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Photo of author and film historian Barry Putterman, whose "Pack Up Your Troubles: Some American Films From 1932" is an in-depth, three-volume exploration of Hollywood's Pre-Code era.

Television and I grew up together in the 1950s, and the synergy was complete. The stories, the images, indeed the entire aura of motion pictures captivated me, and I was a constant viewer. In New York, we had seven stations, and in a desperate effort to fill all that time, they showed everything they could get their hands on. Industrial films, newsreels, documentaries, and cartoons, comedy shorts and feature films from every studio and every era of the first half of the 20th century paraded before your eyes in haphazard order without a user guide, and the viewer was free to make whatever sense he or she could of the compendium.

As I reached adulthood in the 1970s there rose a popular movement that was dubbed “film culture.” It proclaimed what I had always instinctively understood: that movies were not only popular entertainment but also an art form worthy of serious examination. An academic discipline called cinema studies opened up for me but, more importantly, an explosion of film history was becoming available. Suddenly there was multitude of revival houses, many of which featured daily changes of double features, comprehensive studio retrospectives at museums, and cultural center programs featuring foreign national cinemas, in addition to the college film courses. It became a smorgasbord feast of opportunities as I raced from one venue to another to devour as much film history I could digest, and any day that contained less than two new “old” films was considered something of a famine.

But in my maturity, there developed something called “home video,” and a whole new way of looking at film history became possible. You could now own your own copies of films. You could watch them on your own timetable, study them in as much detail as you chose, and think of them not only as individual films but works that were not only interrelated with each other but also with the cultural history surrounding them. In short, it became possible to stop experiencing film history as a kaleidoscope and begin structuring it as a jigsaw puzzle.

Pack Up Your Troubles: Some American Films From 1932 is my extended effort to describe the picture visible in one small piece of the puzzle. Were there world enough and time. I would endeavor to reveal much more, but I now invite you to join in the fun of putting this puzzle together.


In addition to Pack Up Your Troublesmy published credits include essays on Peter Bogdanovich, George Roy Hill, and Irvin Kershner for Jean-Pierre Coursodon’s omnibus collection American Directors (McGraw-Hill) and a volume of essays titled On Television and Comedy (McFarland). Contact me here.

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