The Times on Cinema – Review
By James Robinson
It’s incredible that there aren’t more books like this, considering the wealth of film coverage that appears in daily newspapers, only to be immediately relegated to the recycling bin. Editor Brian Pendreigh could have filled an entire library with Times articles exploring the past century of cinema; instead he’s made a compelling job of collating this miscellany of reviews, features, obituaries and ‘best of’ lists into a svelte 330 pages.
As you can imagine, what is left out and what’s included relies entirely on Pendreigh’s own taste, which tends to focus on cinema from the mid-twentieth century, so there is a notable lack of space afforded to films and film-makers that fall outside of this era: the work of the Coen Brothers and David Lynch hardly gets a look in, although both do better than Wes Anderson, who’s not featured at all.
On the other hand there are some fascinating excerpts concerning half-forgotten industry figures, such as screenwriter Alan Sharp and Wicker Man director Robin Hardy, which makes the volume as interesting for dedicated film buffs as it does for the general reader.
Considering such limited space, some of Pendreigh’s choices are perplexing: David Walliams’ and Simon Pegg’s thoughts on their favourite movies could probably have remained as chip wrappers, and there’s maybe too much reliance on lists of ‘greatest ever films/actors/genres,’ even if this does reflect how often such filler appears in the culture pages of the daily paper itself.
Where The Times on Cinema really separates itself from more straightforward collections of criticism is in the inclusion of news reports that lend fascinating context to the controversial films of their era. For instance there are a handful of stories detailing the violent crimes that were supposedly inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and reminders of the uproar (including a TV ban as late as 1985) that met Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
Most fascinating, however, are the dozens of reprints of contemporary reviews. It’s striking how frequently films that are now considered classics were met with sniffy write-ups on their original release. ‘Is The Godfather the greatest film ever made?’ began the paper’s 1972 review; ‘no, of course it isn’t, not by a long way, but it is very entertaining… like Airport.’ Hitchcock’s Vertigo, which recently trumped Citizen Kane in Sight and Sound magazine’s poll of finest films ever made, was dismissed as ‘not an important film or even major Hitchcock.’
So if one thing is clear from this compulsive and highly recommended collection, it’s this: never listen to the critics.
‘The Times on Cinema’ edited by Brian Pendreigh is published by The History Press, £20, ISBN: 9780750985444