The Big Screen tells the enthralling story of the movies: their rise and spread, their remarkable influence over us, and the technology that made the screen—smaller now, but ever more ubiquitous—as important as the images it carries.
The Big Screen is not another history of the movies. Rather, it is a wide-ranging narrative about the movies and their signal role in modern life. At first, film was a waking dream, the gift of appearance delivered for a nickel to huddled masses sitting in the dark. But soon, and abruptly, movies began transforming our societies and our perceptions of the world. The celebrated film authority David Thomson takes us around the globe, through time, and across many media—moving from Eadweard Muybridge to Steve Jobs, from Sunrise to I Love Lucy, from John Wayne to George Clooney, from television commercials to streaming video—to tell the complex, gripping, paradoxical story of the movies. He tracks the ways we were initially enchanted by movies as imitations of life—the stories, the stars, the look—and how we allowed them to show us how to live. At the same time, movies, offering a seductive escape from everyday reality and its responsibilities, have made it possible for us to evade life altogether. The entranced audience has become a model for powerless and anxiety-ridden citizens trying to pursue happiness and dodge terror by sitting quietly in a dark room.
Does the big screen take us out into the world, or merely mesmerize us? That is Thomson’s question in this grand adventure of a book. Books about the movies are often aimed at film buffs, but this passionate and provocative feat of storytelling is vital to anyone trying to make sense of the age of screens—the age that, more than ever, we are living in.
About David Thomson
David Thomson, renowned as one of the great living authorities on the movies, is the author of The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, now in its fifth edition. His recent books include a biography of Nicole Kidman and The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood. Thomson’s latest work is the acclaimed “Have You Seen . . . ?”: A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films. Born in London in 1941, he now lives in San Francisco.
The author goes beyond mere survey and analysis to question what movies mean to us and how they have shaped our perceptions and beliefs. Thomson chronicles the development of movies from Eadweard Muybridge’s 19th-century photographic experiments to the phenomenon of Internet pornography. Along the way, he explicates the excitement and politically fraught evolution of Soviet cinema, the provocations of the European New Wave, the allure of film noir and the world-shaking product of Hollywood, but the author makes no attempt to give a comprehensive or strictly linear history of the medium. Thomson is more interested in making striking connections, looking deeply at particular films, such as Brief Encounter (a surprising subject for such intense scrutiny and indicative of Thomson’s iconoclastic bent) or the TV landmark I Love Lucy, to pursue the central question of his history: What does life in front of screens do to us? Thomson’s approach is lyrical and questing rather than academic; the book is accessible to anyone with more than a passing interest in the subject, written in a distinctive voice, learned and authoritative without pedantic dryness and touched with wonder and trepidation at the primal power of the image. Readers familiar with the author’s Biographical Dictionary of Film will be happy to note that Thomson’s beguiling knack for capturing the essences of our movie icons in poetic or provocative asides has not diminished, and the scholarship on display is first-rate. However, the heart of this unique overview is the author’s ambivalence about the power we grant those shadows on the wall. – Kirkus Reviews
Assaying The Legacy Of ‘The Big Screen’
NPR Book Review – October 18, 2012 (Excerpt)
“The fact is I am quite happy in a movie, even a bad movie,” admits Binx Bolling, the hero of Walker Percy’s 1961 novelThe Moviegoer. It’s the same for a lot of us — cinema affects us in ways we don’t always understand, and even the worst films appeal to our nostalgia and sense memories in manners that defy the normal rules of taste and logic. (Currently, on my DVR: La Dolce Vita, a classic I know Ishould see at some point, and Gymkata, a truly terrible 1985 martial-arts flick I’ve watched a dozen times. Guess which one I’m going to turn on tonight?)
In The Big Screen, British-American film critic and historian David Thomson attempts to answer some fundamental questions about the world’s favorite hobby. How do we relate to the movies? “The cinema is the embodiment of ‘let there be light,’ ” he writes. But where does the light come from? Does it illuminate us or blind us?
