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Nairn is best

Neal Ascherson

21 May 1987
Nairn: In Darkness and Light 
by David Thomson.
Hutchinson, 303 pp., £12.95, April 1987, 0 09 168360 2
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... Some sixty years ago, when DavidThomson was a boy, he suffered from a condition that badly affected his eyesight. He could see, but poorly. He read Braille and, though this was forbidden, the printed page. On two occasions, when the ...

On the Sofa

David Thomson: ‘Babylon Berlin’

2 August 2018
... Lucy​ and I had been through the whole of Babylon Berlin – or so we thought – all sixteen episodes, swallowing three a night. We were bingeing, and greedy for more just to get away from that other consuming and insoluble show, playing on MSNBC night after night, where Rachel Maddow and the others were trying to persuade us that it was all beginning to be over, the Trump thing, that it would all ...

Diary

David Thomson: Alcatraz

26 March 2009
... the public really had to witness them, surely they’d cease to exist. So sometimes I ask people who’ve been here far longer than I have: how did people look at the prison without feeling dismay? David Ward and Gene Kassebaum have compiled an immense study of the prison in what they call the gangster years, from its foundation in 1933 to 1948.* Drawing on interviews with inmates and guards that the ...

The Nephew

David Thomson

19 March 1981
Charmed Lives 
by Michael Korda.
Penguin, 498 pp., £2.50, January 1981, 0 14 005402 2
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... This book suggests how an odd mixture of Hungarian nerve, social bluff and show-business instinct once commanded the British cinema. In Michael Korda’s telling, however, the panorama of picture-making is not always alight with understanding or information. The author may have been born on the night in 1933 when his uncle Alexander Korda’s first great success, The Private Life of Henry VIII, opened ...

How Movies End

David Thomson: John Boorman’s Quiet Ending

9 February 2020
Conclusions 
by John Boorman.
Faber, 237 pp., £20, February, 978 0 571 35379 8
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... We’re not​ dealing with an ordinary man, or a conformist. There he is in the abandoned shell of Fort Point in San Francisco, this fierce and frightened man, looking like Lee Marvin. The fat parcel of money he has been demanding throughout the film is at his feet. All he has to do is pick it up. Instead, he fades into the darkness. What kind of movie is Point Blank? And what kind of book is this ...

Deal of the Century

David Thomson: As Ovitz Tells It

7 March 2019
Who Is Michael Ovitz? 
by Michael Ovitz.
W.H. Allen, 372 pp., £20, September 2018, 978 0 7535 5336 7
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... as the most effective operator in the motion picture business was at some point swept into the dustbin of ‘Whatever happened to … ?’ So who was he? Michael Ovitz was born in Chicago in 1946 to David, the son of Jewish Romanian immigrants. David was a liquor salesman for Seagram’s but he worked weekends too, selling patio furniture to support his family after they moved to Encino in the San ...
22 June 2000
The Way We Lived Then: Recollections of a Well-Known Name Dropper 
by Dominick Dunne.
Crown, 218 pp., £17.99, October 1999, 0 609 60388 4
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Gary Cooper Off Camera: A Daughter Remembers 
by Maria Cooper Janis.
Abrams, 176 pp., £22, November 1999, 0 8109 4130 9
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... storage. But we should never forget the need to save the scrapbooks, the still photographs, the home movies and now the video footage. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was working on the life of David O. Selznick, the man who produced Gone with the Wind, Rebecca and Duel in the Sun. It was a great help, yet a daunting obstacle, that Selznick had kept virtually every bit of paper that passed ...

Mad Monk

Jenny Diski: Not going to the movies

6 February 2003
The New Biographical Dictionary of Film 
by David Thomson.
Little, Brown, 963 pp., £25, November 2002, 0 316 85905 2
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Nobody’s Perfect: Writings from the ‘New Yorker’ 
by Anthony Lane.
Picador, 752 pp., £15.99, November 2002, 0 330 49182 2
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Paris Hollywood: Writings on Film 
by Peter Wollen.
Verso, 314 pp., £13, December 2002, 1 85984 391 3
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... any more. Do I just resent that, or does it really make for poorer movies? There is one reliable cinematic pleasure that remains to me: I indulge in reading about movies with undiminished enthusiasm. DavidThomson has written about his disappointment with contemporary cinema, about how the franchise movie and the blockbuster are killing Hollywood and his hopes, and because I am one of the legion of ...

