picture industry. He then examines how movies overcame the stigma attached to popular entertainment through such watershed events as the creation of the Museum of Modern Art’s Film Library in the 1920s.
The arguments between Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris’s heralded a golden age of criticism, and Haberski focuses on the roles of Kael, Sarris, James Agee, Roger Ebert, and others, in the creation of “cinephilia.” Described by Susan Sontag as “born of the conviction that cinema was an art unlike any other,” this love of cinema centered on coffee houses, universities, art theaters, film festivals, and, of course, foreign films.
The lively debates over the place of movies in American culture began to wane in the 1970s. Haberski places the blame on the loss of cultural authority and on the increasing irrelevance of the meaning of art. He concludes with a persuasive call for the re-emergence of a middle ground between art and entertainment, “something more complex, ambiguous, and vexing—something worth thought.”
Raymond J. Haberski Jr. is assistant professor of history at Marian College in Indianapolis.
"This brilliant feat of cultural storytelling re-stages a running tussle between traditional ideas about high Art and spontaneous popular appreciation that has wracked English-language film writing."—Audience Magazine
"A splendidly researched and argued account of American film criticism’s first golden age."—Bright Lights Film Journal
"Producing an interesting survey of familiar ground from a unique perspective, Haberski has written a book that will serve both serious students of the cinema and those looking for an introduction—a fine achievement."—Choice
"In this fine study of movies and cultural critics, Raymond Haberski does what few other writers on the subject manage: He places the endless debates over the cultural value of movies within the larger question of what culture should be. . . . A good read and an important work."—David Steigerwald
"A provocative study. . . . While there are many titles dealing with film culture, It’s Only a Movie! takes the subject much further and ponders the strangest of societal phenomenon, America’s love affair with motion pictures, the ramifications of this media in kneading contemporary thought, and the relevance of aesthetics in an information age."—Film & History
"The author raises some fascinating and controversial issues about filmmaking, such as how a director can become a genuine artist while turning out commercial pictures in the factory atmosphere of a film studio."—Gene D. Phillips
"My hope is that somehow—despite television, the Internet, and the flood of bland journalism—the old critical prowess can be revived. There was gallantry in that chivalric jousting, even if the knights were frequently errant."—John Simon, National Review
"Haberski’s survey of film criticism makes compelling reading, covering a subject on which rather little has been written."—Journal of American History
"Thought-provoking and meaningful. . . . If you are interested in 20th-century American culture, art, sociology or, most importantly, film, then you will want to take a look."—Lexington Herald-Leader
"In this informative and entertaining work, Haberski uses historical perspective, logical and chronological structure, and an unassuming but convincing voice to trace the shifting role of movies in American culture."—Library Journal
"This is the story of how an entertainment became an art—how people learned to take movies seriously without losing the pleasure movies give. It’s a longer and more complicated story than it might seem, touching on many personalities and ideas, and, in doing it full historical justice, Raymond Haberski’s book tells us something, as well, about how American culture acquired its self-confidence."—Louis Menand
"A must-read for critics and would make a sure-fire addition to the library of movie buffs everywhere."—Online Film Critics Society
"If you like thinking about movies, rather than just sitting for some entertainment, and are interested in the American history of film criticism, this is a book you will enjoy."—Schmack
"Engages with issues of fundamental concern to anyone with an involvement in film studies."—Sight and Sound
"This witty take on the importance of movie marketing includes excepts from influential critics such as Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris."—Variety
"Examines the origin of film criticism, exposes the critics who got a little too critical and even explores whether cinema is an art worthy of critique."—Video Age
"The story Haberski tells has, in current Hollywood parlance, a good arc."—Wilson Quarterly
The University Press of Kentucky
Place of Publication
Film criticism, Movie history, Film history
Film and Media Studies
Haberski, Raymond J. Jr., "It's Only a Movie! Films and Critics in American Culture" (2001). Film and Media Studies. 15.