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The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies

3.98  ·  Rating Details ·  466 Ratings  ·  71 Reviews
The definitive story of the medium that defines our times

The Big Screen tells the enthralling story of the movies: their rise and spread, their remarkable influence over us, and the technology that made the screen as important as the images it carries.
     But The Big Screen is not another history of the movies. Rather, it is a wide-ranging narrative about the movies and t
Paperback, 608 pages
Published October 15th 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published October 1st 2012)
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Bill  Kerwin
May 26, 2013 Bill Kerwin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: movies

This is the most personal work on cinema yet written by David Thomson, a movie historian and critic whose originality of insight is matched only by Manny Farber, whose elegant style is unrivaled by all but James Agee and Dwight MacDonald, and whose comprehensive and detailed knowledge of the field is unsurpassed by anyone. His The New Biographical Dictionary of Film (Fourth Edition) is the only 1000 page reference work I have ever read with complete delight from cover-to-cover, and I hope to do

As good as a book that causes you to read about 400 pages over a single day without even really noticing it could be..

..especially when you finish it the next day.

Wow. So I love David Thomson anyway, having picked up on him awhile back and I was pleased to see his relatively high position in my 'most read authors' taxonomy here on GR.

It's the way he writes- informed, passionate, witty and not afraid to get dirty or poetic. There's that British thing (born in London just after the war, remem
A kind of Western Civ text on film, and I’d love to take a course taught by Thomson and based on this book. It just made my “favorite reads of 2012” list.

Not that this reads like a textbook. It’s more fun than that, though Thomson has been, and maybe still is, a professor of film studies at Dartmouth. He also writes about film in The Guardian, The New York Times and other places, but not strictly as a critic. He’s a conversational and intuitive essayist, and I love a good essay, by which I mean
Jenny McPhee
Mar 08, 2013 Jenny McPhee rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Midway through David Thomson’s meandering and (self-) reflective history of world cinema, The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies and What They Did to Us, he discusses British director David Lean’s classic film Brief Encounter, a “woman’s film” about an adulterous affair. Thomson is mystified by the film’s “tacit admission of women’s tragic position, whereas in Lean’s best-loved films (The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence Of Arabia), the world is dominated by active men doing big things to ...more
Dec 28, 2012 Tony rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: film
THE BIG SCREEN. (2012). David Thomson. *****.
Every now and then – and it’s not very often – I come across a book that is so well written and so full of information that is relevent to my interests that I get the feeling that I would actually like to hang out with the author for a while. This was one of those books. It is not a history of film, so those of you who are pedantically inclined can look elsewhere, but it is a chronicle of film and film making that is full of information on the films,
Oct 03, 2013 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are very few writers who can write interestingly and accessibly about film history so I can put up with Thomson's occasional habit of talking down to his reader's. Yes, Mr. Thomson we get your references, that's why we have chosen to read your book.
Ben Dutton
Jan 31, 2013 Ben Dutton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Over the years we have had many good writers tell the story of cinema. One of my favourites has always been Mark Cousins’ ‘The Story of Film’ (2004). Mark Cousins does the big, broad sweep of cinema history, and tells its global story. David Thomson, in his new book ‘The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies and What They Did to Us’ wants to tackle this story too. Thomson, though, does not have the range that Cousins has – this book has very little on Asian cinema, for instance, and I cannot recal ...more
Mar 11, 2013 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
David Thomson’s riffy, trippy style is not for everyone, but he manages to do something really difficult, namely, explain how the phenomenon he calls “movie” was conceived, was born, grew up, grew old, and (my phrase) turned cold--without relying on strict chronology. Each chapter, dedicated to a key building block of film history, reads like a trip down a rabbit hole populated by real-life characters (e.g., Howard Hawkes, Jean-Luc Godard, Steven Spielberg) whose stories are told in fresh, start ...more
Nov 12, 2015 Terry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved this book. It's a bit dense ("meaty and challenging" said the friend who gave it to me) but also very entertaining, at least in part. David Thompson is a longtime film critic--one who actually loves movies but also very sophisticated and intellectual. The book is roughly chronological in the first half, then goes all over the place (all good places) in the second half, from "I Love Lucy" to porn to Tarantino and a discussion of how screens of various sorts and sizes are part of our lives a ...more
Apr 21, 2014 Kaethe marked it as stricken  ·  review of another edition
"the history of cinema, from its origins to the present, with hardly a female in sight" - bookslut
Rachel Thomas
Jul 02, 2013 Rachel Thomas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful. It's a critical history lesson. So well thought out and written that it is easily one of my favorite books I have read this year.
Mar 25, 2013 FrankH rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Another sprawling, knowledgeable and idiosyncratic book on film from the critic David Thomson. Highly enjoyable reading, though moviegoers looking for a more orthodox treatment of the history of cinema should still probably look elsewhere.

