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

From Script to ScreamRichard 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.
Caligari’s Children 
by S.S. Prawer.
Oxford, 307 pp., £8.95, March 1980, 9780192175847
Show More
The Cinema of Loneliness: Penn, Kubrick, Coppola, Scorsese, Altman 
by Robert Phillip Kolker.
Oxford, 395 pp., £8.50, April 1980, 0 19 502588 1
Show More
Show More

S. S. Prawer is Taylor Professor of German Language and Literature at Oxford. Robert Phillip Kolker is Associate Professor of Film Studies (in the Department of Communication Arts and Theatre) at the University of Maryland, College Park. But don’t let the insignia fool you. Both gentlemen, I suspect, are movie fans at heart. Their books are certainly most alive and energetic when analysing specific pictures, virtually frame by frame.

Professor Prawer quotes, and might have taken as his epigraph, D. H. Lawrence’s remark on ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’: ‘It is lurid and melodramatic, but it is true.’ ‘The terror-fantasies of one generation,’ he reminds us later, ‘may – like some of the writings of Kafka – eerily anticipate the realities of the next.’ This, of course, was the starting-point of Siegfried Kracauer’s 1947 treatise From Caligari to Hitler: but Professor Prawer finds broader and deeper justification for studying films which might otherwise be dismissed as kitsch. He shows in systematic detail how the themes and properties of horror and terror movies correspond to inner uncertainties: he traces their literary lineage: he ponders, rather briefly, on their social effects. He writes with jaunty stamina about such works as Blood and Black Lace, Lust for a Vampire or Scream and scream again. But he reserves his serious attention for three especial landmarks: Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr and Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.

The version of Dr Jekyll most familiar to British viewers now is probably Victor Fleming’s, made in 1941. Professor Prawer commends its music – ‘more and more sinister metamorphoses of “You should see me dance the polka’” – oddly missing its ‘respectable’ theme tune, ‘There’s a lovely lake in London’. He’s quite right, however, to see Mamoulian’s 1932 film as the pioneering work. As he shows in some detail, Mamoulian and his scriptwriters both cut and expanded Stevenson’s original tale. They stressed the chill, vapid nature of Dr Jekyll’s social milieu; they pointed up Hyde’s aggressive sensuality; they invented visible features for the terrifying face which Stevenson had only guardedly described. Professor Prawer’s account of the adaptation is not only evocative but illuminating. It even reinstates a key scene – a cat successfully stalking a bird – which some well-meaning vandal has removed from all the surviving prints.

Similar busybodies have apparently been snipping away at Dreyer’s Vampyr in what Professor Prawer calls ‘doomed attempts’ to make it ‘more commercially viable’. In reality, as he says, the film’s stealthy pace and grey haziness are the secret of its power. He quotes Dreyer:

Imagine that we are sitting in a ordinary room. Suddenly we are told that there is a corpse behind the door. In an instant, the room we are sitting in is completely altered; everything in it has taken on another look; the light, the atmosphere have changed, and the objects are as we conceive them. That is the effect I want to get in my film.

The literary source for Vampyr was Sheridan Le Fanu’s collection of stories, Through a Glass Darkly; and Professor Prawer traces how eclectically Dreyer used not one but several of the tales – including the account of a man in a cataleptic trance: ‘I could hear and see anything as distinctly as ever I did in my life. It was simply that my will had, as it were, lost its hold of my body.’ A good description of someone watching a horror movie – involved but powerless, transfixed by uncontrollable events. As Simone de Beauvoir once quaintly put it, ‘when I go into a cinema, my praxis is paralysed.’ Many films resemble dreams or nightmares: many directors are Luna-park sorcerers, turning the spectator into a spellbound voyeur.

Caligari, Professor Prawer’s third main exhibit, openly acknowledged its links with the fairground peepshow. As several critics have pointed out, it was one of the first films to exploit the resemblance between watching films and dreaming – a reflection on which Professor Prawer thoughtfully expands. The ‘framework’ story, revealing at the end that the whole plot is a madman’s fantasy, may not have been the director’s own idea, and some commentators have dismissed it as a cop-out. For Professor Prawer, it’s essential to the film’s disturbing ambiguity. It could imply another, unseen ‘framework’, in which the ‘madman’ is sane and the asylum’s director demented. Readers of R. D. Laing or Doris Lessing may well respond to these resonances, as I do myself; and I find equally telling Professor Prawer’s defence of Caligari against purist attacks on its ‘theatricality’ and its stylised painted sets. As he stresses, it was not at all a backwater, but a source for the iconography of countless later films, including key works by G. W. Pabst, Fritz Lang and Ingmar Bergman.

And, of course, for an immense quantity of bloodcurdling trash. So blasé have we now become that gaping graves, clawing skeletal fingers, jagged lightning, and creaking iron-studded doors have an air of apple-pie folksiness: come on in, kids, the gang’s all here. ‘Camp’ was once the highbrow’s word for it: but lowbrows too have long relished the mock-terrors of the old dark house. Movies in that genre rarely scared anyone past adolescence. The same applied to the films noirs of the 1940s. Bogart was never really a bogey-man.

