Sandburg at the Movies
There are two excellent books about Carl Sandburg's
days reviewing movies:
Fetherling, Dale and Doug Fetherling, editors.
Carl Sandburg at the Movies: A Poet in the Silent Era: 1920
to 1927. Scarecrow, 1985. 207 pp. [Order from Amazon.com
Bernstein, Arnie, editor. "The Movies Are":
Carl Sandburg's Film Reviews and Essays, 1920-1928. With
an introduction by Roger Ebert. Lake
Claremont Press, 2000. 397 pp. [Order from Amazon.com or
Review of "The Movies Are"
Movies Are": Carl Sandburg's Film Reviews and Essays, 1920-1928.
Bernstein, Arnie, ed.
with an introduction by Roger Ebert
Lake Claremont Press,
2000 (397 p.)
ISBN: 1-893121-05-4 (softcover with 71 photos, bibliography, and
Carl Sandburg is best known as a
poet and biographer of Abraham Lincoln. What is less known about
Sandburg is that he was also a folklorist who gathered songs from
across America, an entertainer who toured on the Lyceum circuit
giving lectures and reciting poems, a social activist who helped
organize political parties in Wisconsin, a children's author whose
Rootabaga Stories were some of the earliest successes in this now
burgeoning market, and a newspaper journalist whose coverage of
the Chicago Race Riots of July 1919 remains one of the great critical
studies of America's racial conflicts. In addition to all this,
Carl Sandburg was also a film critic.
Sandburg reviewed films when the
industry was in its infancy, still bound by the silence of early
technology. He wrote for the Chicago Daily News and was
allowed to schedule his work-load so he viewed motion pictures mostly
on Sundays and Mondays. This allowed him to write the six reviews
required each week on Monday night and Tuesday. Sandburg would spend
the rest of the week writing his poetry, children's stories, and
his various Lincoln projects, and traveling on the lecture circuit.
Between 1920 and 1928, Sandburg wrote over 2,000 pieces on the motion
picture industry, of which Bernstein has selected a fine representative
The time spent in the motion picture
halls allowed Sandburg to escape into the films and into the works
he was creating within the darkness of the theater. Sandburg wrote
his reviews about the unique educational qualities of film, the
"silent teacher," and the importance of imagination and reality
within a motion picture's production (Fetherling, 19). Sandburg
believed film was able to educate so effectively, because it "doesn't
need any translation. It can be understood by everybody" (Fetherling,
82). The creativeness of the motion pictures helped inspire Sandburg's
development of his children's stories; "his fertile imagination,
engrossed in the children's stories, was simultaneously energized
by the potent new stimulus of the motion picture" (Niven, 365).
Bernstein's historical commentary
about Sandburg's film writing is a welcomed addition to Sandburg
scholarship. Bernstein does a nice job relating Sandburg's early
film reviews to his later involvement in the film industry, particularly
with George Steven's The Greatest Story Ever Told. As an
editor, Bernstein is intimately aware of the depth and intricacy
of Sandburg's film writing in an way reserved for someone who has
ardently and obsessively pursued his subject. Roger Ebert's introduction
adds a personal twist to his understanding of Carl Sandburg and
offers an initial credibility to a collection that eventually builds
its own integrity through its own intelligent and pleasantly presented
"The Movies Are" is highly
recommended for anyone interested in Carl Sandburg the man, the
poet, the biographer, the author. In Sandburg's film reviews rests
the heart of his other creative writing.
Books Cited in This Review
Niven, Penelope. Carl Sandburg:
A Biography. Macmillan, 1991. 608 pp.
Fetherling, Dale and Doug Fetherling,
editors. Carl Sandburg at the Movies: A Poet in the Silent Era:
1920 to 1927. Scarecrow, 1985. 207 pp.
Ryan Roberts, February 2001