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Interview with David Thomson

David Thomson — the author of dozens of books, including an account of Scott’s expedition to the Antarctic and the 1966 World Cup Final, a treatise on acting, histories of Nevada and Hollywood, a memoir of his London boyhood, a mythopoeic fantasy about Warren Beatty, a piece of very high-end fan fiction entitled Suspects, studies of Psycho and the Alien movies, and biographies of figures as varied as Laurence Sterne and Nicole Kidman — is best-known and best-loved for a compendium of critical essays that poses as a reference book. When the magazine Sight and Sound organised a poll of the greatest books about film, Geoff Dyer chose all five editions of the book known in its latest — sixth — edition as The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, which he called ‘one of the most absurdly ambitious literary achievements of our time’. There were numerous similar testimonies. Thomson topped the poll.

 

Over the years, the Biographical Dictionary has been criticised for its omissions. The epigraph to a recent edition runs, ‘But where’s Bela Tarr and Barbara Lamarr and…’, with the credit ‘from life, from readers of this book’. It’s also an allusion—typically wry and cheerful—to the book’s harshest detractors. In a fiercely argued essay called ‘Chronicle of a Backsliding Cinephile, or the Two Daves’, responding to Thomson’s message of doom about cinema’s artistic health, the critic Adrian Martin ascribed Thomson’s pessimism to ignorance: no wonder he thinks that cinema is dead, that – in his notorious phrase – there are ‘so few masters left now’, when he is ‘a million miles away from taking its life-pulse’. (Many people were irritated, perhaps understandably, by an entry on Wes Anderson, after he had made three films, which read, in its entirety: ‘Watch this space. What does that mean? That he might be something one day.’)

 

A defence from beyond cinephilia maintains that there is only one ‘Dave’ but that he changes over time. For Geoff Dyer, the book is not a report on the state of the art, or even a work of criticism; it is ‘a vicarious and incremental autobiography’. Viewed in that light, Dyer explains, ‘even Thomson’s diminishing interest in cinema – or current cinema at any rate – becomes a source of fascination’. He points to the entry on Kieran Hickey first included in the book’s third edition (1994), which ends: ‘He was the best friend I’ll ever have, and in a way I feel the movies are over now he’s gone.’ A book that includes an elegy for a lost friend isn’t a book one can reasonably chide for neglecting Tsai Ming-Liang.

 

In any case, Martin’s sternest put-down — that Thomson has missed ‘just about every exciting, important development in international film culture since 1975’—acknowledges that in its first edition, Thomson produced a book that said as much about the evolving medium as he did about his evolving self. The book may have been ‘A Personal, Opinionated and Obsessive Dictionary of the Cinema’, but it was also the most prolonged statement of a particular cinephile sensibility. At a young age Thomson fell in love with the American movies — westerns and musicals and thrillers — that formed the basis of the ‘auteur policy’ pursued by critics such as Francois Truffaut at the French magazine Cahiers du Cinéma. To Truffaut and his colleagues, among them Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, and Jacques Rivette, the auteurs — the directors who counted, whose names conferred value on everything they made — included Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, Nicholas Ray, and Otto Preminger.

 

News of this revolution had crossed the Channel but it hadn’t taken hold. In 1960, Thomson, having turned down a place to study history at Oxford, started a course at the London School of Film Technique. That autumn Sight and Sound, the official organ of British film culture, ran two articles questioning what it called ‘The French Line’. The editor Penelope Houston was suspicious of the emphasis among young Cahiers influenced British critics on ‘the way a sequence is lit, the way space is manipulated, the way a mood can be transmitted through the choice of camera angles and the pacing of a scene.’ Film, the prevailing consensus said, was at its best dutiful and humanist — an American director favoured by British taste was John Ford, director of serious westerns. Then, in 1962, a young group of Oxford critics moved to London and started a magazine, pointedly titled Movie, that displayed an aversion to Sight and Sound and a kinship to Cahiers du Cinéma. With the arrival of Movie, the French line found its British continuers — Ian Cameron, Mark Shivas, V.F. Perkins, and Thomson’s school contemporary Paul Mayersberg. Thomson wasn’t involved, though an early edition carried his first credit — a complete filmography of Nicholas Ray, compiled with Kieran Hickey. 1962 was also the year that the NFT held retrospectives of Howard Hawks and Jean Renoir, the only directors awarded chapters of their own when, fifty years later, Thomson published his history of movies, The Big Screen, a book that reprised the story of how British film culture passed from darkness into light.

