Novelist James Agee was famous during the 1940s for his movie reviews in The Nation and Time — indeed, W. H. Auden called those reviews “the most remarkable regular event in American journalism today.” I’m reading some of them now, and they’re so terrific that they prompt me to emit involuntary outbursts of glee. His writing somehow packs all manner of ideas into single sentences without taking on that confusing and bloated quality that one sees in one’s own writing. For example, about the film Out of the Past (above) Agee writes:

In love scenes [Robert Mitchum’s] curious langour, which suggests Bing Crosby supersaturated on barbiturates, becomes a brand of sexual complacency that is not endearing. Jane Greer, on the hand, can best be described, in an ancient idiom, as a hot number.

I can’t even tell you how happy this kind of writing makes me. And how much it makes me need to see Out of the Past again. And how much it makes me warn amateurs against attempting such feats of descriptive gymnastics. (Many thanks to the Unexplained Cinema site, which turned me on to Agee’s collected film writing.)

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