David Thomson

David Thomson’s most recent book is Disaster Mon Amour.

Peachy: LA Rhapsody

David Thomson, 27 January 2022

This​ is a fabulous book, beautiful, generous, sombre and wise, a wistful romance about a man writing a book like Always Crashing in the Same Car. Don’t fall for that subtitle – a mere concession to academic access and what used to be called the zeitgeist. As if a book as good as this can really be expected to flourish. As if, even in LA, there is a crowd waiting for a...

Weare blessed with two books that combine to give us the fullest and most discerning portrait of a movie star we will ever have. But Cary Grant deserves this as much as we do. His subject is Pretending. There are those among us who felt our lives were shaped by the balanced but enigmatic Grant, even as we knew (without understanding properly) that this tanned Mr Lucky, a Beverly Hills...

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...

Anactor wants to wake up tomorrow as someone else: that’s the delight and the horror in what is sometimes called a profession or an art, as if its risks can be controlled. An actor can be anyone, if he can stand the pace of change and its rootlessness. Cinema as a medium urges us to view ourselves as actors presenting ourselves.

Rod Steiger and Marlon Brando in ‘On the...

Deal of the Century: As Ovitz Tells It

David Thomson, 7 March 2019

By my count​, of the 37 photographs of Michael Ovitz in this book there are 19 in which his mouth stays shut – while he’s smiling. That isn’t intended as a hostile remark. His mouth stayed closed when he smiled because he was concentrating. You may not have heard of him, but for maybe a decade and a half starting in the mid-1970s no one in the motion picture business was...

On the Sofa: ‘Babylon Berlin’

David Thomson, 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,...

Diary: ‘Vertigo’ after Weinstein

David Thomson, 21 June 2018

It isn’t just that Alfred Hitchcock was devious, a fantasist, a voyeur and a predator. It isn’t just that no matter how many Harvey Weinsteins are exposed, it could never be enough to deliver justice to those who have been wronged and exploited. It isn’t even that men invented and have dominated the command and control of the movies, both as art and business: that they have been the majority of directors, producers and camera people despite, over the years, being a minority of the audience. Is what Vertigo has to tell us, beyond this history of male control, that the medium itself is in some sense male? Is there something in cinema that gives power to the predator, sitting still in the dark, watching forbidden things?

Merely an Empire: Eighteen Hours in Vietnam

David Thomson, 21 September 2017

Once, every American knew the outline and the stock images of this chronicle. Because of largely unhindered television news coverage and the cameras that soldiers carried with them, this was the most visible war ever fought. Never again would the government allow reporters to go wherever daring took them.

Red silk is the best blood: Sondheim

David Thomson, 16 December 2010

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...

Diary: Alcatraz

David Thomson, 26 March 2009

The stretch of water known as San Francisco Bay was transformed in the 1930s. No one intended this, but the bay, famous for rapid shifts in weather, light and mood, became a kind of stage set for a drama that might have been entitled ‘What makes the US run?’ In November 1936, the Bay Bridge opened, linking San Francisco and Oakland and Berkeley, with Yerba Buena Island as a...

This is not a long book, except in its view, which is like the view from a Sierra peak, where the omniscient author can see all the way from the Nevada desert, violet and dun, to the biblical meadows, the pretty colours and the plenty that will be California. The art direction of that great trek westwards was perfect – art direction usually is. And now here comes Joan Didion, a little...

Why Goldwyn Wore Jodhpurs

David Thomson, 22 June 2000

There came a time in the middle and late 1970s when Dominick Dunne knew he was washed up. For most of his life he had been trying to get into Hollywood by acting as more than he was. Or without pausing to ask what he was. As a stage manager for NBC TV he’d been picked to work on their 1952 production of The Petrified Forest – with Humphrey Bogart repeating his classic 1936 role, Henry Fonda doing Leslie Howard, and Lauren Bacall as Bette Davis. The show went well. Bogart, always a bit of a snob, and once chucked out of Andover, was impressed that Dunne had been to Williams College. He invited the nobody kid to a party at his home in the Holmby Hills. Dunne knew he was out of his element there, but he took it all in: Judy Garland and Sinatra singing ‘impromptu’ with a hired piano player. All the stars. ‘Before the night was over,’ he writes, ‘people jumped in the pool in their party clothes. I jumped in, too. I wanted to be a part of it. I thought to myself, this is how I want to live.’’‘

From The Blog
12 October 2010

The entry on Heath Ledger was inadvertently dropped from the fifth edition of'The Biographical Dictionary of Film', out next month. It will be included in the sixth edition. In the meantime, here it is. Heath Ledger was only 28 when he died, so he was four years older than James Dean at that unexpected moment. Yet he feels less of a loss than Dean. Unless you loved Ledger, and only love inspires true loss. Perhaps we have to admit that no one now really loves movie stars as people did when Dean died in 1955. But if Dean had lived – he’d be close to 80 – would all of us have become dismayed by a boredom that settled on him? Isn’t that what happened with Brando? I don’t mean Brando was boring in person, but he had wearied of being Marlon Brando and lost faith in acting and pretending.

The Nephew

David Thomson, 19 March 1981

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, and that could have made Michael a good-luck charm in Alex’s eyes. But Michael is neither a film buff nor a historian of the movies. He is, instead, that vital figure in the picture business, a nephew, half-English, half-American, and in his dreams entirely Hungarian. He grew up enthralled by his uncle Alex: he can only provide a fond and rather vague sketch of his father, Vincent, and a perfunctory one of his other uncle, Zoltan. The lives of the title are not three but two: uncle and nephew, the last tycoon and the ardent imitator. The extraordinary interest and appeal of this book spring from the way Michael Korda always wanted to be his own uncle.

Pink and Bare: Nicole Kidman

Bee Wilson, 8 February 2007

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...

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Mad Monk: not going to the movies

Jenny Diski, 6 February 2003

I think it is two years since I’ve been to the cinema. This is something of a mystery to me, like love gone wrong: in fact, it is love gone wrong. Was the love misguided in the first place,...

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People shouldn’t be fat

Zachary Leader, 3 October 1996

By the end of his life Orson Welles weighed 350 pounds. His appetite, though, was not a late development. In Simon Callow’s biography the composer Virgil Thomson reports the 22-year-old...

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The Real Magic

David Sylvester, 8 June 1995

I probably wouldn’t have chosen a work of criticism rather than Proust if the Bible and Shakespeare weren’t already there, but for some years now I have taken the view that my...

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Train Loads of Ammunition

Philip Horne, 1 August 1985

In his own words ‘a queer fish’, Sergei Eisenstein declares at one point in this 1946 memoir that he worked amphibiously, by extremes. ‘I create an arbitrary and capricious...

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