The Big Screen tells the enthralling story of the movies: their rise and spread, their remarkable influence over us, and the technology that made the screen—smaller now, but ever more ubiquitous—as important as the images it carries.
The Big Screen is not another history of the movies. Rather, it is a wide-ranging narrative about the movies and their signal role in modern life. At first, film was a waking dream, the gift of appearance delivered for a nickel to huddled masses sitting in the dark. But soon, and abruptly, movies began transforming our societies and our perceptions of the world. The celebrated film authority David Thomson takes us around the globe, through time, and across many media—moving from Eadweard Muybridge to Steve Jobs, from Sunrise to I Love Lucy, from John Wayne to George Clooney, from television commercials to streaming video—to tell the complex, gripping, paradoxical story of the movies. He tracks the ways we were initially enchanted by movies as imitations of life—the stories, the stars, the look—and how we allowed them to show us how to live. At the same time, movies, offering a seductive escape from everyday reality and its responsibilities, have made it possible for us to evade life altogether. The entranced audience has become a model for powerless and anxiety-ridden citizens trying to pursue happiness and dodge terror by sitting quietly in a dark room.
Does the big screen take us out into the world, or merely mesmerize us? That is Thomson’s question in this grand adventure of a book. Books about the movies are often aimed at film buffs, but this passionate and provocative feat of storytelling is vital to anyone trying to make sense of the age of screens—the age that, more than ever, we are living in.
From 19th-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge's motion studies to the latest cable-TV and video game offerings, this fascinating history of movies and their spinoffs celebrates and indicts the flickering image that beguiles. Film critic and historian Thomson (The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood) concentrates on American movies, but takes excursions to other national cinemas and stops in occasionally on I Love Lucy and other gems of the small screen. His is a loose-limbed, conversational narrative, moving fitfully through time, dawdling over directors and films that interest him, shamelessly ogling every starlet that strikes his fancy, spouting provocative opinions-thumbs up to Adam Sandler, thumbs down to Lars von Trier and his "insufferable" Dogme-tisms-at every turn, ruminating throughout on the ravishing, corrupting essence of light playing across empty screens. Crackling with ideas and vivid impressionisms (get a load of Lauren Bacall, "holding up a doorway in case it faints")-Thomson's stylish prose, simultaneously erudite and entertaining, captivates as it informs-and if things get overlooked in his idiosyncratic treatment (where's John Wayne?) one notices mainly because one is dying to hear what he thinks about them. Buffs and casual fans alike will enjoy this extra-large serving of popcorn for thought. Photos. (Oct. 16) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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Farrar, Straus & Giroux
October 16, 2012
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