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David Thomson is probably the greatest film critic alive, and 'The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood' is an absolute masterpiece. Thomson is best known for the key film reference book 'The New Biographical Dictionary of Film' alongside his regular contributions to newspapers such as The Independent on Sunday. The front pages to this paperback edition of Thomson's 2005 book list a detailed oeuvre including such titles as 'Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles', 'In Nevada: The Land, the People, God, and Chance', 'Beneath Mulholland: Thoughts on Hollywood and Its Ghosts' and 'Showman: The Life of David O Selznick.' Thomson's best work, 'Suspects' sadly remains out of print - like the aforementioned titles it taps into Hollywood, and like this book advances on ideas about California, such books as 'City of Quartz' or multiple writings from Joan Didion ('Slouching Towards Bethlehem') who is quoted several times here...

Thomson advances his history of Hollywood through the rubric of 'Chinatown' and its writer Robert Towne, with much reference to Hollywood box-office and production - which makes this book a companion to William Goldman's twin set 'Adventures in the Screen Trade' and 'Which Lie Did I Tell?' The 20-something chapters explore Hollywood and work as a history - though the book certainly is as 'provocative' as JG Ballard's cover-quote states - the fact the last 30 or so years are covered in just a few chapters sort of tells you how signifcant Thomson feels Hollywood is. The later chapters reveal Thomson's experience of watching 'The Matrix Reloaded' and how that type of cinema is different to the kind of film he championed (as 'The New Biographical Dictionary of Film' stated, Thomson's favourite films include 'His Girl Friday', 'Celine and Julie Go Boating' & 'That Obscure Object of Desire') - though Thomson notes here that someone like David Lynch ('Blue Velvet', 'Mulholland Dr.')can counter the negative view.

'The Whole Equation' is one you can get lost in, as vital as the writings of Pauline Kael and more adventerous than a very good film writer such as Mark Cousins or Ryan Gilbey. The book is a joy to give yourself up to - marvel not only at the grammatical construction (a style definitely worth imitating...) but the insights and allusions to other works: Chaplin, 'The Day of the Locust', Cahiers Du Cinema, 'The Last Tycoon', 'Sunset Boulevard', Lillian Gish, Robert Towne...and surprising things like a critical reassessment of the much maligned 'Heaven's Gate' aligned to the great film book 'The Final Cut' (one of those obligatory film books like 'Film'). Thomson helpfully offers a list of related books you might want to pursue after...

'The Whole Equation' is the best film book to appear in sometime, it manages to include an element of the gossip/personality focus of a book like 'Easy Riders, Raging Bulls' alongside more developed discourse (think Baudrillard on 'The China Syndrome' or Borges on 'Citizen Kane' - happy to veer off into historical/political or a book like Conrad's 'Chance'). Great stuff...
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on 10 September 2005
This is a brilliant book of the history of Hollywood that has been seemingly ignored. The book takes us from the time that Griffiths early films were helping Mayer form the basis of his studio(and the whole studio system), through the golden age right up to the modern day. Well kind of, since Thompson doesn't concern himself with the exact details of how the business evolved. Rather he tries to imagine what Hollywood actually is and how such a thing could and does exist in the most powerful nation on earth(Where on earth has this paradox sprung fromwhere we enter the dark in order to see light). Of course in the process he describes the men(and women or to be more honest their women) who made the films, whether they be great directors, producers or studio bosses and the power play between them. Early on in the book Thompson recites the history of infamous film director Erich Von Stronheim as he tries to get his nine and a half hour cut of his film greed on screen and his battle with Thalberg head of MGM production. Both men have a certain yearning for films to be more than entertainment. Though only Thalberg understands more than simply the film but also the audience. Through the book Thompson looks controversially at other filmic concepts such as method acting and the impact that has had on film. Fundamentally to garner an answer to the fundamental question of whether art and business have ever existed side by side and more cynically if such a question can ever seriously be posed to such a vain and narcissistic industry. To Thompson understanding the question has only ever been in the minds of the most powerful men in the history of the business.
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on 5 March 2015
I'm still reading this. However it is well up to Thomson's usual standard, being full of insight as well as very entertaining. Well worth the money for anyone with an interest in cinema and the movie industry.
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on 24 November 2012
I found that I couldn't invest myself in this book which isn't the fault of the author at all. I realised that although I love books about Hollywood, I like ones that are more gossipy. However, saying that I did at times go "aaah" so that's why that happens, so I will read it again.
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on 6 December 2015
good as expected
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