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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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... pleasure that remains to me: I indulge in reading about movies with undiminished enthusiasm. David Thomson 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 Thomson’s devoted ...

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, David Thomson 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 teacher, Fran, becomes involved with a cop (Mark Ruffalo) who is investigating a string of particularly gruesome murders ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: The Matrix, 22 May 2003

... just look what happened to Star Wars. Star Wars, along with Jaws, is regularly cited, not least by David Thomson, 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, £9.99), is: ‘Get over it, Dad.’ This selective ...

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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... the earlier movie the small masterpiece the new one can’t compete with, is that of Glenn Ford. David Thomson 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 grief in The Big Heat. Then we recall his role in ...

The Real Magic

David Sylvester, 8 June 1995

A Biographical Dictionary of Film 
by David Thomson.
Deutsch, 834 pp., £25, November 1994, 0 233 98859 9
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... now I have taken the view that my ‘Desert Island’ book, if I were asked, would have to be David Thomson’s A Biographical Dictionary of the Cinema. First published in 1970, it has just re-appeared as A Biographical Dictionary of Film in a third edition that is revised and considerably enlarged. Despite its titles it is indeed a work of ...

People shouldn’t be fat

Zachary Leader, 3 October 1996

Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu 
by Simon Callow.
Cape, 640 pp., £20, March 1995, 0 224 03852 4
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Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles 
by David Thomson.
Little, Brown, 460 pp., £20, September 1996, 0 316 91437 1
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... appetite, though, was not a late development. In Simon Callow’s biography the composer Virgil Thomson reports the 22-year-old actor-director devouring ‘oysters and champagne, red meat and burgundy, dessert and brandy’ immediately before squeezing into a canvas corset to play Brutus in Julius Caesar. Later in the run, Welles found time during the ...

Strange Stardom

David Haglund: James Franco, 17 March 2011

Palo Alto: Stories 
by James Franco.
Faber, 197 pp., £12.99, January 2011, 978 0 571 27316 4
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... Actors don’t lodge in the culture as once they did,’ David Thomson writes in the entry on Heath Ledger in the latest edition of his Biographical Dictionary of Film. ‘They are a type of celebrity now.’ He contrasts Ledger, who died three years ago at the age of 28, with James Dean, who died 55 years ago at the age of 24 and became the standard against which all young, handsome, would-be acting geniuses in Hollywood are measured ...

Attending Poppy

Christopher Tayler: David Grand, 9 December 1999

Louse 
by David Grand.
Quartet, 255 pp., £10, April 1999, 9780704381155
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... no talking, coughing, clearing of the throat, or any movement whatsoever of the lips. As David Thomson remarks in his Biographical Dictionary of Film, this was a life ‘so primed for legend, it leaves one feeling that the doleful, suspicious Hughes had some hygienic plan for missing life altogether and going straight into myth’. Hughes ...

Sight, Sound and Sex

Adam Mars-Jones: Dana Spiotta, 17 March 2016

Innocents and Others 
by Dana Spiotta.
Scribner, 278 pp., £17.95, March 2016, 978 1 5011 2272 9
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... can’t give the impression of looking inside a mind directly, and must find its own equivalents. David Lean declared that in The Passionate Friends (1949) he had succeeded in photographing thought, though he was referring not to the film as a whole but to one sequence, in which Claude Rains’s character jumps to the conclusion that his wife is having an ...

A bout de Bogart

Jenny Diski, 19 May 2011

Tough without a Gun: The Extraordinary Life of Humphrey Bogart 
by Stefan Kanfer.
Faber, 288 pp., £14.99, February 2011, 978 0 571 26072 0
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... Forest, as there is in Rick Blaine’s self-pitying drunk scene in Casablanca. ‘Proof,’ says David Thomson of the latter in his Biographical Dictionary of Film, ‘of how far Bogart needed a great artist to help him rise above the level of maudlin resentment.’ Thomson suggests that self-regard prevented him from ...

You Have A Mother Don’t You?

Andrew O’Hagan: Cowboy Simplicities, 11 September 2003

Searching for John Ford: A Life 
by Joseph McBride.
Faber, 838 pp., £25, May 2003, 0 571 20075 3
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... with the ferocity of Ford’s detractors (they seem to close their eyes to watch his films), but David Thomson makes a mighty-seeming case against him in his Biographical Dictionary of the Cinema. From the 1975 edition: Ford’s male chauvinism believes in uniforms, drunken candour, fresh-faced little women (though never sexuality), a gallery of ...

Sydpolarfarer

Chauncey Loomis, 23 May 1985

The Norwegian with Scott: Tryggve Gran’s Antarctic Diary 1910-1913 
edited by Geoffrey Hattersley-Smith, translated by Ellen Johanne McGhie.
HMSO, 258 pp., £9.95, September 1984, 0 11 290382 7
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... on Scott, this quality is simply one aspect of Scott’s stubborn, middle-class stupidity; for David Thomson, who in Scott’s Men is as critical of Scott as Huntford but who also is more humane and less simplistic, it is a strength that is made a weakness only by artificial and cruel circumstances – a pointless race to a useless place, a race that ...

Wharton the Wise

D.A.N. Jones, 4 April 1985

The Missing Will 
by Michael Wharton.
Hogarth, 216 pp., £10.95, November 1984, 0 7011 2666 3
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... is cruelty in it.’ At Oxford he made friends with two other able autobiographers, David Thomson, the future BBC producer, and Denis Hills, the African explorer, destined to be rescued by James Callaghan from the clutches of Idi Amin. Michael Wharton spent much of his term-time practising West Riding Knife Throwing with his mates, or ...

Diary

Gaby Wood: On Gene Kelly, 21 March 1996

... white grin, held for much longer than it takes to say ‘cheese’, I can see a glimpse of what David Thomson calls Kelly’s ‘harsh, calculating cheerfulness’. It is a picture of an all-American confidence, one that was not just Kelly’s but belonged to his audience and to his time. (Johnny Green recalls his Freed Unit colleagues as ‘the ...

Investigate the Sock

David Trotter: Garbo’s Equivocation, 24 February 2022

Garbo 
by Robert Gottlieb.
Farrar, Straus, 438 pp., £32, December 2021, 978 0 374 29835 7
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... intervention. ‘The miracle happened in that film emulsion. Who knows why?’ Writing in 1975, David Thomson compared Garbo to Christ – there were times in their lives when all they wanted was to be left alone – before concluding with a reiteration of the same ‘mysterious truth’: ‘She was photographed. She was all in the silver.’ Whether ...

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