So Professor Prawer’s book is in part a nostalgic tribute to minor pleasures outgrown. He glances at some recent works in the canon: Robin Hardy’s rather unconvincing The Wicker Man, Nicholas Roeg’s dazzling Don’t look now, even William Friedkin’s grotesque gallimaufry The Exorcist – whose best section was surely its prologue, jangling the nerves with a loud, jumpy soundtrack broken by the sudden clatter of rocks. Stepping warily through this suspect territory, Professor Prawer keeps his academic guard up, even quoting Wittgenstein to explain the expression ‘family resemblances’ – although his scholarship falters when he twice calls Mrs Enid Wistrich, the critic of censorship, ‘Elaine’. But the strength of his book is its sanity: Professor Prawer is a man of decency and taste. He deplores gory excesses; he worries about the effect of terror films on children and the sick; he condemns as an abomination ‘the growing number of films in which animals are deliberately set on fire, maimed, and killed’. Among them, I’m sorry to say, are Ermanno Olmi’s L’Albero degli zoccoli and Francesco Rosi’s Cristo si è fermato a Eboli, both otherwise deeply humane films.

More and more present-day movies, in fact, contain scenes that are sickening to watch. We pay at the box-office knowing we’re in for an ordeal. It’s not the frisson of horror films, or the squalid but contained mayhem of Warner Brothers gangster epics: it’s violent cruelty, real or so well simulated that it wounds us just the same. Can anyone who saw it forget the ending of Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde – bullets slamming the bodies to and fro like flapping sails, the camera gloating while two people are destroyed? As Robert Phillip Kolker says in The Cinema of Loneliness, ‘Bonnie and Clyde opened the bloodgates, and our cinema has barely stopped bleeding since.’ Investors in bloodsquib factories must have made a killing, no less. Why the obsession? In Professor Kolker’s view, ‘bloodletting in American film, whether caused by repressive authority or by an individual seeking revenge, speaks to some immediate needs and fantasies which grow out of fear or a desire to see our enemies easily disposed of. They may grow as well from a desire for action in an otherwise passive existence, a desire, finally, to see in film the otherwise unseeable, to partake from a distance in acts that would be inconceivable in actuality.’ That leaves a lot of options open, but fear, enforced passivity and eagerness to ice one’s enemies all seem likely enough in post-Vietnam, post-Opec, post-Afhanistan, post-Ayatollah America.

The new anxieties are also economic. Many films now stress loneliness, Professor Kolker fancies, because the studio system has collapsed. ‘The “old Hollywood” studio was a guild of craftsmen, individuals who worked together on film after film, sharing, influencing each other. The much-overpraised freedom of the new film-makers often turns out a freedom to be alone.’ Alone – and doubly insecure, as uncertain of their audience as they are of their finance. Since Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, especially, backers have been greedy for blockbusters, spurning more modest projects precisely because they cost – and promise – less. ‘Too much film-making is now based on an enormous gamble supported by enormous hype.’

This barbed relationship with the banks may explain why so many writers and directors take occult revenge on their creditors, openly or covertly attacking ‘the system’, ‘the politics of repression’, or ‘capitalism’ itself. Professor Kolker trendily agrees with them. Discussing the two Godfather films, he seems to equate businessmen with gangsters, and calls the Cuban episode in Godfather II ‘one of the most hopeful moments of political insight in American film’. By the same token, he vastly exaggerates the filmic appeal of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in ‘their need to be free of their society’s restrictions’. Banjo music notwithstanding, I found them totally unwinsome, and could never share the ‘sympathy’ and ‘admiration’ Professor Kolker thinks they evoke. Equally debatable is his judgment of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove – ‘the complete text of politics as a deadly joke, a text that has become more and more accurate in the years since its first appearance’.

The Cinema of Loneliness has other weaknesses which may put readers off. Its tone is sometimes arrogant: ‘the humdrum mind of an astronaut’, ‘conventional romantic couplings and domestic unions’, ‘people who do not and never will experience overwhelming insights and emotions’. Many of its own insights, some of them humdrum, are carefully credited to Professor Kolker’s students, one of whom was ‘anxious to love’ M.A.S.H., but presumably got bullied out of it, poor chap. The book also broods unhelpfully on what it calls ‘noir’ – the essence of films noirs – and it contains such solecisms as ‘due to’ (for ‘owing to’), ‘disinterested’ (for ‘uninterested’), and ‘as open and malleable as its structure of meaning might be’. Over to you, Department of Communication Arts.

And yet, despite all this, Professor Kolker has produced an original and provocative work. He might have gone deeper, admittedly: Professor Prawer, for example, would surely have noticed how closely the narration in Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon actually followed Thackeray, and how far the ‘distancing’ camera-work reflected the book’s equivocal irony. But Professor Kolker is a cinephil rather than a littérateur; and his real qualities emerge in his analyses of individual films. It’s extraordinarily hard to pull back from the spell of novelty and evaluate recent movies more than impressionistically. Professor Kolker can, and his judgments are often telling. Robert Altman’s A Wedding is ‘a stony gaze at a pack of unattractive people’. Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver ‘is not a documentary of the squalor of New York City but the documentation of a squalid mind driven mad by what it perceives’. ‘By 1976 the simulation of violence had reached a level of mindlessness and predictability that left only three alternatives: exaggerate it to more insane proportions ...; show an actual death; or forget the whole thing, retire the various forms of brutality and consider some other manifestations of human behavior.’

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.