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The New Biographical Dictionary Of Film: 4th Edition [Paperback]

David Thomson
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 Oct 2003

This book is both more and less than history, a work of imagination in its own right, a piece of movie literature that turns fact into romance.' Gavin Lambert was reviewing the first edition of David Thomson's monumental work in 1975. In the eight years since the third edition was published, careers have waxed and waned, reputations been made and lost, great movies produced, trends set and scorned.

This fourth edition has 200 entirely new entries and every original entry has been re-examined. Thus the roster of directors, actors, producers, screenwriters and cameramen is both historical and contemporary, with old masters reappraised in terms of how their work has lasted.

Each of the 1,000 profiles is a keenly perceptive, provocative critical essay. Striking the perfect balance between personal bias and factual reliability, David Thomson - novelist, critic, biographer and unabashed film addict - has given us an enormously rich reference book, a brilliant reflection on the art and artists of the cinema.

Product details

  • Paperback: 976 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown; 4th Revised edition edition (2 Oct 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316726605
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316726603
  • Product Dimensions: 17.2 x 23.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 441,699 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

Product Description


Waspish, incendiary, whimsical and erudite to a fault, the author has an acuity that makes other critics seem like charlatans and this labour of love worth every penny. (SUNDAY TIMES)

No self-respecting film fan would be without David Thomson's valuable reference work on their shelf. (RTE GUIDE)

Brilliant- an absolute must-have for all movie fans. (WHATS ON LONDON)

David Thomson's magnificent, addictive doorstop dictionary is one of the best movie books of all time. (EVENING STANDARD)

Book Description

* The fourth edition of an indispensable reference book for filmgoers, completely revised and brought up to date with more than 200 new entries - 1,000 in all.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential film criticism 6 Jan 2004
This is a magnificent book: if I were allowed only one book on film then I would unhesitatingly choose this one.
Arranged alphabetically, and covering virtually every important actor, director and producer in film history (and many other figures associated with film), it provides fairly thorough filmographies, but it’s not intended as a reference book. On questions of fact (‘Who won Best Supporting Actor in 1975?’; ‘Who played Marlowe in Murder My Sweet?’) this is not the most convenient work to consult, and often the answer simply cannot be found.
Rather, this is film criticism – and Thomson is an acutely perceptive, intelligent and eloquent critic. Invariably passionate, often funny, frequently challenging and provocative, and occasionally annoying, he is a brilliant writer and a model of how to say a lot in few words. In little more than a sentence or two he can offer a profound observation or opinion which radically alters one’s own view on a film or individual.
He can be wonderfully iconoclastic. For example, both John Ford and Stanley Kubrick, widely esteemed as great directors, are (rightly to my mind) shown up for their severe shortcomings. Sometimes he can be spectacularly and justifiably savage, about Roberto Benigni or Wes Craven for example. Equally, he is very good at extolling the virtues of underrated individuals, Barbara Stanwyck for example. Above all he provides honest, thoughtful and sophisticated appraisals, in most cases amounting to miniature essays, which rarely fail to open up new insights.
Thomson is no snob or elitist: he may lambast Tony Scott and Madonna, but he has good things to say about Spielberg and Schwarzenegger, Tarantino and Sharon Stone.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A necessity for film lovers 16 Jun 2010
It might be worth noting that this book first came out in 1975 and has been revised and updated every couple of years, the last being the paperback version in 2004 (specifically the paperback, as it has a few more entries than the hardback of the same time does.) Bear that in mind when/if ordering, you don't want to get an old copy (though it would still be a good read)

I'm simply adding to what other people have said, yes, it is a great book, my copy is worn and tattered, has notes and underlinings on most of the pages. I have read nearly all of it a few times, there's no way of telling because while some people (my brother included) read it from cover to cover like a novel, i just dip in to read up on a specific person, and it's sort of like working through a maze, you start with one person and get sucked in, next thing you know 3 hours have passed and you've been led on from entry to entry. It's very addictive! Not least because it is so well written, besides the actual passion and (at times philosophical, even poetic) understanding of film and what it does to people.

Though maybe Thomson himself is getting a little weary of film, he's in his 70's now, he can't update it forever, and as a writer i suppose it's only expected that writing would be his foremost passion. Hence the amount of writing that he has actually produced.

