In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick


Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Short Cuts: Harry Goes Rogue

Jonathan Parry

The Schoolmen ride againRichard Mayne

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website ( — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.

  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Cinema: A Critical Dictionary: The Major Film-Makers 
edited by Richard Roud.
Secker, 1120 pp., £25, February 1980, 9780436428302
Show More
The Dream that Kicks: The Prehistory and Early Years of Cinema in Britain 
by Michael Chanan.
Routledge, 356 pp., £12.50, January 1980, 0 7100 0319 6
Show More
Show More

As good new films grow fewer, books on the cinema multiply. Is critical attention the sign of a dying art? Or is it that more films now merit scrutiny? It’s tempting to think that they do – until we remember how many critics anatomise trivia, how much trash still accumulates, and how often this month’s masterpieces turn into the schlock of yesteryear. No: the fact is that movie critics have changed.

There was once a time when Roger Manvell’s 1944 Pelican Book, Film, was a central work in most British film-buffs’ libraries. There were the Russian early fathers, of course, all tractors and montage; there was Paul Rotha; there were histories and how-to handbooks; there was Alistair Cooke’s 1937 anthology of film reviews, Garbo and the Night Watchmen. The rest was fanfare.

Then came a challenge. In 1947, four years ahead of Cahiers du Cinéma, Lindsay Anderson and his friends from the Oxford Film Society founded the magazine Sequence, and in effect launched Britain’s own new wave. Reread today, Sequence seems impressionistic, zesty, untouched by glum foreign dogmas. Bliss was it in that dark to be alive. Now, the new wave has become the Establishment – making films, writing for them, flying between Tangier and Hollywood, or editing less ephemeral magazines. Over the pebbly beach, fresh new waves curl constantly – Marxist, structuralist, semiologist, psychoanalytic. All are closer to academe than to Soho Square or Fleet Street. Most seem more concerned with theory than with evaluating films as works of art. This latterday scholasticism has odd results. At its crudest, it promotes film-makers with the right (i.e. Left) ideology. More subtly, it acclaims those whose work is most open to scholastic analysis. And because it often dissociates ends and means, it treats with immense solemnity high-grade entertainment films like those of Hawks or Hitchcock, to say nothing of low-grade melodramas by Samuel Fuller. So powerful is fashion, however, that sensible critics feel rather like the nervous citizens in High Noon when the new film schoolmen come riding into town.

Richard Roud is a sensible critic, formerly the Guardian’s film reviewer and now Director of the New York Film Festival. ‘I tend to be wary,’ he says, ‘of systematic criticism and of any form of critical terrorism. And therefore wary of the new kinds of film criticism which have arisen over the past decade.’ ‘Wary’ might mean just ‘suspicious’, but other remarks in Roud’s Introduction to his Cinema: A Critical Dictionary hint at a subtext: ‘slightly afraid’.

The two volumes look like an encyclopedia: 234 articles of various lengths, mainly about directors, arranged alphabetically, and chiefly by writers from Britain, France and the United States. Roud himself supplies 17 of them, including perceptive essays on Bresson and Renoir; he has chosen the fine illustrations, and he makes supplementary comments, often with book-lists, alongside the entries themselves. ‘Most of the critical schools are represented; there has been no attempt to impose a monolithic point of view.’ So, as well as essays by familiar mainstream critics, the dictionary includes pieces from the Marxist Noel Burch, the ‘auteur’ theorist Andrew Sarris, the nouveau romancier Claude Ollier and the avant-gardist P. Adams Sitney. And yet, as Roud confesses, ‘this work is less an objective survey than a covert statement, a normative view of the art of the film.’

Roud lists his own ‘pantheon’ of favourite directors. Some are acknowledged masters like Dreyer, Renoir, Bresson, Olmi or Satyajit Ray. Others include less major talents – Vigo, Cocteau, Antonioni, Straub. But how does Lubitsch qualify? Or Sternberg, Hitchcock, Hawks and Orson Welles? Their inclusion seems to me like bracketing Conrad with Edna Ferber or Dashiell Hammett – worthy enough artificers, but not engaged in mature art of the kind which deepens our lives. Uneasiness grows when Roud admits to his ‘blind spots’: Eisenstein, Murnau, Mizoguchi, Rossellini and Bergman. To be fair, he prints long articles on all of them. But, as he says, ‘many names will not be found in the Dictionary’; and here his ‘covert statement’ seems to be tainted by critical fashion. Absences from even the detailed index include Yves Allégret, Juan Antonio Bardem, Berthold Bartosch, Laszlo Benedek, Jean Benoit-Lévy, Luis Garcia Berlanga, Michael Cacoyannis, Renato Castellani, André Cayatte, Costi Costa-Gavras, Vittorio De Seta (director of Banditi a Orgosolo), Thorold Dickinson, Julien Duvivier, Pietro Germi, Anatole Litvak, Jean Painlevé, Gillo Pontecorvo, Nicholas Roeg, George Rouquier, John Schlesinger, Henri Storck, John Sturges and Arne Sucksdorff.

