Movie Criticism: French Cahiers du Cinema and American Reviewers

In 1951, the French critics Andre Bazin and Jacques Doniol-Valcroze founded in Paris Cahiers du Cinema, which immediately became the most influential magazine devoted to the study of film as an art form.

For two decades, Cahiers became the dominant critical voice in European and American cinema, due to a number of reasons.

Bazin, who co-edited the magazine until his (untimely) death, in 1958, surrounded himself with a cohort of talented writers-devotees, including Truffaut, Rohmer, Godard, and Rivette. Eventually, most of them went on to become distinguished directors, providing the core for what became known as La Nouvelle Vague.

From its beginning, the guiding editorial principle of Cahiers du Cinema was auteurism, based on Truffaut’s 1954 seminal essay, “La politique des auteurs.” The French New wave was a direct outgrowth of the auteurist theories promulgated by Cahiers.

Equally important was Cahiers’ reevaluation of mainstream Hollywood cinema, elevating the prestige of such “commercial” filmmakers as Hitchcock, Ford, Hawks, and Nicholas Ray, who weren’t taken seriously by American critics.

Cahiers established a critical tradition that didn’t distinguish between serious art films and commercial entertainment, an approach later embraced by the two most powerful critics in American history: Andrew Sarris, then writing for the Village Voice,¬†and Pauline Kael, the reviewer for the New Yorker.

The philosophy, which translates into according the same serious analysis to Jonathan Demme’s horror flick, The Silence of the Lamb as to his more prestigious but pretentiously earnest drama, Beloved, continues to define most critics’ work.