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The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies and What They Did to Us [Kindle Edition]

David Thomson
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In this triumphant work David Thomson, one of film's greatest living experts and author of The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, tells the enthralling story of the movies and how they have shaped us.

Sunday Times, New Statesman, The Times, Guardian, Observer and Independent BOOKS OF THE YEAR

Taking us around the globe, through time and across multiple media, Thomson tracks the ways in which we were initially enchanted by this mesmerizing imitation of life and let movies - the stories, the stars, the look - show us how to live. But at the same time he shows us how movies, offering a seductive escape from the everyday reality and its responsibilities, have made it possible for us to evade life altogether. The entranced audience has become a model for powerless citizens trying to pursue happiness by sitting quietly in a dark room. Does the big screen take us out into the world, or merely mesmerize us? That is Thomson's question in this great adventure of a book. A passionate feat of storytelling that is vital to anyone trying to make sense of the age of screens - the age that, more than ever, we are living in.

Product Description


There are always irreverent arguments about the status of filmmaking in David Thomson's writing: "Story ideas hang around in Hollywood longer than some marriages or buildings." Or "It would be said of British cinema that it was nothing until a band of Hungarians took it over." This goes alongside his real passion for the art: On Sweet Smell of Success - "The film was shot in a glittering harsh black and white by James Wong Howe and looked like the hide of a crocodile in the moonlight." On Colonel Blimp - "There is one scene of Deborah Kerr with auburn hair and in a cornflower blue dress, in shadow and firelight, that must be among the most romantic shots made during the war. No one in Britain before had seen that you could make a film because you were crazy about a girl."

David Thomson is, I think, the best writer on film in our time. If Have you Seen? was his most succinct and entertaining book, The Big Screen is a large and vivacious map on the history of 'the screen': beginning with Muybridge and then tracing careers ranging from Korda to Renoir to Hawkes to Mizoguchi, to David Lynch and Tarentino, then swerving over to television shows such as I love Lucy and The Sopranos. He has found and created a marvellous plot for the history of film with insights and revelations on every page, as well as a few mcguffins. He is our most argumentative and trustworthy historian of the screen

(Michael Ondaatje )

Thomson has composed a grand aesthetic, spiritual, and moral account of cinema history assembled around the movies and artists that have meant the most to him. As Thomson reconstructs film history, movies bring us close to reality and deliver us into ecstatic dreams. A pungently written, brilliant book (David Denby (Author Of Snark) )

Fascinating ... a loose-limbed, conversational narrative, moving fitfully through time, dawdling over directors and films that interest ... crackling with ideas and vivid impressionisms ... Thomson's stylish prose, simultaneously erudite and entertaining, captivates as it informs ... Buffs and casual fans alike will enjoy this extra-large serving of popcorn for thought (Publishers Weekly )

A great critic cuts both ways-he nudges you into reconsidering the films you love, as well as the ones you dislike. David Thomson's sensual prose has always amplified the imagination of a great critic. In broad outline, The Big Screen is a history of the movies, a wide-ranging task which usually carries with it a certain amount of connect-the-dots tedium. But Thomson's emphases are typically fresh and often ecstatic, even when he's disparaging a film you love. Nobody does it better (Scott Eyman (Author Of Empire Of Dreams And Lion Of Hollywood) )

Subtle, erudite and entertaining (Economist )

About the Author

David Thomson has a fair claim to be the greatest living writer on film. His major works include The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, now in its 5th edition, and 'Have You Seen...?: A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films including Masterpieces, Oddities, Guilty Pleasures and Classics (with Just a Few Disasters). Thomson was born in London, and now lives in San Francisco.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1994 KB
  • Print Length: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (11 Oct. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00903Y7WU
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #230,318 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

English-American writer David Thomson was educated at Dulwich College and the London School of Film Technique. After seven years at Penguin Books, he became a Director of Film Studies at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire between 1977 and 1981. Perhaps best known for his magisterial Biographical Dictionary of Film, Thomson is a prolific writer on film including biographies of David O Selznick and Orson Welles, and two books on Hollywood: Beneath Mulholland: Thoughts on Hollywood and Its Ghosts and The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood. Thomson lives in San Fransisco with his wife and two sons.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An insightful and witty book on film history 5 Nov. 2012
By Alan Pavelin VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
David Thomson is sometimes referred to as the world's best (or greatest, or most famous) film critic. He is really more of a film writer, who does criticism (or "reviews") as a part of that. A Londoner who long ago fled to California, he has written over 20 film books of various kinds. He is a witty writer with some refreshingly idiosyncratic views.
I usually like to get a flavour of the writer's particular likes when reviewing film books, and Thomson's choice of "top ten" films, as part of Sight and Sound magazine's recent critics' poll, reveals nothing later than 1986 (Blue Velvet) and a particular fondness for films from around 1940. Most of his choices are among my favourites too.
The Big Screen originated, we are told at the back, from a suggestion of a one-volume history of film. It is actually more, and less, than a history. More, because Thomson devotes many pages to other types of screen, whether TV, computer, or mobile phone, and to the effect of film on the wider society. Less, because he has chapters on specific subjects within film history (noir, war movies, Renoir and Welles, the cinema of several countries such as France and Italy, various Hollywood "movers and shakers") and tends (inevitably perhaps) to gloss over some other topics. There is far too much gossip about the sex-lives of actors; I am of the same generation as Thomson (he was a year below me at our South London school) and I find such gossip tedious and unnecessary. That's why I mark the book down to 4 stars (though 4.4 might be better if it were an option).
Thomson is truly a mine of information and of insights; for example he gives a convincing explanation of why Americans, even cineastes like Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen, refer to the famous Italian film Bicycle Thieves by the total mistranslation "The Bicycle Thief". For movie buffs like myself this is a book not just to read but to keep for future reference, despite the aforementioned reservation.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Written for a different audience perhaps.. 28 Sept. 2013
David Thomson is nothing if not very well informed about films. This book displays that understanding and learning to advantage.