And what are we to make of those who are mentioned in the text, but not favoured with individual entries? Pioneers like the Lumière brothers; veterans like Edward Dmytryk, Joris Ivens, Wolfgaang Staudte or Fred Zinnemann; younger directors like Peter Bogdanovich, Sergei Bondarchuk, Volker Schlöndorff or Andrzej Wajda? Why should Samuel Fuller rate more than twice as much space as Vittorio De Sica? Ah, says Roud, ‘the crash of De Sica’s reputation over the past decade has been the loudest of any director one can think of.’ Anyone for critical terrorism? And admirers of Jacques Tati will treasure another of Roud’s throwaway lines: ‘I wish I could fully share Fieschi’s views on Tati, but the disagreeable and to me totally unfunny Hulot seems to get in the way.’

Asides like these weaken confidence in the book as a work of reference. As a compendium, the admittedly imperfect Oxford Companion to Film is better value: as a personal conspectus, Eric Rhode’s 1976 History of the Film, or that neglected 1974 testament, The Long View, by Basil Wright. Still, Roud’s is a book worth having, if only to argue with. Its opinions, however wayward, may serve as a time-capsule from the cultural world of the late Seventies in parts of Paris, London and New York.

Even scholastic critics, in fact, have some insights to offer. As Richard Roud puts it, ‘the Marxist/materialist point of view, with its awareness of codes, is a useful corrective to any notion that film can exist outside society. It reminds us that the most seemingly innocuous films embody ideologies of which we should be aware’. Surprise, surprise.

Much Marxist writing, however, suffers from its own unexamined assumptions: a rancorous obsession with political ideology; the reductionist view that politics boils down to ‘the class struggle’; a sentimental supposition that ordinary people would somehow be sinless without ‘the capitalist system’; a reifying contempt for ‘the middle classes’ and ‘middle-class values’; adulation of the collective as against the individual; a cocksure belief in ‘scientific’ or ‘correct’ solutions to social problems; a touching faith that equality, once attained, could survive human greed and guile without coercion; and gullibility or lies about the withering-away of the state.

Some such presumptions underlie Michael Chanan’s dissertation, The Dream that Kicks. The title is from Dylan Thomas’s poem, ‘Our Eunuch Dreams’:

The dream that kicks the buried from their sack
And lets their trash be honoured as the quick.

The book claims to cover ‘The Prehistory and Early Years of Cinema in Britain’, but it’s not a work of film criticism. ‘The ideological function of film critics’, according to Chanan, is like that of ‘glorified advertising copywriters’, pointing up ‘the tiny differences between one brand and another’. He himself is music critic of Tribune, makes films, and lectures on them at the Central London Polytechnic. On music and optics and a few specific primitive films he is occasionally informative, but the bulk of his book is a rambling lecture on background matters that interest him – early trade unionism, copyright, the music hall, Whistler and Ruskin, the Victorian bourgeoisie. Like many Marxists, he seems to enjoy returning to the 19th century as to the simplified Wild West of folklore, with raffish, sexy cloth-cap-and-muffler goodies against straitlaced baddies in top hats.

‘The expression of dialectical thought,’ says Chanan, ‘often has to fight against the analytic tendencies in language itself, at any rate, those which operate in our present cultural atmosphere to try and impose literal meanings on our words.’ Does this mean that there are lies, damned lies, and dialectic? Peering painfully through Chanan’s distorting lenses, one might think so. Was the secret ballot introduced to break class solidarity and ‘privatise the vote’? Was charity intended for ‘social control’? Was ‘the function’ of ballads ‘the creation and transmission of the class sense of history’? Was the Renaissance invention of perspective an ‘original sin’?

Chanan’s manner throughout is one of didactic scolding: ‘once this is grasped’ – ‘we ought not to talk’ – ‘it is therefore correct to speak of the diorama as a bourgeois form’ – ‘as Audrey Field put it, a little too jokily’ – ‘is vital to correct understanding’ – ‘I’ve already explained’. There are countless quotations from fellow Marxists, many pages of rebarbative jargon, and at least one prize, priapic mixed metaphor: ‘the carrot of access to the North American market, which Eastman had dangled in front of Pathé so effectively, remained a powerful dupe that repeatedly reared its ugly head in later years ...’

I finished Chanan’s book unenlightened, unpersuaded and cross. How does such stuff get published? It must be ‘our present cultural atmosphere’. In Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, that great and generous Socialist R.H. Tawney – who didn’t believe that Socialism meant bullying – declared that ‘the last of the schoolmen was Karl Marx.’ Alas, how wrong he was.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.