 

Thomson tried out some of his ideas on his pet directors (Hawks, Hitchcock, Lang, Losey, Renoir, Ophuls) in his first book, Movie Man. As well as allowing him to expand on these arguments,Biographical Dictionary of Cinema was notable for its praise of actors such as Cary Grant and Angie Dickinson. But the tone of celebration was far from constant; the book also gave Thomson space to air his grievances. He slammed the old pieties about Hollywood being trash, as well as the new consensus praising the British ‘kitchen sink’ dramas made by critics associated with Sight and Sound, among them Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz, and Tony Richardson. John Ford, the exception to the rule that British film culture disdained Hollywood, was subject to a long attack. The new seriousness shown by the European art film, many of them former critics on Cahiers du Cinéma, was mostly embraced, but there were limits, and Ingmar Bergman exceeded them:

 

‘He was always fixed on the heart and the soul, but with a bristling neatness that was heartless and depressing. The Seventh Seal is the ultimate step in this rather academic way of recording human torment… By about 1961 Bergman held the unenviable position of a discredited innovator in a fashion-conscious world. That reputation was, I think, deserved.’

 

The following interview is edited from phone conversations and email exchanges that took place in 2015 and 2016. Quotations in the footnotes come from the 1975 edition of A Biographical Dictionary of Cinema.

 

Q

The White Review

—   In 1975, you published A Biographical Dictionary of Cinema, which is now in its sixth edition. Could you describe the young man who wrote that book?

 

A

David Thomson

—  First of all I was English and did not in fact go to America until about halfway through the writing of the book. I had an enormous affection for America which was as romantic as my distance away from it. I’d been raised on American movies, American writing, American jazz, and liked them all. In the way of most people in the rest of the world, I thought America was based on a fine idea. But I was English so had been raised for good or ill in the class system, and educated in England — pretty well-educated, I would say.

 

I felt then that the movies were essentially American and French — that those countries had been the real source of the movies — and I became caught up in a critical debate that had been going on since the early 1960s, very much influenced by writing in France, in Cahiers du Cinéma above all. I was attending film school and you could hardly be there without being drawn into questions of what the cinema was, was cinema the best word for it — or was ‘movies’ the proper description — and who were the great directors.

 

A large thrust in the Dictionary was a belief that I and a number of young people held, that the British Film Institute — not to blame them above all — had cultivated a notion of film history and a pantheon of the great directors that was all well and good, and valid in many ways, but was blind and deaf to a whole era, particularly of American entertainment movies, that we felt were as good, or maybe even better, or truer to the medium. Ray Durgnat was around — he was one of the people who later followed me in teaching Film at Dartmouth College. I knew V. F. Perkins a bit in the era of Movie magazine. Paul Mayersberg, another Movie contributor, was a close friend — we’d been at Dulwich College together.

 

So I knew those guys, and was caught up with that — and also with the French New Wave. I was exactly the right age to see it and be changed by it. I had chosen to go to film school rather than Oxford, which outraged people, and made me feel isolated and stupid. I think now it was a good decision for me. But there was not a single university that taught film. If Oxford had had a film department, I would have gone to Oxford. I was just determined to learn more about film, and I went somewhere where film-making was the essence of the thing. So, in those days, I was more interested in trying to make movies than write about them, and the model of what I was trying to make was those French films — the early work of the New Wave — and particularly the way that Godard was doing a pastiche of American genres but hurling them into the new age.

 

I look back on and envy my confidence and energy, and the decades I had ahead of me, whereas now I feel much more confused about who I am. I’m still English in lots of ways but I’m American too, and America in the time since I’ve been here has turned out to be something other than the great dream it was. I think in a lot of ways the emotional tug of England and America has been central to my life.

 

Q

The White Review

—  How did the book come about?

 

A

David Thomson

—  I was working one day a week at Penguin, and they intimated to me that they wanted to discontinue our arrangement. But there was a very kind man, James Price, who commissioned film books for Secker and Warburg. He said, ‘What about doing a film reference book?’ I think he spoke of it as an encyclopaedia. It was lucrative enough that I could live off it for a couple of years. It was a book that was supposed to be definitions of technical terms, business histories of various studios, essays on national cinema, and essays on leading individual figures. I ended up including a lot of actors, which had not been part of the original brief — the idea was that they would be mostly directors. By then directors had achieved power in the way we looked at films. I didn’t know where to start so I started writing about people.

