Synopses & Reviews
In 1975, David Thomson published his Biographical Dictionary of Film,
and few film books have enjoyed better press or such steady sales.
Now, thirty-three years later, we have the companion volume, a second book of more than 1,000 pages in one voice—that of our most provocative contemporary film critic and historian.
Juxtaposing the fanciful and the fabulous, the old favorites and the forgotten, this sweeping collection presents the films that Thomson offers in response to the question he gets asked most often—“What should I see?” This new book is a generous history of film and an enticing critical appraisal written with as much humor and passion as historical knowledge. Not content to choose his own top films (though they are here), Thomson has created a list that will surprise and delight you—and send you to your best movie rental service.
But he also probes the question: after one hundred years of film, which ones are the best, and why?
“Have You Seen . . . ?” suggests a true canon of cinema and one thats almost completely accessible now, thanks to DVDs. This book is a must for anyone who loves the silver screen: the perfect confection to dip into at any point for a taste of controversy, little-known facts, and ideas about what to see. This is a volume youll want to return to again and again, like a dear but argumentative friend in the dark at the movies.
"Gossip and insight go hand in hand in this witty, exuberant essay on the acting greats by one of our most imaginative writers on film. Backstage, off-stage and what might have been infuse Thomson’s compelling examination of the storied performances of our time. He brings a fresh eye to Olivier, Kazan, the evolution and demise of Method acting. But he also speculates. After all, what are actual memories but an invitation to new, hypothetical ones? Brando as Archie Rice? Olivier as Stanley Kowalski? Read it and wonder (or argue) with Thomson."—MOLLY HASKELL
"Entertaining and thought-provoking . . . This is a book for appreciators of film and theater; for actors, whether aspiring or established; and for anyone who wants to know why acting has fascinated and enlightened us for centuries."—Sarah Grant, Booklist
"A very thoughtful and serious essay on an elusive and illusory art."—Library Journal
“Characteristically elegant . . . Riddling, sophisticated, whimsical, Mr. Thomson commands an affecting lyricism that sweetly betrays his love for his subject."—Simon Callow, Wall Street Journal
“The ridiculously prolific and perceptive film critic, film historian, and film biographer does some serious mulling about the art and craft of acting. . . . The perfect book to read in the wake of all that congratulatory hoo-ha at the Academy Awards.”—Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer
“In this consideration of the actor’s craft, a noted film historian anatomizes favorite performances and speculates on ones that might have been (such as a Philip Seymour Hoffman Hamlet). Thomson demonstrates a subtle understanding of the mind-set of the actor, adept at storytelling, spying, lying, and secrecy.”—New Yorker
‘David Thomson is one of the funniest and most insightful writers on cinema.’—Kate Muir, the Times,
‘...this book has a nugget of interest on almost every page.’—Anthony Quinn, the Guardian
“Thomson’s book is rich with insight not only on the general topic of acting but also on particular performers — he is particularly good at comparing and contrasting Brando and Sir Laurence Olivier, the most celebrated actors of recent times.”—Washington Post
“The book’s jacket notes describe Why Acting Matters as both a meditation and a celebration of acting, an accurate assessment of these witty reflections on an elusive topic presented by one of Britain’s foremost film experts . . . [Thomson] equally understands the entertainment industry, actors and acting, and the way to tell a good story about them. Among these fascinating tales, he weaves salient points about why people care so much about acting.”—Popmatters
“Erudite and entertaining.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“An eloquent, vivid, irritating book full of sharp nuggets of facts and bright jewels of opinionated air.”—Sydney Morning Herald
“Thomson’s strengths are many, and his writing overflows with compassion, wide experience of life, and cultivation. Those traits are all on display here.”—Weekly Standard
“Why Acting Matters is, in its improvisational freedom and depth of thought, one of the great and original books about its subject in recent days . . . It is, page by page, brilliant.”—Jeff Simon, Buffalo News
“Drunk on pretense, stabbing the vein of the craft’s wildest ambitions and anxieties, Thomson writes as the thespian’s greatest advocate, the critic as idea engine who launches a thousand arguments.”—Tim Riley, National Memo
Now we have the long-called-for companion to David Thomson's A Biographical Dictionary of Film
, first published in 1975 and throughout its various editions the most seductive, infuriating, and influential reference book ever written on the movies...."Have You Seen...?"
a by turns astringent and gushy appraisal of 1,000 movies made from 1895 to 2007 is, for better and worse, something of a muddle. Benjamin Schwarz, the Atlantic Monthly
(read the entire Atlantic Monthly review
A provocative, highly engaging essay on the art of pretending on the stage, on screen, and in daily life
Does acting matter? David Thomson, one of our most respected and insightful writers on movies and theater, answers this question with intelligence and wit. In this fresh and thought-provoking essay, Thomson tackles this most elusive of subjects, examining the allure of the performing arts for both the artist and the audience member while addressing the paradoxes inherent in acting itself. He reflects on the casting process, on stage versus film acting, and on the cult of celebrity. The art and considerable craft of such gifted artists as Meryl Streep, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Daniel Day-Lewis, and others are scrupulously appraised here, as are notions of “good” and “bad” acting.
Thomson’s exploration is at once a meditation on and a celebration of a unique and much beloved, often misunderstood, and occasionally derided art form. He argues that acting not only “matters” but is essential and inescapable, as well as dangerous, chronic, transformative, and exhilarating, be it on the theatrical stage, on the movie screen, or as part of our everyday lives.
About the Author
is the author of more than twenty books, including the beloved classic The New Biographical Dictionary of Film.
He lives in San Francisco with his family.
From the Trade Paperback edition.