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Otis Ferguson, The New Republic 1935

Posted 5/16/2016 4:13am by Eugene Wyatt.

Ferguson’s conversational tones, his populist sentiments, and his succinct, punchy writing style established him as a thinking man’s proletariat with his cerebral gears usually engaged on the how and the why certain movies worked. He fit his forum, The New Republic, as his tone seemed to court cineastes and intellectuals as well as the politically aware and literarily minded casual readers. His opinions were provocatively and often amusingly presented.

“No one can study the deceptive effortlessness with which one thing leads to another without learning where the true beauty of this medium is to be mined,” he wrote, admiring Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938). The critic tried to enlarge on this notion with his assessment of Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940), writing, “If you have any interest in the true motion or sweep of motion pictures, watching that man work is like listening to music ... . If you would like a seminar on how to make a movie travel the lightest and fastest way, in a kind of beauty that is peculiar to movies alone, you can see this once, and then again to see what you missed, and then study it twice.”

Ferguson recognized that film art is based in the primary aspects of dialogue writing, acting, camera framing and camera movement, and film editing. And he felt that the more seamless that these and other ingredients were combined by the director, the more effective any film would be. Ferguson felt that if he could detect showboating in a filmmaker, the less effective the final result would be. Unlike critics who would zero in on directors as distinctive stylists with persistent themes—Von Sternberg and Lubitsch—Ferguson argued that direction should parallel musical composition and should show little or no sign of itself.

The main reason Ferguson felt that Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941) amounted to “retrogression in film technique” was that it was unnecessarily showy, a movie that brandished technique.

The Complete History Of American Film Criticism (2010) Jerry Roberts, Loc 816.

My emphasis.