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VINE VOICEon 12 January 2015
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
"The Big Screen" is a beautifully readable meditation on movies and moviemaking, from their beginning to [almost] the present day. Subtitled "The Story Of The Movies And What They Did To Us", it's written from the viewpoint of the moviegoer but informed by the understanding and knowledge of one of our most noted film critics. David Thomson was born in Britain but has lived in the US for years, giving him a transatlantic viewpoint whcih takes in the art of the filmmaker in both its European and Hollywood variants.

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.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Having previously read, although not recently, several histories of the cinema this is the most complete, extensive and knowledgeable work of all. One was more limited and concentrated primarily on the period from the introduction of the 'talkies' in 1926, although they were still far from the norm two years later, and through to the mid- or late-60s when that book was probably written. Another was less a written history than it was pictorial and included photographs of just about every major star and many lesser-known stars of their day, many of whom are now almost forgotten. Neither of those books, or any other seen, was then aware of the forthcoming home entertainment revolution that so affected traditional cinema in many different ways, from reducing its income by the closure of many cinemas, by the reduction of audiences, and from the ready distribution of DVDs and Blu-ray disksand their player systems.

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.
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VINE VOICEon 15 April 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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 tome The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, he's given us the story of the screen, what we look at for entertainment & education.

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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on 29 October 2015
A superb book on the movies. So much has already been written in the reviews of this book that everything you would want to know about it is there for you and I cannot add to that, just maybe to say that I enjoyed reading it, it is one of the best books currently in print on the subject and a must for movie lovers everywhere.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 October 2012
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.' Only going to the pictures can do that for you. All the way down Bold Street.

The gift season is nearly upon us once again. This is a book for reading, not just for owning or to refer to or to look at. Like The Second World War I devoured recently this is real history. Captivating in a prose style akin to a novel replete with long sentences, free indirect speech and the occasional jump-cut. It is not glued together reportage of quotes and stories. The narrative thread is the screen. From the silent to the one in your pocket. Highly recommended. For you.
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VINE VOICEon 20 December 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A beautiful read. Far from being a text book style thesis, The Big Screen is a love letter to cinema. Written from the perspective of someone with a serious grasp of cinema's history, Thomson tells of the development of the moving image from Muybridge onwards, mixing history with observations and spot-on musings as to the evolving power of motion pictures. Told chronologically, Thomson's understanding and knowledge of cinema is such that when he references either backwards or forwards, drawing comparisons between films sometimes four or five decades apart, his threads make perfect sense; every page containing at least one beautiful observation, delivered concisely without being bombastic or dramatic.

Yes, this is a big book, but don't let that put you off. The author speaks with great authority, but always seeks to ground his ideas in those of the main audience. I've yet to finish The Big Screen (so I can't tell you how it ends) but Thomson had me by the end of the book's introduction - and not once have I felt like his notions and theories are coasting, or felt excluded given I haven't seen half of the films he's talking about. Rather, I'm falling in love with movies all over again; the cynicism of our reviewer's age eclipsed by the author's reminder that the screen (regardless of a film's intentions, romantic, political or action) is all about projecting desire up for us to revel in.

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VINE VOICEon 21 March 2013
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It's hard to see this not becoming a standard text for film studies. On just about every page there is something to think about. I particularly enjoyed the discussions of screen and audience. I was a boy in the 1960s and can remember standing in long cinemas queues for popular films. It's hard for today's young film "consumers" to realise that not that many years ago, the only ways to see a movie were a) in the cinema and b) wait for it to be shown on television. No VHS video, no DVD, no downloads. And the cinema auditorium itself has changed so much. So many smaller auditoria with smaller screens, rather than the mass audience being thrilled of amused together. Today too "the big screen" has partly given way to the "small screen" of portable devices, and film consumption is very different. All of this is thoughtfully considered. This book is not a film almanac or gazeteer - no doubt there will be favourite films of yours of which you'd like to see more discussion in the book. But there are other books for that. This text (subtitled The story of the movies and what they did to us) is more properly a kind of historical consideration belonging to what has been called the history of ideas. I used to teach a basic Film Studies unit (indeed, I wrote the current version of the Unit in the Scottish Qualifications Authority catalogue) and on reading this book, I kept wishing that I still had a film class, so that we could talk about some of the ideas.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
David Thomson turns his not inconsiderable knowledge of all things movie towards screen history. Not just cinema but screens of all sorts as he sounds off on the effect upon us all of all visual media.
He looks longingly back to the early days of film when the world was both a more innocent & believable place.
The screen has, he tells us, both entertained us & slowly but surely fed us an unreality that has become the norm & isolated us from one another. A trip up any high street or on public transport will quickly illustrate his point.
His huge understanding of cinema history means the reader is given a detailed & fascinating history that starts with that often forgotten but hugely influential figure in modern art Edweard Muybridge. His multi camera photorama's influenced the birth of the moving image & the birth of modern art, (Will Gompertz 'What are you looking at' agrees wholeheartedly).
Thomson offers a very detailed account of what influenced every change in cinema & the influences cinema made upon society in return.
This is not a simple dip into it at your leisure type publication. This will undoubtedly become a 'must have' for all film students and is set to become an essential reference.
Not every 'classic' film & art house director is mentioned but that would be impossible anyway. This is not a who's who nor a list of must haves.
His views on how the increase of pornography & violence has affected society transcends the usual knee jerk reactions and highlights the way expectation has been made to exceed reality & the effect upon us as individuals.
As we are slowly guided through the history of the screen Thomsons sadness at the decline in mass audiences in favour of isolated individuals staring at the latest films downloaded onto a small screen.
Television is included as are all screen technologies. A lot is given just brief page space and Thomsons pet subjects are what really stand out. In particular world cinema loses out most with the output of entire continents looked over. However the attention to detail is astounding and the slow approach from the screens inception to the modern day is uncompromising.
What prevents 'The Big Screen' from being a dry as toast is Thomsons passion for his subject & the sad truth that the overall effect of the screen in all its formats has been far from positive and society has paid a heavy price for their love of make believe 'made real'.
a small handful of B&W photo's are well chosen & avoid cliche. A style the book as a whole adopts. There are so many biographies, histories & '100 best of's..' out there that it takes something rather special to stand out from the crowd and become an instant 'must have'.
That this new volume manages to be so special & is destined to find it's way to the head of every film lovers list is testament to a writer whose long and admired work in the industry has led to much deserved respect.
The notes section at the end where Thomson's references are listed are extensive and extremely useful. They also illustrate a lack of arrogance & willingness to acknowledge others efforts.
The index is vast & covers so many famous & lesser known titles & people that some idea of the cast scope of the book can be seen.
The'...what they did to us' part of the title is the biggest clue as to the direction David Thomson takes with the book. This is personal & while clearly a labour of love, an unerringly honest reflection upon the history of film. Both it's glories and effect upon us all.
Fascinating, informative and superbly well written. This is a must have for all cinephiles & would be social commentators alike.
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on 27 June 2013
Nearing the end of this book I was starting to wonder what was specifically necessary about this book compared with Thomson's numerous other magnificent books on the subject of cinema and it's histories, such as The Whole Equation, A Biographical Dictionary of Film, and his various other biographies and filmographies of Orson Welles, The Alien Quartet, Bogart, Bette Davis, The Big Sleep and Psycho. And if there is one criticism that I would have brought against this book as I was reading it, it was that so many of these films, and this narrative of Hollywood and french cinema, have been discussed so many times, by so many authors, that what really is left to add. I longed for a parallel version, of films that we haven't heard of (although i will admit that if you aren't a Thomson reader you probably won't have heard of most of these films and their makers.)

