THE INVOLVEMENT OF Author and Film began virtually with the inception of cinema in the 1890s. It is a story of wonderment that gradually becomes disenchantment. The earliest writings in this book chronicle the delight of writers witnessing the birth of a new muse, rejoicing in her magic and her vigor, and heralding her promise for the artists of the twentieth century. But in the later writings we hear, increasingly, the voices of disillusion—disillusion with the medium and what it does to the work of writers, disillusion with the film industry as a willing tool of capitalism, disillusion with the industry’s pusillanimous standards, its internal decadence and external puritanism, its prostitution of talent, disillusion with public taste, and ultimately—by implication—with the integrity and value of anything that smacks of mass culture.
To the movie buff and perhaps to the average moviegoer, much of this may sound like sour grapes: the writers resentment at seeing his art eclipsed in popularity by the new mass media. In fact, there is much evidence to indicate that the creative film-maker has suffered more than the creative writer. Von Stroheim’s Greed, Eisens tein’s Que Viva Mexico!, John Huston’s The Red Badge of Courage exist only in incomplete, mangled states, while writers’ works that have been butchered in film adaptations remain inviolate in their original form. For all their complaints about Hollywood’s prostitution of the writer, few if any writers have actually been forced onto the Hollywood treadmill, and many of those who damned it have been pleased to pocket the profits without in any way exerting themselves to change the system. Moreover, the Hollywood experience has actually inspired numerous novels (aside from a considerable number of movies). If film adaptations have often violated the letter and spirit of their literary sources, it should not be forgotten that, by way of recompense, countless writers, from Joyce and Virginia Woolf onward, have borrowed and adapted film techñiques for use in their own works of fiction. Also, if film has frequently contributed to the debasement of public taste, the fact should not be overlooked that it has sometimes shown itself capable of high art. Curiously, some of the writers represented in this book, among the most sensitive spokesmen for their times, have been most insensitive where film is concerned. Their in־ sensitivity has extended all the way from ignorant intolerance of film techniques to wholesale rejection of the medium on the basis of personal or political prejudices. Yet, repeatedly, one deteets an irresistible fascination with what is being attacked, one senses that in spite of his indictments the writer has often eherished a subtle love-hate attitude toward film.
This book will, it is hoped, reveal many aspects of writer attitudes. Its material is divided into five sections. These simply indicate broad similarities or relationships of subject matter. Some of the pieces will, however, be seen to belong appropriately to more than one section. The first part of the book contains artides, essays and reviews pertaining to the silent cinema and the transition to sound. The second section provides a selection of general statements on the film medium or film-makers and their messages. This is followed by several pieces dealing with the problems, involvements and reflections of the writer as screen-writer. A fourth section is concerned with the Hollywood experience as seen by four American novelists. The book coneludes with several pieces, mostly of a lighter nature, about a small galaxy of Hollywood stars.
It must be emphasized that the book is a miscellany. The editor has, quite deliberately, endeavored not to select and shape the material in it so as to express some preconceived themes that will satisfy his own rather dubious prejudices. Instead, he has cast his net widely in order to expose as many different aspects as possible of the writer’s interest in or involvement with film. He has also ranged from the searching to the superficial, with the conviction—for better or worse—that it is often as revealing to show an author being superficial about one serious subject as to present him being thoughtful and sober about another. Thus the reader must expect to find himself at times more interested in and surprised by who is making a particular statement and what attitudes and level of sophistication are being expressed than in what is actually being commented on.
At this point the editor must stand aside and allow the curtain to be rung up. Any attempt on his part to introduce the reader to the most distinguished array of contributors to any film book yet published would be either superfluous or unpardonably presumptuous.
Harry M. Geduld