 

I had been working on that for a couple of years and I realised I was writing a book a little different from the one contracted and likely to be a lot longer. So I showed what I had so far to Tom Rosenthal, who by then had become editor-in-chief at Secker and Warburg. He read it carefully, took his time, and said, ‘Well, it’s not the book we thought you would write, but then I’m not sure we had thought enough about what that book would be. In fact I like this book. It’s risky, it’s going to be long. It’s a book that a lot of younger people will seize and that a lot of older people will be troubled by.’

 

It was published in 1975 and greeted with silence. You look forward to being reviewed, in a certain way. I didn’t get reviews for a long time. I think a lot of people were bewildered by it. Well, about six months after publication, I got a rave review in Films and Filming by Gavin Lambert. He had been editor of Sight and Sound, and then he went to America to work with Nicholas Ray. We had never met. He identified the sort of critical novelty of the book and the way it had a fresh attitude to a whole lot of things. He stressed that it was a book that was meant to be read; it was questionable as a reference book; it was really a book that took hold of you, you hop from one entry to another. That was a turning point. When you do something that’s new and different, you’re terribly vulnerable to the first opinions rendered about it.

 

A book that I wasn’t sure was publishable is now in its sixth edition and I think it’s been in print ever since, one way or another. Obviously the world it’s dealing with has changed a great deal.

 

Q

The White Review

—  Nicholas Ray, Lambert’s collaborator, is a director you praise, but Lambert himself, as a former editor of Sight and Sound, the official organ of British film culture, might have considered himself a target?

 

A

David Thomson

— Well, it was intended to be an attack on the Sight and Sound attitude, a really serious critique and questioning of it. In fact I began writing for Sight and Sound soon after the book came out and I attribute that to Penelope Houston being open enough. She was a very smart woman, though a quite unworldly person. So I did some pieces for Sight and Sound that were in the general vein of the Dictionary. But I was generally hostile to the attitudes Sight and Sound had in the late 50s and 60s. I think anyone involved in Sight and Sound now would look back on the past and say that was the past. 1] Mistakes were made. Mistakes are always made. Probably the judgements I made can now be seen as mistakes too.

 

Q

The White Review

—  But is that true? The overturning of the old orthodoxy, against, say, worthy dramas in favour of Hollywood genre films, has become an orthodoxy in itself. That alternative canon has stuck.

 

A

David Thomson

—  It had to happen, and I still think the reformist attitude was correct and useful, and I think it coincided with the explosion of film as an academic subject. I think it was a healthy change.

 

Q

The White Review

— Do you ever feel that the contrarian spirit of the original Dictionary, borne aloft by Cahiers and Movie-style revisionism, went too far? I sense a slight tempering or modulation in your later views on Bergman and Satyajit Ray, 1] for example?

 

A

David Thomson

—  Well, in the 1970s, there was quite a long way to go in terms of introducing a model approach to film history, especially in Britain. Did the Dictionary go too far? It was certainly a fierce, assertive book, a young man’s book. Over the decades, as I have grown older, become both English and American, and kept looking at films, yes, many views have shifted or tempered.  I am much more impressed by Bergman than I was, I think.

 

Q

The White Review

— Did you have any resources? Were you able to re-watch a film like Renoir’s The River? 2]

 

A

David Thomson

—  It was so tough! This was an age before video. Television in Britain had started to show old movies. I lived at the National Film Theatre. I probably saw half a dozen films a week there. I used the British Film Institute Library, which was on Dean Street, and was helped by John Gillett to get into American trade papers which were the only way of making a reliable list of the things people had done. In the 60s and even the early 70s it was quite difficult to get reliable filmographies on people. I did quite a bit of research in that library gathering material. I went to the National Film Archive and saw a few films that they had, which I had never seen, on a flatbed. London was in those days a treasury of repertory theatre — there were about twenty cinemas that showed old movies and changed the programme twice a week.

 

Younger people today don’t realise the transformation that occurred when video came in. It was hard and it was frustrating. Often I couldn’t see films I wanted to see. To take an example: I felt from what few things I had seen — and what I had read in Cahiers du Cinema — that Mizoguchi was a great, great director. But the original Mizoguchi entry is really a commentary on Ugetsu Monogatari — that was the film I really knew at that time. 2] I had to make auteurist assumptions that if a chap had made one masterpiece, chances were that he had done others. When I look back on it now, there were a whole lot of films that really matter to me now that I had not been able to see by 1975.

