Keep those curtains wide open. There’ll be plenty to see (and discuss) around here for the next little while. The topic? The films of King Vidor.
Aficionados know all about this guy’s snakes and ladders journey across the first perilous century of film criticism. One of the most revered figures in Hollywood during the 1920s, Vidor’s rep probably took an even bigger hit than Frank Borzage’s during the latter stages of his own lifetime (1894-1982).
It’s not hard to see why.
For one thing, during the classical (sound) era, the director gravitated increasingly toward the kind of no holds barred melodrama that critics in search of cultural capital felt duty-bound to deride. Today, looking back from the other side of the “high-/low- brow” divide, we understand that the people who savaged Vidor’s “bourgeois sentimentality” (usually expressed in the same gendered terms used to marginalize ANY art centered upon the emotional life of the modern subject) were far more trapped within the middle-class looking glass than they knew. To me, nothing smacks more of “false consciousness” than the pallid observations of critical theory. I mean, really, how you gonna have a revolution without Ruby Gentry or Rosa Moline (or the intense dissatisfaction they represent)?
Another major aspect of the “Vidor problem” is the director’s wild rightward shift across the political spectrum, during the 1940s and 1950s. HOW did the director of The Crowd and Our Daily Bread wind up making An American Romance? It’s a real puzzler–at least on the surface. Not a good idea just to dismiss it either–not if you really want to understand what the hell happened to the country as a whole, after the end of the Great Depression.
And you know, it’s exactly the kind of problem that a student of Transcendentalism (and its effects upon American aesthetic and political culture) might be able to do something with. That’s me. Also, as luck would have it, Vidor was enough of an intellectual to proclaim his Emersonianism in a number of places–most notably in his aesthetic autobiography (A Tree Is A Tree) and in the 1964 documentary Truth and Illusion: An Introduction To Metaphysics. So the stage is set–and (thanks to the magic of avi files) I now have access to ALL of the sound films and a large percentage of the silents (including all of the key entries from Vidor’s glory days at MGM under Thalberg).
So we’re gonna do it. Chronologically, I think (with an introductory piece on Truth and Illusion to kick things off). I’d love to promise one entry every week, but I won’t go quite that far. This blog is never gonna be completely stable. I’m sure King Vidor would approve of that.