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Introducing: The Critical Press’ Tom Elrod

Introducing: The Critical Press' Tom Elrod

Tom Elrod founded The Critical Press, whose initial wave of titles was announced this morning, to provide an outlet for medium-length film writing on “topics and arguments that can’t comfortably fit in a long article, but don’t necessarily need 300 pages to make their point.” The first three books will be Peter Labuza’s Approaching the End: Imagining Apocalypse in American Film, due out in October; Tina Hassannia’s  Asghar Farhadi: Life and Cinema, scheduled for December; and Robert Greene’s Present Tense: American Nonfiction Cinema, 1998-2013Elrod, who also works for the University of North Carolina Press and writes for Indy Week, says he’s actively seeking proposals for additional titles, so Criticwire reached out to him to get a better sense of what The Critical Press is and what he’s looking for. (You can read some of his previous thoughts on publishing here .)

What gave you the idea to launch an imprint specifically devoted to
medium-length film books? 

I’m a long-time film fan and cinephile, but I’ve been a reader of
film criticism for a long time, too. I grew up with the web, and so
quite a lot of my engagement with film criticism over the years has
happened online. And though many great books on film continue to be
published every year, there seems to be a gap between the traditional
book market and the vital, engaged, and diverse writing I’ve long
admired on the internet. Medium-length books would seem like the natural
place for many up-and-coming critics to move to next, but the economics
of publishing don’t traditionally encourage titles of this length. So, I
decided it would be a good space to try to fill. This new venture is
not connected to UNC Press in any way, though it has been very
instructive for me to have spent the last few years working at a
publisher in the midst of the many technological and business
transitions the industry is facing.

How did you decide on your first three titles?
The first three titles came about because I had known
the authors and their work for some time, and knew all three were
writing interesting, provocative arguments. When I approached each of
them they already had a strong sense of the books they wanted to write,
grounded in their ongoing critical and professional interests. It’s also
nice to have this spread of topics, which range across countries,
genres, and decades. I hope it shows the breadth that the Press in
interested in.
Are there other series, current or past, you’d cite as models, like
the BFI’s single-film monographs or the
33 1/3 line of music books?
The BFI series of single-film monographs was
always in my mind, as it was a key influence and guide in my early
cinephile days, but I think film criticism has always had a place for
books of this length. Pauline Kael’s Raising Kane could’ve fit this model, and of course Andre Bazin’s What Is Cinema?, though technically a collection of essays, is an exemplar of the short book form.
How would you assess the market for this kind of work right now?
Nobody ever got rich betting on criticism, but if
the internet has shown us nothing else it’s that there are a lot of
people interested in talking and debating about the things they love.
Criticism, especially on the web, may be in a dire place economically,
and obviously everyone despairs when it seems like listicles and
half-hearted thinkpieces make up the sum totals of how people engage
with culture. But it’s not all there is, and I really do believe people
would like more substantive places to think about film. There’s
partially a difference in the medium, too. I love the internet, but
print or print-focused outlets really do force the writer and reader to
engage in a different way: not necessarily always better, but with less
of a focus on the immediate, often ephemeral, debate du jour.
We’ll be selling both physical and digital versions of the books, and in
terms of sales won’t be discriminating one way or the other, though I
think the value of longer, book-length arguments is in their longevity,
and so I see physical, print books as an inescapable part of that

Are there any
particular areas you’re interested in, or gaps you
think need filling?

I want to be sure not to focus exclusively on
American film. It’s an easy thing to do — I’m American, the Press is
American, most of our writers are probably going to be American — but I
think it’s important to reach beyond what’s easy and continue to think
of cinephilia as global. Beyond that, I’m interested in looking at
histories of cinema or the canon that offer new possibilities beyond the
most oft-told stories. Things like the Women Film Pioneers Project
excite me. What does the silent era look like if it’s not told from the
point-of-view of the most well-known producers and directors? I hope we
can use these sorts of tools as a way of approaching cinema with fresh

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