Of course, these are difficult and possibly even unanswerable questions. But Thomson — arguably the world’s most intelligent student of the cinema — proves remarkably up to the task. The Big Screen is beautiful and expansive, “a love letter to a lost love” that has the capacity to change the way we look at film. [Read the full article...]
‘The Big Screen,’ by David Thomson
The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review – October 15, 2012 (Excerpt)
Rare is the film critic who accesses a movie through hidden doors, off-the-map passageways that most of us lack the internal GPS, let alone the moxie, to locate. With the loss of Pauline Kael and Manny Farber, that exclusive clubhouse is now dominated by David Thomson, an indefatigable provocateur and the most quotable cineaste you won’t find in the movie quote ads. That may be because he has been otherwise engaged in the composition of two dozen durable books, including a definitive biography of David O. Selznick and “A Biographical Dictionary of Film,” that Valhalla of entry-surfing sourcebooks.
Thomson varyingly refers to his wily and wistful new history of cinema, “The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies,” as “a love story” and “some kind of novel.” The object of his affections, of course, is film, particularly French and American. And certainly, the author re-illuminates cinematic landmarks with prose that would flatter the most lyrical of fiction writers. The faces of the tumbling masses on the Odessa steps in Sergei Eisenstein’s “Potemkin” are likened to “the agonized horses’ heads in Guernica.” Orson Welles ”spoke like a ruined angel.” [Read the full article...]
Film Forum - ‘The Big Screen,’ by David Thomson
The New York Times Book Review – December 13, 2012 (Excerpt)
Seen in fast forward, the career of David Thomson — the avid, idiosyncratic movie critic — looks more like a klatch session than a formal lesson in the history of film. Where many writers’ work suggests a dutiful progression, Thomson chases his subjects with free-associative license: Nicole Kidman to Alfred Hitchcock (with a hefty reference work in between), the big picture to the picayune. And where a lot of critics aim for impartial assessment, he has unapologetically privileged his private passions. Today, Thomson is best known for his “New Biographical Dictionary of Film,” but his strength is less taxonomy than transition, the almost cinematic way his mind cuts among its intellectual frames.
That montage, at its best, gives his working life a thrilling unpredictability; sometimes, his books deliver greater pleasures than the multiplex itself.
“The Big Screen,” Thomson’s new history, is in some sense the summa of this unusual career. Folding in ideas and research from his previous studies, the book traces a path through more than a century of movie history, starting with Eadweard Muybridge (the eccentric Gilded Age photographer) and ending, more or less, with Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” (the enfant chéri of this past year’s Oscars). Thomson considers not just the changes to filmmaking in that time but the shifts in creative imagination that propelled such changes; at one point, he explains that he is striving “to uncover the secret nature of film and the way it aids our dreaming.” [Read the full article...]
Painted Wings and Giants’ Rings
A Novel by Wilfried F. Voss
The loss of innocence, when “painted wings and giants’ rings made ways for other toys” is the central theme of this festival of children’s dream world adventures against the harsh reality of adult life.
In his newest novel, Wilfried F. Voss delivers a unique and insightful view into a child’s world and how it relates to the harsh reality of adult life, in this case the life of Roger Wilkinson, a businessman who is haunted by childhood memories and the ultimate fear of mistreating his own children. Wilkinson is in a coma after a car accident on the Massachusetts Turnpike, and he does not respond to physical stimulation. The doctor, assuming psychological issues, describes his condition as dwelling in a dark place. Consequently, Roger’s children, Patrick and Siobhan, decide to rescue their father from the dark place and bring him to Never-Neverland, because, in their view, nobody dies in Never-Neverland.
Painted wings, childhood’s great defender, And giants’ rings are such great splendor. Keep these treasures, don’t grow old In a world of tears and full of cold. - The Faery’s Silly Song
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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