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Book review: Keepers: The Greatest Films - and Personal Favourites - of a Moviegoing Lifetime

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 July, 2015, 10:52pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 July, 2015, 10:52pm
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Everyone has a "hey, you really need to see this movie" list. But when the guy with the list has been reviewing films for 50 years, written dozens of books, palled around with and made numerous documentaries about many of Hollywood's biggest names, attention should be paid.

Richard Schickel, the long-serving Time magazine film critic, grew up in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, and cut his teeth on movies at the Times Cinema. Some of those memories turn up in Keepers, Schickel's new memoir/moviegoer to-do list. But mostly, he's put together a chatty run-through of movies that stayed with him - and some that didn't - shared in roughly chronological order.

There aren't a lot of surprises in Keepers: Schickel celebrates such inevitables as Casablanca (pictured) and Citizen Kane, as well as generally accepted classics such as Children of Paradise, the French fantasy shot during the Nazi occupation.

In part thanks to his impressive résumé as a documentary filmmaker specialising in movies about Hollywood's elite talents, Schickel also shares remembrances and recommendations of the works of giants he spent lots of time with, from James Cagney and Frank Capra to Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg.

To his credit, he's not afraid to dismiss movies that often top veteran critics' all-time-best lists: The Rules of the Game, Jean Renoir's 1939 masterpiece ("I take full responsibility for my failure to embrace it"); the crime standard The Maltese Falcon ("cramped and static"); The Seventh Seal, Ingmar Bergman's existential classic ("made my teeth ache").

And he's not shy about calling to task filmmakers he's worked with for their lesser efforts - while offering a healthy reminder that even the best can't be great all the time. "Surely, we don't judge Spielberg by 1941, do we?" he asks.

Schickel's insights, when he chooses to go a little deeper, are terrific and accomplish what they should in a book such as Keepers: make you want to see the movies he's writing about.

For example, he writes that the films of William Wellman, the first world war pilot-turned-filmmaker whose dramas were among Hollywood's most underrated, merit viewing because they have "the lack of dither".

And he name-checks the early film critics who laid the foundation for writers like him, who, as he acknowledges, had the good fortune to fall into the field in the 1960s, just as film was first being taken seriously as a medium in the US.

Maybe it's the inner BuzzFeed reader in me, but I was hoping for a little more of an annotated list of recommendations from such a movie-saturated expert, or at least a list of overpraised movies to avoid. Instead, Keepers is sort of a rambling conversation with a genial veteran whose career has brought him in contact with most of the best films and many of the biggest movie names of the past century.

Then again, if you're going to have a conversation about movies, it never hurts to have it with someone who's spent a half-century glued to the screen.

Keepers: The Greatest Films - and Personal Favorites - of a Moviegoing Lifetime by Richard Schickel (Knopf)

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