Friday, January 03, 2014

Magic Moments

David Thomson is one of the most quirky and fascinating film writers around, and his latest, Moments That Made The Movies, allows him to wallow in that quirkiness.  He recognizes that we don't always remember the plots of films, but any memorable movie has at least one moment that sticks out in our mind.  Thomson picks out 70-odd moments, going chronologically through the story of film.  It's about 300 pages, but is so lavishly illustrated that the text represents perhaps one-third of this coffee table book.

He chooses a number of scenes suitably famous--Dietrich in a suit in Morocco, Jimmy Cagney breaking down in White Heat, Cary Grant chased by a crop duster in North By Northwest, David Hemmings looking closer and closer at his photos in Blow-Up, Meg Ryan at the delicatessen in When Harry Met Sally--but just as often he picks scenes you wouldn't expect.  For instance, there's the Agnes Moorehead scene early on in Citizen Kane.  Or the chat between Janet Leigh and Tony Perkins just before the shower in Psycho.  Indeed, the cover of the book shows William Holden floating dead in Gloria Swanson's pool--the opening narration is what he chooses from Sunset Boulevard, not Swanson saying she's big, it's the pictures that got small, or asking for her close-up.

But that's how it works.  Sometimes we all agree on the big scene, sometimes its personal.  And with some films, like Casablanca, there are a number of big scenes, and in others, like The Shop Around The Corner, almost everything is delightful, so you want to read the book to see how your choice stacks up with Thompson's.

He also makes some unexpected film choices--Mickey One, The King Of Marvin GardensHoffa (I'm pretty sure there are more Jack Nicholson films in this book than any other actors'), In The Cut.  The last film he mentions, in fact, is Burn After Reading, and his choice is exactly the same as mine would be.  Not anything with Brad Pitt or George Clooney or John Malkovich or Frances McDormand, but the final scene with CIA men David Rasche and J. K. Simmons showing how you wrap up a movie. Maybe Thomson felt that's how you wrap up a book.


Anonymous Denver Guy said...

On my gift list for next year. Wish you had reviewed about 3 weeks ago when I was desperate! But thanks!

8:47 AM, January 03, 2014  

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