grousing in the service of someone else’s nostalgia


In April 1922, D.W. Griffith traveled to London to promote Orphans of the Storm, his epic of the French Revolution. To a skeptical Times interviewer he described the literary origin of his signature contribution to film technique: the “‘break’ in the narrative, a shifting of the story from one group of characters to another group.” As Sergei Eisenstein observed on discovering the exchange, “Griffith arrived at montage through the method of parallel action”—cross-cutting—“and he was led to the idea of parallel action by—Dickens!” Motion Picture Studio, to which the young Alfred Hitchcock was a contributor, thought Griffith’s visit had made plain “for the first time the all-importance of the director to the films for which he is responsible.” Soon after, the Manchester Guardian’s Caroline Lejeune, later part of Hitchcock’s circle, noted the cults that had gathered around certain directors on the basis of a few films “built on the same lines.” Once canonized, she wrote, “every little gleam of beauty is magnified a hundredfold,” and their work, “even in embryo, will be enwrapped in a legend of quality which it would take a very serious blunder to destroy.” Three decades before it was given a name, Lejeune had identified the politique des auteurs by which the young critics of Cahiers du Cinéma made their magazine’s reputation, beginning in 1953 when Jacques Rivette proclaimed “The Genius of Howard Hawks” on the release of his screwball-throwback, Monkey Business.

more from Henry K. Miller at n+1 here.