A LIGHT IN
By David Thomson
A HISTORY OF
(New York: Knopf, 2021)
Review by Dr.
Central Texas Historical Association
March 1, 2023
years after his death, Alfred Hitchcock is still the best known film
director there ever was, or perhaps will ever be. A time may come
when he stands for Movies in the way Attila the Hun bestrides the
Dark Ages or Cleopatra signifies Ancient Egypt." So contends noted
cinema historian David Thomson in this superb examination of movie
directors. Across fifteen witty, perceptive, personal, and opinionated
essays, Thomson evaluates such filmmakers as Hitchcock, Fritz Lang,
Jean Renoir, D. W. Griffith, Nick Ray, Spike Lee, Jane Campion, Roman
Polanski, David Lean, Jean-Luc Godard, Barbara Loden, and Howard
Hawks. Thomson calls the latter, known for such iconic pictures
as SCARFACE (1932), BRINGING UP BABY (1938), HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940),
THE BIG SLEEP (1946), RED RIVER (1948), GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (1953),
and RIO BRAVO (1959), "an essential American artist, and perhaps the
most characteristic of Golden Age directors."
Other chapters in Thomson's study include "In Dreams: Luis Bunuel,"
"God? Orson Welles," "A Very English Professional: Stephen Frears,"
"The Kid From the Video Store: Quentin Tarantino," and "The American
Auteur," in which he assesses, among others, Peter Bogdanovich,
Robert Altman, Michael Cimino, Terrence Malick, Steven Spielberg,
George Lucas, and Francis Ford Coppola. The author candidly
declares which filmmakers he likes and those he doesn't. Thomson,
maintaining that he is "not a fan" of Clint Eastwood, Michael Bay,
Tony Richardson, and Lars von Trier, avers that "it's important
to keep a pantheon of directors you don't like." He speaks enthusiastically,
however, about Paul Thomas Anderson, "an uncompromising auteur,
in whom I see great quality." Thomson continues, "I can't say I love
all his films: for me something takes THE MASTER off track, and INHERENT
VICE makes me realize that I don't inhale. But to think that someone
who was born in 1970…has already made BOOGIE NIGHTS, MAGNOLIA, THERE
WILL BE BLOOD, and PHANTOM THREAD is a source of wonder."
has written a host of exceptional books, more than twenty-five in
number, including MURDER AND THE MOVIES, SLEEPING WITH STRANGERS:
HOW THE MOVIES SHAPED DESIRE, HOW TO WATCH A MOVIE, WARNER BROS: THE
MAKING OF AN AMERICAN MOVIE STUDIO, THE WHOLE EQUATION: A HISTORY
OF HOLLYWOOD, and, of course, the indispensable THE NEW BIOGRAPHICAL
DICTIONARY OF FILM, now in its sixth edition. A LIGHT IN THE DARK
stands as a worthy addition to Thomson's oeuvre.
Thomson praises director Terrence Malick's BADLANDS, the 1973
picture starring Martin Sheen and Texan Sissy Spacek (born in Quitman),
calling it a "sumptuous debut." He also extols the "outstanding" THE
THIN RED LINE (1998) and A HIDDEN LIFE (2019), the filmmaker's "great
work." Lone Star history buffs may be interested to learn that Malick
lived in Waco
as a boy and has resided in Austin
in recent years.
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