From the film critic and author of The Biographical Dictionary of Film comes a new work on the preeminent, indispensable movie directors and the ways in which their work has forged, and continues to forge, the landscape of modern film.
[Thomson] knows pretty well everything there is to know about the art of cinema - though he might question that it is an art - and writes about it with passion, elegance and wit ... The directors whose work he considers include the ones we would expect - Orson Welles, Hitchcock, Luis Bunuel, Jean Renoir, etc - but he also writes illuminatingly about those who might be considered lesser lights such as Nicholas Ray and Stephen Frears ... This book on the movies and the 'desperate poetry' their makers aim for is the best of its kind you can read this year, and probably many years to come.
It is highly personal, unapologetically opinionated, intermittently whimsical, charmingly idiosyncratic and above all deeply impassioned. It reads, at times, like a love letter to the art that has moved Thomson most. Or a eulogy dedicated to a tradition, and indeed a world, he fears may be on the verge of disappearing ... His regret, and disappointment, regarding the sins of the medium and its practitioners is sincere but so are his admiration and enthusiasm for their work. And attending to flaws as well as virtues isn’t just a moral or political impulse. It also makes a better story ... A Light in the Dark leaves many directors in the shadows. The book is focused on America and Europe, with only brief mention of directors from Japan, India and elsewhere ... Thomson does not deny — for there is no denying — that film directors are preponderantly White and male. He is right to fret about it. I do wish, though, the book had noted the fact that over the last decade or so of the Academy Awards, the best director category has been among the most eclectic and surprising ... That said, every reader will of course find omissions to protest; that’s part of the fun (Chaplin! Lubitsch! Tarkovsky! Kiarostami! The Coen brothers!). And there is no denying that this often beautifully written book is fun, no matter the aura of gentle mourning and foreboding that hangs over it.
... characteristically idiosyncratic ... While the book outlines developments in the director’s role over 100 years — technician, entertainer, artist, rock star, merchandiser — Thomson goes deeper to identify the wider effects of their work on the human psyche ... If he betrays a little queasiness about applying new standards to old films, he’s not blindly protecting toxic cinematic monuments either ... The pictures are smaller, maybe, but with this dynamic book Thomson is big enough to follow the cry of 'action!' wherever it leads.