Though he is the author of more than 20 worthy tomes that range over a broad literary landscapenovels, essays, biographies, historieseagle-eyed cinephile David Thomson
is likely best known for a number of editions of the incomparable and valuable A Biographical Dictionary of Film
and recently The New Biographical Dictionary of Film
. Having those in his oeuvre, one wonders why he would then go on to compile and write Have You Seen
?: A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films
(Knopf), a thousand pages devoted to as many films? His excuse:
I was first approached to try this book by Nigel Wilcockson of Penguin in London. It was a prolonged process. After the Biographical Dictionary of Film I did not believe it was a sane idea to write another very long book on the same subject. But Nigel was not to be told no and saw little evidence that I was sane. He talked to me. He sent me superb books on the churches of England as inspiration. He never stopped until he had me persuaded
As Thomson is an authoritative and savvy observer, his take on films and other elements of contemporary culture makes for useful and fulfilling reading. Recognizing, as he opines, that film culture is not a tidy place, he explains:
I wanted a bumper book for your laps, a volume where you could keep turning the pages and coming up with juxtapositions of the fanciful and the fabulous (Abbott and Costello go to Zabriskie Point?) or some chance alphabetical poetry that might make your scalp tinglelike Bad Day at Black Rock leading into Badlands. I wanted old favorites to be neighbors with films you’ve never heard of. I wanted you to entertain the unlikely possibility that everything is here. Of course it is noteverything remains in our scattered there.
SomeI expect they would be film zealotsmight read Have You Seen
cover to cover; it is more likely that one takes small sips rather than large gulps from this highly and wonderfully opinionated film survey. Nonetheless, any way you take David Thomson offers another fine and fun compendium on movies.