 

Q

The White Review

—  Presumably some of the films you were enthusiastic about you’d only seen once.

 

A

David Thomson

— A key moment for me while I was writing the book was seeing — at the London Film Festival — Celine and Julie Go Boating. I had kept up with Rivette and had seen just about everything he had made until then. But Celine and Julie was for me a radical enlightenment and education. I felt it was a great, great film. But it was over three hours and I don’t think it got released commercially for a couple of years. I know I did that Rivette entry on just one viewing of Celine and Julie3]

 

Q

The White Review

—  But at least it was a recent viewing. Some of the films you must not have seen since the early 1960s.

 

A

David Thomson

—  I was lucky in that I had a much better, closer memory for cinematic details certainly than I have now. I had been greedy for great films. So when I saw something, I took it in. I took a lot of notes at a lot of films I saw. That proved quite useful. I was often writing about a film I had not seen for ten years or longer. There were some American entertainment films from the late 1940s that I had loved and had stayed in my memory which I had never seen again.

 

Q

The White Review

—  I’ve heard it said that you don’t really like your book Movie Man, which prepared a lot of the positions taken in the original Dictionary.

 

A

David Thomson

—  I don’t know who told you that. It was the first book I ever wrote, and a book I wrote doubting I could ever write something as long as a book. It was a real expression of what I felt then. I don’t think it was very well-written. Dilys Powell reviewed it and said it was rather a densely written book, which I thought was kindness on her part. It’s a book which if I go back to it, which I seldom do, I want to start re-writing it immediately. But actually a lot of the ideas about how cinema had really started a new age in our culture — I still believe in those things and I’m still writing about those things, but I hope in a more literary, sophisticated way.

 

Q

The White Review

—  The writing in that book, especially on Ophuls and Lola Montes, was detailed in its approach.

 

A

David Thomson

—  It was a time when if you read a film review, you weren’t sure you weren’t reading a book review or a stage-play review. There wasn’t much detailed appreciation of how a film functioned. But that has changed a lot.

 

Q

The White Review

—  Are you referring to the development of a language to describe the style — or ‘mise-en-scene’ — of American movies that coincided with an increased temperamental openness to American culture?

 

A

David Thomson

—  Well, that had a very big impact. Most people at Sight and Sound were bewildered and outraged by the way the Cahiers critics talked, treating Hollywood directors as if they were great artists. They thought it was sort of foolish. But then all of a sudden those critics — Godard, Truffaut, Rivette, Rohmer, Chabrol — started to make movies, as the French New Wave, that it was impossible to dismiss as foolish: they were clearly innovative, wonderful films that delighted a young audience. So a lot of the writing that had been dismissed came back.

 

Q

The White Review

— One Hollywood director about whom both the Cahiers critics and you are especially enthusiastic is Howard Hawks. 3] Of those studio-era directors, is he top of the heap?

 

A

David Thomson

—  Hawks is still for me the essential American director of the golden age — and I think his comedies are supreme. That said, I think I have felt problems with his macho attitudes — his fantasy — as the years pass.

 

Q

The White Review

— You also emerged as a great lover of Michael Powell where a lot of your like-minded contemporaries found him kitsch or tasteless. 4]

 

A

David Thomson

—  Yes, we’re talking about a time in which Peeping Tom had been dismissed as a tasteless film, and one that did much to ruin Michael’s career. I had loved a lot of Powell films, some of which I saw in childhood. I can remember seeing The Small Back Room probably when it came out. I thought it was amazing.

 

Michael Powell had been to Dulwich College, too. You heard about sportsmen and politicians. I never heard a word there about it being the school that had educated Michael Powell. I felt that extra attachment to him. When I was teaching at Dartmouth, I received a four-page handwritten letter from Michael, saying he had been bowled over by my entry in the Dictionary, which led to him coming over and teaching a term there. It was a very happy time. A lot of kids I still know were changed by that course. It was while he was at Dartmouth that Powell took a plane down to New York to watch Scorsese editing Raging Bull — and he became a terrific sponsor of Michael’s — and that is when he met Thelma Schoonmaker and, of course, they ended up a very happy couple. So it turned out that long after I’d written that entry about Michael, we became very good friends.

