Have You Seen . . . ? A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films
By David Thomson | Alfred A. Knopf | 1024 Pages | $39.95
Cinephiles have grudgingly relied on David Thomson’s idiosyncratic New Biographical Dictionary of Film, an A to Z of cinema’s biggest (for Thomson) names, since the first of four editions came out in 1975. High time that he compiled a companion volume on the films themselves. Here he offers his “personal introduction” to 1,000 of them, from Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) to Zabriskie Point (1970), with an emphasis on the “personal” — it might have been titled The New Autobiographical Dictionary of Films. More a sampling than a cover-to-cover kind of book (Thomson’s royal “we” and hectoring “you” can be wearying), it nonetheless rewards frequent referencing and can become downright addicting. Some of the pleasure comes from sheer infuriation: how dare he dismiss Vittorio De Sica’s Umberto D (1952), a film that never fails to reduce me to tears, as “a Chaplin short drawn out to 90 minutes”? Or laud the hokum of Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient (1996) as “in every way a triumph”? Mostly, though, it needs to be read for some of the most eloquent and incisive film writing around, such as this description of a key scene in Chris Marker’s La jetée (1962): “And then, for a flicker or so. . . she is alive. . . . Time passes through her like the sky through our eyes. She is living, pulsing, watching us. Then it goes.”
Looking for Lincoln: The Making of an American Icon
By Philip B. Kunharrdt III, Peter W. Kunhardt, and Peter W. Kunhardt Jr. | Alred A. Knopf | 512 Pages | $50
It’s fitting that in preparation for the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, the United States had the wit to elect as president Barack Obama, another unlikely, eloquent, long-tall drink of water from Illinois. The real Lincoln, as opposed to the cardboard cut out represented in most school books, was even more complex in life than he was heroic in legend. His speeches were graced with the cadences of the King James Bible, but his political sense — as Edmund Wilson observed — was as steely as Bismarck and Lenin.
Among the dozens of books published to mark Lincoln’s birth is Looking for Lincoln: The Making of an American Icon. It is one of the best. Looking for Lincoln will be the companion volume for the Public Broadcasting series of the same name that will be broadcast early next year. As a high-brow picture book, this quarto-style volume scores a hat trick: production values are handsome; the selection of images is comprehensive and punctuated with surprises; and the writing is as elegant as the historical analysis rigorous.
A book as aesthetically pleasing, intellectually satisfying, and just plain entertaining would be a welcome gift for political junkies, history buffs, serious students, or dedicated scholars.