Michael Wood

Michael Wood is an emeritus professor at Princeton. He has written books on Yeats, Nabokov, Stendhal, Hitchcock and Empson, among other things.

At the Movies: ‘Napoleon’

Michael Wood, 14 December 2023

Much of​ Ridley Scott’s Napoleon feels like an unintended essay on the art of cinema. The good bits, and there are quite a few, make up a silent film with some noise. The terrible bits are over-simplified soap opera, where people talk and are supposed to have feelings. Critics and scholars have complained about ‘historical inaccuracies’, but the most interesting deviations...

In Martin Scorsese’s​ new film, Killers of the Flower Moon, a man asks another man to ask another man to kill another man. This sounds like the beginning of a joke, and the degree of delegation verges on the comic. The last man is killed, so the rest of the story is not funny. But then why are the first and second men screaming at each other in a farcical quarrel about back and front?...

It’stempting to think of Past Lives, Celine Song’s haunting (and haunted) first film, as a work in search of a story. In the end, though, it’s exactly the reverse. The story is there but the characters can’t live it. They can’t let it happen and they can’t let it go. ‘What a good story this is,’ one of them says at a certain point. And a...

‘Cinema,’ Christian Petzold once said in an interview, ‘always tells the stories of people who do not belong anymore but who want to belong once again.’ ‘Always’ seems a bit of a stretch, but the idea is interesting. Petzold thinks of John Wayne in The Searchers – ‘also a ghost’, he says – and we could add James Stewart in Vertigo...

At the Movies: ‘Barbie’

Michael Wood, 10 August 2023

In​ the middle of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie (written by Gerwig and Noah Baumbach), a character makes a horrible discovery about reality: it keeps changing. This may seem obvious and is only part of the truth anyway. One of reality’s other problems is that it doesn’t change enough. But we understand the horror.

If we had been born into a place designed to exclude change and...

Pirouette on a Sixpence: Untranslatables

Christopher Prendergast, 10 September 2015

On​ the face of it a Dictionary of Untranslatables looks like a contradiction in terms, either self-imploding from the word go, or, if pursued, headed fast down a cul-de-sac in which it is...

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It took a very special kind of invention to get an awareness of the ‘erratic truth of death’s timing’ into a medium of mass entertainment.

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I told you so! oracles

James Davidson, 2 December 2004

I don’t believe in astrology, but I also know that not believing in astrology is a typically Taurean trait. When I first caught a bright young friend browsing in the astrology section of a...

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And That Rug! images of Shakespeare

Michael Dobson, 6 November 2003

Above the entrance to the saloon bar there is a picture of Shakespeare on the swinging sign. It is the same picture of Shakespeare that I remember from my schooldays, when I frowned over Timon...

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John Lanchester, 6 October 1994

Musing over Don Juan, Byron asked his banker and agent Douglas Kinnaird a rhetorical question: ‘Could any man have written it – who has not lived in the world? – and tooled in a...

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