have just finished David Thompson’s america in the dark and thought it was a magnificent book,anyone else read it? and what did you think and why isn’t it better known. so lets discuss the auteur theory is it just a convenient handle film lovers have latched on to ignoring the fact that film is a collaborative effort and the director should be better thought of as a conductor who gets the best out of his crew?
When it comes to the term “auteur,” i tend to use it the least possible amount, however there are many director/writers that the term does apply to, in it’s academic sense. This isn’t ignoring the crews efforts as much as it is exemplifying and highlighting the director’s. I have no read that book, though i will look into it. Does it deal with this subject or are you merely jumping around?
Discussion of auteur theory here
It’s Thomson, no p.
His work is mired in blandness and in the case of his “dictionary” sorely lacking in a lot of details.
I just think his reviews are ridiculous, either so focused on process they don’t say anything about what the movie is actually like, or just laughable. His review of Aliens is one of those I pull up from time to time as evidence of why critics can sometimes hit this strange note between totally high and somewhat pretentious. “The sickly sweet smell of burning flesh fills the theater….”
He’s a film historian, not a film critic; so one shouldn’t give too much weight to his reviews. Saying that, I think he’s a fine writer with a much better appreciation of film-making aesthetics than many more esteemed writers who have adopted the grand title of ‘film critic’ (cough Roger Ebert cough Jonathan Rosenbaum).
His Dictionary was voted top film book by critics polled by Sight & Sound not long back- it was groundbreaking in the 70s but the last edition was weak on international and recent cinema. His Have You Seen? (1000 films) is well worth reading; he’s strong on Hollywood, Anglophone and French classics, but knows little of India, Africa, parts of Asia and Latin America. I generally like his taste but David Bordwell, a wider-ranging real expert, who examines films in detail, fared poorly in the poll- Thomson’s writing style is sexier, and i find his opinions interesting, but still. judging from S&S, it seems many other critics/writers prefer style to substance and depth.
Yes, I much much much prefer Bordwell to Thomson. Bordwell is structuralist where Thomson is process-oriented, but as King of Spain points out Thomson is more useful as a historian than a critic and as Kenji points out, Thomson mostly attracts by what I consider to be superficial stylishness.
We need to be careful when accusing Thomson of superficiality, though. The man has an encyclopaedic knowledge of film that incorporates a deep appreciation of the history of cinema as well as a profound insight into film aesthetics. He deliberately rejects a higher, academic writing style – which he doesn’t consider suitable for the sphere of film appreciation. Also, as his entry on Raul Ruiz makes clear, he refuses to include all notable figures within world cinema. This doesn’t mean that he isn’t aware of these auteurs, or that he doesn’t hold some of them in high regard. He has recently spoken, for instance, of his growing appreciation of African, Asian, European, and American independent cinema; as well as singling out new Romanian director’s, such as Mungiu; Porumboiu; and Puiu, for special praise. It’s more his selectiveness that I find frustrating – the fact that he chooses to omit director’s that he likes in favour of including more populist entries.
I don’t think Thomson is superficial, I think his style is. Does that make any sense? He indulges in flowerly language that does not sync with the general, pragmatic points he’s trying to make. In that regard his writing would be clearer if he wrote in a more direct and detached style.
Reading David Thomson can be a lot of fun actually. I do like how he runs in rhetorical circles in an effort to justify his prejudices. Clearer writing for me would mean that he’d have to actually say something like “I hat Woddy Allen” but I’m not sure he’s capable of owning his irrationality without an academic rationale.
Thomson has his merits, but I can’t abide his writing at all.
For the sake of discussion, let me offer a couple of fairly pointed criticisms of Thomson put forth by Brad Stevens (a critic who, for those of you scoring at home, has written excellent books on Monte Hellman and Abel Ferrara):
“The problem is that Thomson’s brand of anti-intellectualism (which is really just a variation on Pauline Kael’s) has become incredibly popular and influential, whereas many writers whose work is incomparably (and undeniably) superior struggle on in obscurity. Auteurists tend to put a lot of effort into their projects. Indeed,
one of the central tenets of auteurism is that one must study a complete oeuvre before passing judgement on an individual film; it’s a theory which virtually demands hard work and commitment. So auteurists are better placed than most to realize just how superficial Thomson’s writing is, and how pernicious his influence
is becoming. What’s the point of spending years writing an aueteurist study of, say, Douglas Sirk if one can actually make more money and receive more acclaim by writing a Thomsonesque ‘thought’ piece that requires no research whatsoever, and does nothing more than castigate auteurist intellectuals for wasting their time
studying ‘fillums’ when they could be out taking a good bracing walk, playing football, or patting bunny wabbits on their cute widdle heads? What auteurists are attacking is less David Thomson himself than that climate of anti-intellectualism in which somebody like Thomson flourishes, and in which his drivel can actually be
. . .
“Thomson, we should recall, was once a serious critic who became disillusioned with cinema, and unexpectedly discovered that writing about this disillusionment was far more financially profitable than
celebrating the work of Angelopoulos and Ophuls. ‘There are beter things to do than watching films’ is essentially the subject of everything Thomson has written in the last two decades. Would a serious literary critic asked to write about, say, Faulkner dare turn in a text encouraging readers to put away those dusty books and take a bracing walk?”
I am familiar with the work of David Thomson – I like his style – I find it funny and engaging. It may not be thorough but it has a kind of (admittedly pithy) authority and I am always encouraged to think about whether or not I agree with what he is saying.
I haven’t read many of these canonical writers – the next guy I’m thinking of trying is Manny Farber – how does he compare?
I see him as a great writer but not really a critic. Just like Bogdanovich.
I just love his commentary on who he thinks shouldn’t be a movie star. His rant on Ben Affleck was hilarious.
I like his fictional writings – The True Story of Perkins Cobb, King of the One-Shots, and Suspects.
Im not a big fan of his Biographical Dictionary, but I really like his Have You Seen…, though I often disagree with him and he sometimes make me angry.
america in the dark, is about the world created by Hollywood and excepted by the audience as reality, its admirable in its fearless pointing out of gods with clay feet, ie d w Griffith ,and he is very critical of modern film studies , as am i , it seems to me that film is universal and not elitist as some film courses i have done would like it to be , can i just thank all off the people who took the time to reply to my posting, this is my favourite website and you guys and gals are fab
ALIEN QUARTET, by DAVID THOMSON is a reallly good roundup of the themes of the series and making of.