The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies and What They Did to Us Hardcover – 4 Oct 2012
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Probably the best overview of the cinema ever written. It sparkles with insight, is packed with anecdote, and pulses with passion ... a glorious celebration of one of humankind's great inventions (John Banville Guardian BOOKS OF THE YEAR)
David Thomson is a giant in the world of film criticism, and his book is the chest-crusher you might expect: erudite, delightfully tangential and surprisingly polemical (Kate Muir The Times)
Equal parts shaman, shrink and cinematic preacher, Thomson has seen more films than we ever will. Typically eccentric, this is not simply a history of film, but an attempted autopsy ... Beginning with Edward Muybridge's sequential photographs, we travel on the generous, excited surge of Thomson's prose through the commotion of early Hollywood, sprawling out nation by nation around a world awakening to cinema ... A devilish, dazzling, out-there divination ... [full of] awe, poetry and witty iconoclasm ... Criticism is rarely this passionate and brilliant. You come away wanting to watch it all. On the biggest screen you can find (Empire)
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))
The theme of The Big Screen is the weirdness of desire ... Drawing on his vast stock of knowledge, Thomson takes us on a meander through Nouvelle Vague and Italian neorealism; Coppola and Scorsese; MGM musicals and film noir. He always comes back in the end to the kind of fun it is possible to have only at the movies, sitting in the dark, staring at the light ... Line by line, Thomson is still the greatest biographical writer about film of all time ... to read him on his favourite films is to be sent back with renewed yearning to that land of Californian light and loveliness (Sunday Times)
Subtle, erudite and entertaining (Economist)
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)
The greatest living writer on the movies ... The Big Screen is surely his magnum opus (John Banville New Statesman BOOKS OF THE YEAR)
Rigorous and rewarding, and a page rarely passes without insight (Independent BOOKS OF THE YEAR)
Nobody else would match its sweep, its erudition, its discernment or its warmth (David Hare Guardian BOOKS OF THE YEAR)
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)
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))
Of the medium's many distinguished critics, none is better informed or more authoritative than David Thomson ... [The Big Screen is] part film history, part thesis, part love letter and lament ... genuine insights abound ... Like any great work of criticism, the book is essentially an education in good taste, and crucially it sends us back to the movies. Thomson's montage of ecstasies and laments re-awakens in us the thrill and wonder of moving images and the need to know what happens next. In that, it is as close to definitive as any book on film can be. Just as we look at the movies, we should listen to him (Spectator Life)
David Thomson is a metaphysician of the movies ... Thomson's brain is the ultimate repertory theatre, perpetually rerunning our favourites and allowing us to wonder at them all over again. The highest praise I can give him is to say that the images he treasures are just as alive on his pages as they were on the big screen (Peter Conrad Guardian)
A love letter to a dying art, [The Big Screen] is also a scathing indictment of its legacy. In over 500 pages of breathtaking criticism, [Thomson] seeks to understand the impact of the screen upon our collective consciousness (Sunday Telegraph)
A cultural overview of the past, present and future of the movies (Sunday Times BOOKS OF THE YEAR)
This is a wildly seductive love letter to what Thomson concludes is a 'lost love' ... he rapturously recalls a lifetime's enchantment with the big screen (Metro)
A startling analysis of what happens to us in the darkness as we dream with eyes open (Observer BOOKS OF THE YEAR)
There's one standout in this year's slew of film literature, The Big Screen written by David Thomson, a giant in the world of film criticism. His book is erudite but readable, delightfully tangential, and surprisingly polemical. He provides a fascinating ride through the past century of mostly American cinema and posits a theory that 'the shining light and the huddled masses' of yore will be replaced by digital anomie, as the big screen is replaced by YouTube on an iPhone (Kate Muir The Times BOOKS OF THE YEAR)
[The Big Screen] works both as an engaging primer on film history and as a map for more numinous shifts in the path of popular art ... Thomson offers a nuanced portrait ... the details of his narrative glimmer with offbeat insight (Nathan Heller New York Times Book Review)
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.
Top customer reviews
Rather then move chronologically, he traces the story of film and its impact within social history both sides of the pond through a series of thematic chapters which deal with differeing aspects of film, spotlighting a few especially iconic or meaningful titles, referencing many others. He's particularly great on Hitchcock, his chapter on film noir is a marvel, and his study of David Lean's 'Brief Encounter' points out imagery and layers of meaning I'd managed to miss, although I must have seen the film a dozen times.
Efficiently indexed, it's a great resource for any student of film but its language - though never dumbed down - is so informally conversational that it can be read right the way through like a work of fiction. A great read.
This book commences its history far before the dawn of the cinema and looks at the efforts of Muybridge in analysing human and animal movement. His were not the dream of presenting a moving image of some description as an entertainment but primarily to disprove some commonly-held beliefs about motion, especially in respect of horses. It was Muybridge who was able to prove that a fast-moving horse can have all of its hooves in the air at one time, if only very briefly. Those efforts, initially with paper negatives, led to others experimenting with strips of paper and film until Lumiere developed a usable system. That was the birth of the cinema as we may recognise it today.
This is a history that is not a chronological study but it examines different aspects of the cinema and does not limit itself to either the British industry - the author is British-born but now resides in the USA - or to the American Hollywood alone but looks at other some other countries' film industry too. However, two areas not well covered are those of Southern Asia, especially India and its "Bollywood", China and Hong Kong and especially the Kung Fu films once associated with them, or the South-American scene which, especially in Argentina, is rising rather quickly to prominence in the Spanish-language world. There are others, not internationally distributed in the traditional sense but still quite large and extensive; the Pinoy/Tagalog movies from the Philippines are sold wherever there are Filipinos and that includes not only the UK, USA and Canada but Australia and many parts of the Middle-east.
The book examines some of the industry's best-known stars, the directors and many others involved in the industry but does so by stepping sometimes forwards and backwards at others. It is not extensively illustrated and those it has are either movie stills or lobby cards and posters from the early days until the more modern era.
If you are interested in the cinema primarily as a visual art and not from the technical aspects of shooting and production or distribution, advertising and the other more ephemeral aspects, then this book will be an excellent choice. Well-written, knowledgeable and extensive it will not be easily bettered.
The reference section at the end is large and extremely extensive. It includes a page-by-page list of quotations and references, broken down on a country-by-country basis and includes a huge Index with mentions of just about every actor, director or other involved person ever mentioned within the main sections of the book.
Recommended, despite some exclusions and short-comings.
The story starts with ground breaking work of Eadweard James Muybridge and follows every advancement of cinema and it's influence on society all the way up to the decrease of cinema audiences by the popularity of that small screen TV. This book also concentrates more on the personalities of the people withing the visual industry, rather than the history they are part of, but that is welcome here. You may feel there are gaps in the history, but he has chosen a good selection here,
Some bits of the book drag a little and I found I didn't agree with all of his opnions, but there's no denying the impact of the big (and small) screens that he has managed to cram into this book.
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