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BethR

David Thomson and '1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die'

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I linked earlier to a "White Material" review by David Thomson at The New Republic, but only now am noticing that Thomson, along with TNR's Stanley Kaufmann, have a movie blog, "At the Movies," at TNR.com. Classic reviews from Manny Farber, Edmund Wilson and others are included on the blog. Check it out.

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During the Borders closing sale I bought myself an early birthday present: a copy of the fifth edition of David Thomson's The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, which was presented to me last week.

I sat down with the book last night ... at 11:30 ... and read it for 30 minutes, even though I was tired and should've gone to bed. It's that kind of book.

First thing I noticed. The "Terrence Malick" entry doesn't include any of Thomson's thoughts on The New World, even though this is the 2010 book update! I hope there aren't further surprises like that. I realize not every entry will be up-to-the-minute, but I would've thought Malick's would encompass a film released five years before the publication date of this volume.

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There are a lot of glitches like that in it. I noted some of them in my B&C review, which eventually showed up online, but only members can see the whole thing.

So here's the paragraph where I pointed out just a couple of examples of errors like that:

There are errors as well as omissions. In more than one entry, Thomson credits In America to Wim Wenders instead of Jim Sheridan, probably mistaking it for Don’t Come Knocking. He promises that Philip Seymour Hoffman “will be in Empire Falls,” which was released in 2004. He calls The Ice Storm and Ride With the Devil the “best work” of Ang Lee, then concludes saying “Lust, Caution … may be his best film.” (Surely Lee’s most famously controversial film, Brokeback Mountain, deserves at least one line!)

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There are a lot of glitches like that in it. I noted some of them in my B&C review, which eventually showed up online, but only members can see the whole thing.

So here's the paragraph where I pointed out just a couple of examples of errors like that:

There are errors as well as omissions. In more than one entry, Thomson credits In America to Wim Wenders instead of Jim Sheridan, probably mistaking it for Don’t Come Knocking. He promises that Philip Seymour Hoffman “will be in Empire Falls,” which was released in 2004. He calls The Ice Storm and Ride With the Devil the “best work” of Ang Lee, then concludes saying “Lust, Caution … may be his best film.” (Surely Lee’s most famously controversial film, Brokeback Mountain, deserves at least one line!)

Thanks, Jeffrey. I had a hunch that you'd mentioned something along these lines in your B&C review, which I had read in full at some point (maybe in print, although I'm not a B&C subscriber), but when I googled for it today, the B&C site link gave me a few paragraphs and told me I need to subscribe for the full article.

Despite the drawbacks, I'm glad I have this latest edition, which Thomson says, in his introduction, could very well be the final update.

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Huh. I own the previous two editions of Thomson's New Biographical Dictionary of Film, but his intro to the previous edition had me thinking there might not be a sixth edition. Now it's arrived, yet as much as I loved this book and still look at it from time to time, and as much admiration as I have for Thomson as a critic and writer, I found myself arguing with the fifth edition in ways I hadn't with the fourth edition. In ways that weren't stimulating, as my arguments with Thomson's views had been earlier. With the last edition, I just started to get kind of angry with some of Thomson's opinions. (Don't ask me to single out entries; I couldn't do that without wading back into the book and reminding myself.)

 

I'm left with the lingering impression that what was once a healthy part of my growth as a cinephile has hardened or, worse, soured. I'd like to blame Thomson for this, but I think this is a sign of weariness with arguments -- about certain actors, certain films -- that I just don't buy, and which I no longer charitably shrug off with an "to each his own" sensibility. Instead, I'm actively bothered by some of the entries in Thomson's book, and I worry that buying an updated edition would just make things worse.

 

Has anyone else experienced this with Thomson's New Biographical Dictionary of Film?

 

EDIT: I do love that new cover image, though. How can you not love it?

Edited by Christian

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Has anyone else experienced this with Thomson's New Biographical Dictionary of Film?

I haven't spent an immense amount of time with Thomson's New Biographical Dictionary of Film, but the times when I have given it a look have left me frustrated.

Edited by Ryan H.

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Dana Stevens reviews the latest edition of Thomson's book, and notes that the warnings about this edition possibly being the last aren't the first time such warnings have appeared in the introduction to this work. She also has some good links to earlier Slate discussions that include detractors of Thomson's dictionary.

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Has anyone explored the sixth edition of Thomson's dictionary? I have some B&N gift cards, a smallish chunk of which I plan to use on the final Leonard Maltin Movie Guide. I'm now also a bit tempted to add the latest Dictionary to my shelf, despite the above mentioned misgivings.

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