 

Q

The White Review

—  But there was a view, and at the time of the Dictionary it was still a vibrant, new view really, that there was no such thing as a decent British film.

 

A

David Thomson

—  I was a victim a little bit of that way of thought. I had grown up dubious about a lot of British film, and I still don’t think David Lean deserves his high reputation. But I like some Carol Reed films, I like some Robert Hamer films very much, and I like Powell and Pressburger. I thought that the general run of British films in my childhood were awful. That changed in time too.

 

Q

The White Review

—  You were very harsh on Tony Richardson.

 

A

David Thomson

— I never admired him very much. 4]

 

Q

The White Review

— And Karel Reisz. 5]

 

A

David Thomson

—  I thought that the whole generation of young British directors — it would include Schlesinger and a few others — were being over-rated. A very important point about the Dictionary is that it was meant to be a book of opinion, it was not meant to be ex cathedra, and it was meant to make readers argue. The reaction I have had from people over the decades is that it made them question their attitudes. In some cases they have never agreed with me. Reference books try to lay down the law, but they do it in a very cautious way. The Dictionary is not a cautious book.

 

Q

The White Review

—  Were there any directors about whom you felt you couldn’t really get your views across?

 

A

David Thomson

— Bresson is one. 5] I adore Bresson, but I think he’s a very hard person to teach. Dreyer is a little bit the same.

 

The great thing about Hitchcock — leaving aside whether he’s a great director or a very good, that’s a case we can argue out — he is fantastic material for teaching because he is making crucial decisions about how to film a thing all the time. You can use a Hitchcock film to open up a student’s mind to the whole range of choices that there are — where do you put the camera and why do you put it where you put it? He’s a natural decision-making director, whereas someone like Renoir, say, is much less forcefully a decider. He prefers to show you things in a way that will let you make up your own mind. Hitchcock shows you things as though his mind is made up. Renoir will put the camera in a more neutral point of view, a place in which the naturalism of the scene plays out more fully, and we are asked to search the screen for possibilities and meanings. What sustains a Renoir film is not just the facility of the camera — it’s the philosophy. Renoir loves people. That’s much less clear with Hitchcock. I think Hitchcock is afraid of people, very suspicious of them. For me, that makes Renoir a greater director. But if you want to start teaching film to young people, Hitchcock is a superb way to go.

 

Q

The White Review

—  Something we have managed not to discuss is your prose, which is strikingly dexterous right from Movie Man. Were you thinking consciously about how to treat an audiovisual medium in prose — how much technical detail to use, how much evocation, the balance of rigorous argument versus charisma-driven ‘take my word for it’?

 

A

David Thomson

—  The writing is for me the heart of it all. The question of how to write about movies in a way that is personal, accurate and stimulating — that makes readers think to see a film, or see it again — that is why I do what I do.  So yes, I do think about it consciously, or in all the ways there are, and trying to write ‘well’ is what most motivates me.

 

Q

The White Review

—  Who were your critical models, in film writing and beyond?

 

A

David Thomson

—  Andrew Sarris’s book on American cinema, which had the format of a list of the films he discusses and then an essay — that was for me a very important book. It’s a good book still. I think it’s in print — it should be. Just as important was reading Cahiers du Cinema with my imperfect French and trying to work out what they were saying, which was often pretty abstruse. The interviews in Cahiers were very helpful, I thought. I never read only film critics. Kenneth Tynan was an important figure in my life. I read him from the age of about 15 onwards. I read Dilys Powell in the Sunday Times. I liked both of them, though I could tell that Tynan had a different kind of edge, a different kind of mind. I used to love David Sylvester’s pieces on painting. Ways of Seeing by John Berger was not about film, directly. But it was a book and a TV show of enormous importance – it still is. My models were various and not always the ones you’d think of — so, Tynan and Pauline Kael, but Nabokov and Didion, too. In the end, when you write, you are writing about words.

 

Q

The White Review

—  When you wrote Movie Man and even the Dictionary, there was plenty of film journalism but film books were pretty scarce. The bibliography of relevant books you provide at the end of America in the Dark, which is published after the Dictionary, in 1978, is very short. Now it’s different, of course. Do you keep up with the writing on the directors you admire?