Red silk is the best blood

David Thomson: Sondheim

16 December 2010
Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-81), with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes 
by Stephen Sondheim.
Virgin, 445 pp., £30, October 2010, 978 0 7535 2258 5
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... Stephen Sondheim is America’s master of musical theatre, as long as we are prepared for the work to be brilliant but not relaxed. His is a voice of solitude struggling to believe in company, and that of a lifelong game-player, so be careful about taking this book at face value as an autobiography, or as giving the whole story. Regard it as pointing a way out of the woods that may only take us deeper ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: The Matrix

22 May 2003
... to be released in November: to be that different three times in a row would surely be impossible – just look what happened to Star Wars. Star Wars, along with Jaws, is regularly cited, not least by DavidThomson, as the film that ‘killed the movies’. Glenn Kelly’s answer, in his introduction to A Galaxy Not So Far Away: Writers and Artists on 25 Years of ‘Star Wars’ (Allison and Busby, £9 ...
1 August 1985
Immoral Memories 
by Sergei Eisenstein, translated by Herbert Marshall.
Peter Owen, 292 pp., £20, June 1985, 0 7206 0650 0
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A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema: 1930-1980 
by Robert Ray.
Princeton, 409 pp., £48.50, June 1985, 0 691 04727 8
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Suspects 
by David Thomson.
Secker, 274 pp., £8.95, May 1985, 0 436 52014 1
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Cahiers du Cinéma. Vol. I: The 1950s. Neo-Realism, Hollywood, New Wave 
edited by Jim Hillier.
Routledge with the British Film Institute, 312 pp., £16.95, March 1985, 0 7100 9620 8
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... own frequently impressive analysis of a number of Hollywood films shares many of its preoccupations with the two most striking works of the English critic who writes best about the American cinema. DavidThomson’s magnificent Biographical Dictionary of the Cinema (1975 – revised edition, 1980) and his lurid Overexposures: The Crisis in American Film-Making (1981) are the work of an intellectual ...

Pink and Bare

Bee Wilson: Nicole Kidman

8 February 2007
Nicole Kidman 
by David Thomson.
Bloomsbury, 311 pp., £18.99, September 2006, 0 7475 7710 2
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... To understand Nicole Kidman, DavidThomson argues, you need to see a film called In the Cut. Not because Kidman is in it. She isn’t. The film stars Meg Ryan, is directed by Jane Campion and tells the story of how a lonely creative writing ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘3.10 to Yuma’, 1957 & 2007

18 October 2007
3.10 to Yuma 
directed by James Mangold.
September 2007
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3.10 to Yuma 
directed by Delmer Daves.
August 1957
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... Foster is even more impressive in the part than Richard Jaeckel. But the key performance, which makes the earlier movie the small masterpiece the new one can’t compete with, is that of Glenn Ford. DavidThomson says Ford was ‘ill at ease’ in this film, and the thought makes sense at first, especially if we remember Ford as the beleaguered teacher in Blackboard Jungle or the cop driven wild by ...

Diary

David Thomson: ‘Vertigo’ after Weinstein

21 June 2018
... In​ 2012, five years before the wave of accusations against predatory men in the movie business, the film critics of the world – as chosen by the magazine Sight & Sound – voted to give the accolade of ‘best picture ever made’ to a piercing dream of male supremacy and female servitude carried to the point of murder. It was Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and plainly the critics did not vote ...

Merely an Empire

David Thomson: Eighteen Hours in Vietnam

20 September 2017
The Vietnam War 
directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.
PBS, ten episodes
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... Roger Harris​ is from Roxbury, in Boston. For decades he taught in the school system there. He wears a grey pinstripe suit; his smart bow-tie has a purple streak. He looks patient yet tough, as durable as a former athlete. But he had days in 1967 as a young Marine near the DMZ in Vietnam – the demilitarised zone, aka the ‘dead Marine zone’ – that he can’t talk about:You go over there with ...

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