IMAGE: Pauline Kael, from Associated Press

There’s a terribly appealing review over at the New York Times today on Phillip Lopate’s new anthology, American Movie Critics. It’s less a review than a chance for Clive James to riff on the difference between critics who involve theory in their critiques, and those who go by perception.

SINCE all of us are deeply learned experts on the movies even when we don’t know much about anything else, people wishing to make their mark as movie critics must either be able to express opinions like ours better than we can, or else they must be in charge of a big idea, preferably one that can be dignified by being called a theory. In “American Movie Critics,” […] most of the practitioners fall neatly into one category or the other.

It quickly becomes obvious that those without theories write better. You already knew that your friend who’s so funny about the “Star Wars” tradition of frightful hairstyles for women (in the corrected sequence of sequel and prequel, Natalie Portman must have passed the bad-hair gene down to Carrie Fisher) is much less boring than your other friend who can tell you how science fiction movies mirror the dynamics of American imperialism. This book proves that history is with you: perceptions aren’t just more entertaining than formal schemes of explanation, they’re also more explanatory.

check it out