16 September 2006

As I've mentioned on this blog before, David Thomson is my favorite film critic, surpassing even Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert. He's a bit of a weirdo, though, and he can inspire strong negative feelings in a lot of people, including me. This morning, I began reading Rosebud, his loopy biography of Orson Welles, and was a bit nonplussed by the section in which Thomson airly wonders whether Welles and John Houseman ever, er, "enacted" their love. ("I don't think so. Yet I suspect that both men entertained the thought, and smiled loftily at each other sometimes to signal the awareness.")

Uh, okay. But there's more here than meets the eye. My theory, if you care, is that Thomson's writing on movies, especially his Biographical Dictionary of Film, consists of one huge, self-conscious work of fiction, in which Thomson himself is the main character. It isn't a coincidence that one of Thomson's earliest books is a biography of Laurence Sterne, the guy who wrote Tristram Shandy. His whole career can be read as one long Shandean exercise, and Thomson-as-protagonist seems cheerfully willing to make himself seem creepier than he really is.

This may be why his personality is so hard to pin down. In the past eight hours alone, without even trying, I found myself reading two diametrically opposed attacks on Thomson. First, according to the review of The Fury in Slant's otherwise excellent Brian De Palma retrospective, "Thomson's fussy, detached approach to movie appreciation is about as sensual as drying out homemade beef jerky." Well, maybe. But you'd be hard-pressed to conclude this from today's New York Times review of Thomson's new biography of Nicole Kidman, which the reviewer describes as "a weird and unseemly mash note":
He imagines the non-obsessed will want to hear his bizarre fantasies about casting Kidman in remakes of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” and Fran├žois Truffaut’s “Mississippi Mermaid,” or his dream—recounted over three excruciating pages—about stumbling across his beloved in a Paris brothel. (She’s wearing “a very revealing white brassiere, a size or two too small,” as she cavorts with a Gestapo officer and an “elderly Chinaman.”)
Elderly Chinaman, eh? I don't know about you, but that's just about the horniest piece of homemade beef jerky I've ever seen. In any case, I'd better pick up a copy of Thomson's Nicole Kidman posthaste. I can't wait to hear what this guy has to say about Tom Cruise.

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