However, it was written for an American readership -- Thomson has lived there for many years -- and it shows, especially in the section on television.

But his comments and nuggets of information about individuals and films are very entertaining -- although sometimes slightly quirky. The book is not supposed to be an authoritative history (for that you want The Story of Film) but it is an erudite essay on screens -- mostly big, but also little, portable, personal and communal -- and how what they display affects us in ways we might not imagine. for the reader with a passing familiarity with most of the films and individuals Thompson mentions it will be a very good read -- but about a quarter is written from a standpoint that contemplates American culture in a way that might not fully engage with British experiences.

Thompson tries very hard to link the mini-essays that form each chapter together -- sometimes in too contrived a way so that he signals a gear change to talk about a different film or a different individual. And because of this slightly precious approach the book doesn't have the effortless fluency of The Faber Book of French Cinema or I Found it at the Movies: Reflections of a Cinephile (Carcanet Film). Thomson is just a little bit too keen to demonstrate that he knows everything.

It is, however, a considerable improvement on The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood which looks like a first draft for this much more polished piece.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You and the Screen 28 Oct. 2012
By W. Rodick TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a true history of film. Right from the book's first chapter I am hit by the little vignette of Eadweard Muybridge, a man who died in 1904. He was the brains behind those first pictures that proved a horse was off the ground when trotting. At these fledgling stages of films science and fiction were separate. That the same man killed his wife's lover adds extra spice. That he had previously suffered a head injury, like your loving reviewer, put my enjoyment of reading this vast, fascinating text into overdrive. And it has not stopped.

The author writes this history by giving the main players real character. Whether that is the ego of Louis B Mayer or the non-Jewishness of Cecil B. DeMille or the 18 year old Gladys Smith who gave up the theatre in 1911 to get into 'moving pictures.' The stories are woven into a narrative that always includes you. Its about you and the screen. That is what made Mary Pickford.

Fascinating to understand how the role of director was initially 'a stooge's job' became the central figure and now is once again peripheral in the making of film. As Mr Thomson rightly asks: do you know who directed which episode of The Sopranos? I loved the chapter on British film and how it morphed into television. The relationship between the American idea of fun and the British view of what is proper is particularly intriguing.

12 November: just finished reading the book. It did keep me reading though at some point about three quarters through the author did get into film criticism mode. It is at its best when the narrative is broader, indeed 'narrative' itself would be analysed as something which is dying. Would love to know what the author thinks of my review of the new James Bond film? 'I left as 007, hands in pockets, ready for anything.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Immensely readable Film Studies textbook
"The Big Screen" is a beautifully readable meditation on movies and moviemaking, from their beginning to [almost] the present day. Read more
Published 3 months ago by C. O'Brien
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A must for everbody really interested in the cinema.
Published 8 months ago by A. Murray
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 9 months ago by Mr M Barnard
5.0 out of 5 stars comprehensive but light captiating reading by a pro
i was so sad when this ended (it was a bit rushed at the end too) - well-judged assessments, and mini-stories of people involved as he moved region by region and era by era - a... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Leslie Gardner
4.0 out of 5 stars Review of "The story of the Movies and What they did to us" by David...
Very good book because written in a very lucid easy to read style, I was writing a talk about Cinema in the 20's and 30's but I read the whole book because it was so interesting.
Published 10 months ago by Mrs Joyce Baxter
4.0 out of 5 stars Big read of the big screen.
This is a book about passion. Multiple author David Thompson, who also finds time to write for the Guardian, hasn't just written a history of cinema (that would be 1000 page plus... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Squeebles
5.0 out of 5 stars Personal And Perceptive
Setting out to produce a 'history of cinema’ in around 500 pages was always going to be a challenge and although author, and noted film critic, David Thomson regards his work as... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Keith M
3.0 out of 5 stars Big Screen
Quite an interesting read but I found the chapters on world cinema a little boring though early cinema chapters made up for it.
Published 15 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Too divergent but excellent when focusing on individual directors.
I'm always enthusiastic when David Thomson brings out a new book, he is the indispensible film writer of our time. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Shane Hyde
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read!
A book which, although highgly opinionated in places, is a captivating read. Yields mature insights and enthusiasm to watching ans appraising films across a wide range of genres. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Amazon Customer
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