 

A

David Thomson

—  In the early 1960s, you went into a bookstore, and you had to hunt, peck, and find. There were probably half a dozen books on film. Now we have several books on just about anyone who has ever made a film. Keeping up with that library now is a terribly difficult task. I read V. F. Perkins’s book on La Regle du Jeu. I’ve read a couple of the more recent Hitchcock books. I try to keep up.

 

We’re in a situation quite the contrary to the one I grew up in. Now you are able to see anything, and in a way you have to see too much. I could not undertake the Dictionary from scratch now because the range of people who would have to be in it is so great. It would be out of bounds. You just couldn’t do it.

 

Q

The White Review

—  What would you say is the best film book ever written?

 

A

David Thomson

—  The category is sort of insane. We’re expected to vote on everything. I frequently say Elia Kazan’s A Life — a fabulous book, a great autobiography, which covers the performing arts in a very exciting time. It’s fairly honest, you get a flavour of what it’s like to be in the business. I enjoy honest first-hand accounts of what it was like to do something.

 

Q

The White Review

—  What have you been working on lately?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1] On Satyajit Ray: ‘Ray is an aristocratic Indian, an admirer of European literature and music, and a film-maker deliberately aimed at the art houses of the West by the Indian government.’

 

2] On The River: ‘The River is seldom seen in England and still referred to critically with great reservations. As if modest actors sap a film that took so warm a view of people.’

 

3] On Hawks: ‘When critics play children’s games — such as selecting the ten best films of all time — the majority behave like dutiful understudies for a Platonic circle, opting for milestone movies, turning points in the art of film… But a Crusoe needs to be honest with himself… So, hold the raft, while I lay my hands on Twentieth CenturyBringing Up BabyOnly Angels Have WingsHis Girl FridayTo Have and Have NotThe Big SleepRed RiverYou Can’t Sleep HereGentlemen Prefer Blondes and Rio Bravo.’

 

4] On Powell: ‘The sadness is that he can be easily written off as an eccentric decorator of fantasies. Against British attempts to dignify realism, Powell must have seemed gaudy, distasteful and effete. All three ingredients contribute to his vision, but so do an imaginative evocation of the erotic and the supernatural, a pioneering enthusiasm for visual autonomy always likely to break out in passages of stunning delight, the adherence to what Raymond Durgnat once called ‘High Tory’ values, a wicked sense of humour and private jokes, and, most distinctive… an unsettling mixture of emotional reticence and splurging fantasy.’

 

5] On Reisz: ‘Nothing about Reisz’s features suggests that he has any talent.’

 

A

David Thomson

—  I am currently finishing a book about Warner Brothers, and I’ve just written a book about television — a book about what television has done to us all, how it has almost become the overpowering reality in our lives. I have a general theory that a time came towards the end of the last century when we weren’t really watching the things on screens, we were watching screens. I think it begins to separate us from reality, either tells us that reality is not important or that we can’t do anything about it. So we sort of watch it as a performance on the screen. We half-know that we may live to watch the end of the world.

 

Even in 1967, in Movie Man, I had the feeling that what was happening was not so much a new art as a new discourse — the age of Movie Man, a new kind of understanding that might be alien to what we traditionally considered art. I feel that increasingly, and have tried to pursue it in The Big Screen and now Television: A Biography. We thought we were looking at Ophuls and Hawks and so on, and we were, but we were looking at screens, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1] On Sight and Sound past: ‘The staff of Sight and Sound may still wake in the night shuddering with the memory that they did not bother to review Rio Bravo.’

 

2] On Mizoguchi: ‘Ugetsu‘s fusion of fantasty and reality — despite the classical setting — is as expressive of the dreamlike nature of filmgoing as, say, Citizen KaneVertigo or Pierrot le Fou.’

 

3] On Celine and Julie: ‘the most important film made since Citizen Kane… whereas Kane was the first picture to suggest that the world of the imagination was as powerful as reality, Celine and Julie is the first film in which everything is invented. In the sense that there is a sequence other than the alphabet within this book, it ends here with Rivette’s discovery of cinema’s future.’

 

4] On Richardson: The entry begins: ‘The films produced by Richardson are so poor that in the late 1960s he seemed on the point of outflanking criticism entirely and settling for lunacy.’ And ends: ‘It is such a pitiful record that I should add a word for the intermittent period verisimilitude of The Charge of the Light Brigade.’

 

5] On Bresson: ‘A short commentary on Bresson is a hopeless task.’

 

 

 

 

 

 


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