David Thomson

All in the Family
May 04, 2010

Are some families more dramatic than others? Is this something covered by Tolstoy’s famous law about families—that the happy ones are all alike, while the unhappy ones are unhappy in their own way—or was he hopelessly isolated on the far side of that moment when modern media began?

“You Used to Be in Pictures!”
April 23, 2010

Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America By Peter Biskind (Simon & Schuster, 627 pp., $30)   Warren Beatty has not done a lot for us lately. Town and Country, his last movie, was nine years ago. The absence is such that some of his old associates have concluded that he may be happy at last. But I doubt that such a hope lingered more than a few seconds: Beatty’s entire act has been the epitome of dissatisfaction.

The Mogul Empire
March 06, 2010

Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince By Mark A. Vieira (University of California Press, 504 pp., $34.95)  There are times of such chaos and promise, danger and daydream, when all of us hope for a superb and flawless leader. If he can swing it, we are off the hook. But he need not be a hero who turns into a tyrant. He is not necessarily strong, fierce, and Herculean. Indeed, it may add to his charm, to his magic, if he is slight, youthful, on the pretty side, and--better still--dying.

Eric Rohmer and the Roaming Eye
January 11, 2010

As a person, he was the most deferential of the New Wave directors, yet the most persistent. Eric Rohmer. He died yesterday, aged eighty-nine, and he had made 50 films in that time--as regular, as festive, but as resigned as birthdays--and they were all the same film, about men and women looking at each other. It sounds commonplace as a subject, perhaps, calm and contemplative. But consider for a moment. Are you more or less a man or a woman? Are you more or less tied up with someone?

Chinatown
January 11, 2010

The whole silly book is lit up with the superficial melodrama of scandal. Whereas Hollywood is so much more level-headed.

Short Cuts
October 13, 2009

Robert Altman: The Oral Biography By Mitchell Zuckoff (Knopf, 592 pp., $35) Here is your exam question: who is the last American movie director who made thirty-nine films but never won the Oscar for best director? Name the film by that director that cost the most money, and name the film of his that earned the most. Clue: The Departed, which must have been around Martin Scorsese’s thirtieth picture, and did win the directing Oscar, cost $90 million (four times as much as any of this man’s films cost)--so don’t go that way.

Execution Without Conviction
July 08, 2009

On a Wednesday night in San Francisco, opening night, in a theater no more than half full, the truth was as inescapable as rain at a picnic. Johnny Depp just wasn’t cutting it. He wasn’t even making the attempt. Once again, Michael Mann had poured his nearly liquid talent over a gangster picture without ever thinking to ask himself why. That oddly vague title Public Enemies--why isn’t it called Johnny D. or just Dillinger?--was turning into a startlingly detached and affectless movie.

Marvelously Selfish
June 17, 2009

Kazan on Directing Edited and with commentary by Robert Cornfield (Knopf, 368 pp., $32.50) If anyone wants to make the case for Elia Kazan as one of the outstanding twentieth-century Americans, there is a famous text to call in support. I refer to A Life, Kazan's autobiography, published in 1988 at 848 pages (it was cut to make it a reasonable length), and one of the most forceful and engrossing books ever written about a life in the arts or show business.

Wishin' and Mopin'
April 01, 2009

Dusty!: Queen of the Postmods By Annie J. Randall (Oxford University Press, 219 pp., $24.95) We do our best to keep up, those of us tottering into the back of The New Republic's book once a fortnight. So I have my work and my life as well as those of my wife and children. I have revenues to raise and taxes to pay. On Super Bowl Sunday, I cared just about enough to watch the game, though I was more certain to watch Chelsea versus Liverpool, live, in the West Coast morning. I hope to read a couple of books a month. I worry, but I like to have time for doing nothing.

The Observer as Hero
March 21, 2005

ISHERWOOD: A LIFE REVEALED By Peter Parker (Random House, 815 pp., $39.95)  “FIX” IS A WORD FOR OUR time, blunt and secretive, yet promising transformation. If the “fix” is in, don’t we all suffer because of it? When the World Series of 1919 was “fixed,” the game needed Babe Ruth in order to recover. But if we have a bad knee or a car that won’t start, it is a mercy if someone says they can “fix” it for us. That treatment—we hope—doesn’t involve a cheating fix. It must be a true case of repair or restoration.

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