But, to reach the end is to understand what this book is trying to do, to show us not just the history of cinema, but the history of cinema as a popular medium, as a reflection of society, and how it has shaped it over the past hundred years with its various mutations into television, video, games, mobile phones, pornography and the internet. Thomson's conclusion is not a clear cut one, neither is it really a conclusion, but an admission that while our concentration may be cut to shreds, our constant internet usage leaves us vulnerable to fascism, that we continued to be removed from reality, and cinema could have possibly died (many) deaths, not least from intrusion of business and advertising. There still lies something innocent and hopeful and mesmerising in moving images.

But, again; but, there is one omission which i find revealing, and it may be a side note. Thomson shows dismay at the direction in which so many screens, so many distractions, are encouraging us to lose our grip on reality, to hide in dreams, and generally seems to view advances in technology as negative influences on society. But he seems to ignore the many positive ways in which the internet has allowed people ways of organising themselves, has given voices to many people that wouldn't otherwise have had them, from around the world. Is that not a good thing? He mentions twitter was important in organising the destruction involved in the 2011 riots in London, but seems to scoff at it's importance in it's use by ordinary people in the Arab Spring. I find this disappointing. You may claim that this is a book about film, and it was simply out of his area of interest, and if that is case then he shouldn't have mentioned it at all.
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VINE VOICEon 1 November 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
From side show tent to lecture theatre film has had one of the most famous rags to riches histories of all of the arts.
From those frantic flickers to the 3D all round sensual experiences the moving picture has had us in thrall for over a century. Still the infant of the Arts it has, arguably, had the most effect on the daily lives of us human beings. It is where we learned to dress, speak, enter a room, light a cigarette and even how to die.

This comprehensive book by David Thomson is the work of a fanatic, a human who has learned his craft sitting in the dark surrounded by strangers, honing the new vocabulary of the moving image. It is a passionate book by a passionate man for whom film has been more than a second language (or third or fourth etc)

He has woven together, I would guess, a vast panoply of essays on the art form of film and from page to page he will swoop from the long lasting effects of Italian cinema to an up close look at a single, though pivotal film like "Brief Encounter" or "Psycho" or "Taxi Driver".

The early stages of the book do trace in approximate chronology the conception, birth and early years of cinema but as he is so bursting with knowledge and story he will sweep you along with references back and forth. He will anticipate what is later to arrive, he will reminisce and what has powerfully been.

For a film fanatic the book will be a volume of head nods, known references and an acknowledgement of Thomson's wide film experience. He has his favourites, as do we all. You may regret what is missed. There is nothing more than a passing reference to the cinema of the East and considering it is the biggest film industry on the planet this might seem a little remiss. He is, culturally, an American, he sees film in reference to that nation's take on the art form, most of his favourite quoted films are American. He waxes lyrically on Hawkes, Scorsese and Hitchcock (culturally an American).

This is a brilliant volume for a wet weekend during which you will raid your own dvd collection (or nearest outlet) to rewatch some old favourites. Then it will be time to partake in that age old game of listing your top ten, or revising the list you made last year.

By the time this book is published it will already be out of date because there is no art form that reproduces itself faster and Thomson's most recent references will already be on the Blockbuster shelves.
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