There are a number of other Thomson books out there.. - Have you seen? Rosebud. A recent Memoir. A recent series on famous hollywood stars. Alien Quartet. Suspects, Beneath Mulholland. Besides his other writings on the Nevada desert, the race to the Antarctic, and Laurence Sterne. Not forgetting his numerous articles for the Guardian newspaper and

But The New Biographical Dictionary of Film is the one to start with, just make sure you have a bit of time to spare before you start looking.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant 2 Feb 2006
By A Customer
Take no notice of Thomas from Norway - this is a fabulous work. I'm an Oscar nominated screenwriter and there is no better volume for understanding what film could and should be. It is fabulously opinionated, but always thoughtful and never churlish. I have found it a real joy and endless resource. It doesn't purport to be a comprehensive reference but you'll get a wider understanding about the scope of what cinema has meant than reading any other single work. It is clearly written by someone who loves cinema. It is neither cold, intellectual nor indulgent. It is acerbic, smart and learned. Dip or read it right through.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greatest film books available... 31 Dec 2003
By Jason Parkes #1 HALL OF FAME
The New Biographical Dictionary of Film is a revised edition of Thomson's seminal book on cinema- one of the key film books alongside The Cinema Book, Film Art & Susan Hayward's glossary of film terms. Quite simply, it is a book no serious fan should be without- & is of far more interest than things like Halliwell's or Virgin's Film Guides (you can get all that info off IMDB).
Thomson is one of the greatest writers on cinema & in this 900-plus page tome, he scans cinema (filmmakers, actors, writers) from A to Z from standard figures (Hitchcock, Welles) to more recent cinematic figures (Lars Von Trier, Halle Berry, Renee Zellweger, Nicole Kidman). Some of the essays/mini-essays are long- the Graham Greene entry being an example of this; while Tarantino is dispatched in a few tight paragraphs. The introduction does point out that the book is intended to provoke argument and develop thought about cinema...& it does just that.
Spielberg comes off better than he deserves, while Scorsese gets a kicking with an argument that I can't help but agree with; I don't think he had Kieslowski down. But the writings on Lynch's Blue Velvet & Mulholland Drive, on Bertolucci's The Conformist, on the dire Demme films Beloved & Philadelphia and so many examples I could cite are spot on. As too George C Scott, Coppola, Beatty (whom Thomson has written the best biog of, this side of Easy Riders Raging Bulls), Roberto Rossellini, Visconti, William Goldman, Warren Oates, Bob Fosse...look, the whole book!
In many ways, this book is a forerunner of the internet forum/review site, ultimately it's just an opinion- but an interesting one.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The best
Not only facts, but a personal point of view about film - movies and the people who make them. Sometimes irritating, of course, allways sharp.
Published 3 months ago by JLR
5.0 out of 5 stars My film bible
Since the 4th edition, this book has been my film bible. Mr Thomson's analyses are penetrating if sometimes uncomfortable, but rarely off-beam. Read more
Published 19 months ago by walterwhite
5.0 out of 5 stars A master of his subject
If you are interested in cinema then David Thomson is the man to tell you just about anything you might want to know. Read more
Published 20 months ago by R. Bell
3.0 out of 5 stars Just about kindled interest.
One star deducted for the poor quality Kindle version - no pics and littered with production errors. The book itself is more subjective than the title suggests. Read more
Published on 9 Feb 2012 by Brian Walker
5.0 out of 5 stars At last, Laura Linney!
This deftly-written, subtle, slily witty, occasionally exasperating, inspiring, myth-busting, wholly magisterial, utterly unique, now near-legendary tome is everything its admirers... Read more
Published on 1 Nov 2011 by GlynLuke
5.0 out of 5 stars Useful reference
I bought this book for a friend who is passionate about films and film stars. I'm sure she will enjoy delving in to it even though she seems to know everything about her subject. Read more
Published on 22 May 2011 by ellarose
5.0 out of 5 stars The most important book ever written about Film
This is without doubt the most important book that has ever been written about the subject of Film and filmmaking. Read more
Published on 31 Jan 2011 by S. Hyde
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