Garson Kanin Anatole Broyard - Essay

Anatole Broyard

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Garson Kanin's novel, "Moviola," reads like an uncut version of a 1940's "spectacular." Here's the movie industry from Thomas Edison to Warren Beatty. Everybody makes a cameo appearance: It's a cast of thousands, each one a star. Reading "Moviola" is a bit like having the sky fall on you.

The basic story, which is hardly more than a parking lot for the digressions, concerns B. J. Farber, a 92-year-old movie pioneer and studio head who is thinking of selling his "dream factory" to a New York-based conglomerate….

As a preliminary to the negotiations, Farber tells … his life story, for the studio is his life and the story is an inventory of its assets. Before he will sell, Farber must satisfy himself that the conglomerate has a soul.

Farber's life story seems to be made up of scraps of everybody else's. Thomas Edison is stately, D. W. Griffith pontifical, Mack Sennett raucous, and so on. Chaplin comes across as dull. (p. 595)

After Farber dies, the 42-year-old Guy [sent by the conglomerate to arrange the deal,] will propose to the 73-year-old [widow], as an inadvertent metaphor for the emotional power of the film industry. What happens to the studio is a surprise too heart-warming to give away here.

There are grim stories about novelists who went to Hollywood and were ruined by it. Mr. Kanin is not one of this tragic fraternity, for his talent is of a sort that cannot be ruined. Perhaps he is the ideal man to write "the ultimate Hollywood novel," as the dust jacket describes "Moviola." Even if Hollywood were not beyond irony, Mr. Kanin knows that it has no box office appeal. (p. 596)

Anatole Broyard, "'Moviola'," in The New York Times, Section III (© 1979 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 30, 1979, (and reprinted in Books of the Times, Vol. II, No. 12, 1979, pp. 595-96).