An Interview With David Thomson

This interview was originally published in Word and Film.

This year marked the release of the sixth edition of David Thomson’s New Biographical Dictionary of Film, published for the first time in 1975. Now at 1,154 pages long, the book isn’t just a reference manual. It’s an exotically rare bird, with more than 1,400 bios that are highly, deliciously subjective – a series of mini-reviews, remembrances, and essays that are as gratifying in their form as in their function. It’s no wonder that the book has a cult following that has expanded with each edition; a 2010 Sight and Sound critics’ poll ranked it the number one film book ever written. A British-born critic who now lives in San Francisco and writes primarily for the New Republic, Thomson fielded my questions with his typical droll candor.

Lisa Rosman: What is the ideal way to read your book? How would you prefer people approach it?

David Thomson: Many people speak of it as a bathroom book – and these days some people spend longer and longer in that room (happily or unhappily). Others speak of its therapeutic bedside role – and the bed can be as vexed as the bathroom. I believe people should dip and then move on to cross-referred topics and let the hours roll by. But the book is heavy now and I like the notion of readers having several copies, distributed through their homes and their lives. [British novelist] Geoff Dyer has admitted that he and his wife read it to each other in bed at night. I suspect they’re worthy of better things. (more…)

Alone, Not Lonely (‘Tracks’)

I’m knee-deep in writing a review of the film Tracks but had to share a passage from Robyn Davidson’s eponymous book, which doubles as a brilliant anthem for electively loner ladies everywhere.

I had always supposed that loneliness was my enemy. I had seemed not to exist without people around me. But now I understood that I had always been a loner, and that this condition was a gift rather than something to be feared. Alone, I could see more clearly what loneliness was. For the first time it flashed on me that the way I had conducted my life was always to allow myself that remoteness, always protect that high, clear place that could not be shared without risking its destruction.Read More

This White Girl’s Books

Ever since I divested myself of 90 percent of my books, I’ve been very selective about which ones I actually own. Typically these days I take them out of the library. The books that are sent to me for a gig go to Housing Works after I’m finished writing about them. But since finishing Hilton Als’ White Girls, I’ve been wanting to possess it. That is because I want it to possess me. I need to be able to hold it and write in it and embrace it as a magic talisman. What Als does in that book is treat other books, other subjects, other people as magic talismans.… Read More