Sunday, March 03, 2013

Dave's World

Film scholar David Thompson, in his latest book The Big Screen, attempts nothing less than a history of cinema.  No surprise, actually, since he often goes for the big picture, as demonstrated in his previous titles The Biographical Dictionary Of Film, The Whole Equation: A History Of Hollywood and "Have You Seen...?": A Personal Introduction To 1000 Films.  If anything, he's going over old ground here.

In 500+ pages of text, Thompson starts at the beginning and works his way up to the present, mostly telling his story through directors, but also mentioning plenty of producers, actors and writers.  He spends most of his time in Hollywood, but makes trips to England, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, the Soviet Union and other places.  It's not even all film, since he devotes a fair number of pages to television.

As often with Thompson, it's an interesting mix of history and idiosyncratic opinion. He writes clearly and entertainingly, and is certainly not afraid of telling you what's good and what isn't.  He also draws analogies to old films and modern ones, which you don't always get in such surveys.

If he has a flaw, it's that he's too ready to relate films to modern-day politics.  He knows the movies inside-out, but that doesn't make him an expert in everything. (The low point of the book is several pages devoted to comparing Ronald Reagan's life to a movie.)

I think he's better on older films--say, stuff before the 1970s--where he seems to have more perspective.  In any case, I wouldn't rely on him as a primary source, but as a guy with his own point of view, he's worth checking out.

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