Thomson's ideas about the 'Big Screen', particularly its early history, have a Freudian undercurrent running through them. The public flocks to cinema, he says, because they want 'to be voyeurs in the dark, beholding an orgy of their own desires burning on the
Brian Gatz
Oct 19, 2012 Brian Gatz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books of criticism I've read. Thomson doesn't pick bits and pieces to hold up as the good, nor does he quickly dismiss poor works; he enthuses over the graceful dread and obscure desire of movies. On that, the best of movies isn't just historic, international, and limited; but must be seen as the use of a screen--what television, facebook, and youtube have done to us; what video games and digital movies can do. We're lucky, though, to have things like 'The Godfather'. That's not ...more
J. Bryce
This is more than "just" a history of Film -- or "Movie," as the author prefers (more formal than calling it "the movies;" not as formal as the academic-sounding "Film"). It attempts to be a philosophical discourse on how we watch the movies, and how that has changed in the past 120 years, and continues to evolve in the era of streaming as screens go from room-sized to hand-held, and from a social activity to a private one.

As the latter, it's too long. As a history of Film (sorry, old habits di
Dec 05, 2012 William rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Starts out being a brilliant introduction to how the contemplation of big flickering shadows and light has changed our parallel realities starting with silent movies and proceeding through the current fascination with the tiny screens on our smart phones. Gets lost in the muddle of trying to include too many influential films and then recovers some of its initial strength toward the end. Some of the cinematic steps were of real consequence and deserve the loving coverage that they are given, but ...more
An examination of the screen as storytelling device. How it separates and draws us in as the same time. And all made palpable by the best philosopher/essayist-as-film journalist in the world. David Thomson is one of the most infuriatingly ponderous writers and yet, God help me, I love his work so.

You never get the idea that he is phoning it in when he writes about cinema. He never does anything by rote. This book, like his best work, was not an easy read, but so well-worth it for the leaps he ma
Dec 16, 2012 Steve rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Perhaps the best book on film I've read (and I've been reading about film and teaching it for many years). Crisp, perceptive and witty, Thomson gives us an admittedly subjective journey through the history of cinema and the philosophy of how and why we watch. And he does it all without a single bit of jargon or pretension. If you love movies, you need to read this book. You might not agree with everything he says, but you'll come away loving the art form even more. I wish all of my students had ...more
Nov 29, 2012 Larry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thomson's book is both a history and a work of extended criticism. For an example of both aspects in play at once read his discussion about Howard Hawks, or his comments on the evolution of movie violence (ruined by technology, as it were). It's a rambling, discursive, fascinating book for film buffs. Its treatment of the 30s was of particular interest to me, but much of the book was interesting. It takes a lot of chutzpah to be a film critic (above and beyond a reviewer), but so be it.
Mar 15, 2013 Paul rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a brilliant, knowledgeable and hugely readable book on the history of cinema, from its origins to the present day. But this is not a textbook or exhaustive historical analysis; it's more personal and reflective, focusing on the effect of cinematic storytelling, how it may have shaped our perspective on life and the world over the century. Thomson is a thoroughly engaging writer, and this is an essential book for anyone who wants to think seriously about cinema.
Ultan Prendergast
This is a serious book on cinema; from, as Thomson says, Muybridge to Facebook..(ironically I read it on a Kindle!)

If you're at all interested in Film, and not just American, read this book..(a plus - it has very good ref.notes).
Christopher Newton
Dec 18, 2012 Christopher Newton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: film-movies
Terrific book. Full of wisdom, full of insight, both into the history of cinema and the history of the humans who watched it (and what it did to them.)Plus a great resource for populating my Netflix queue.
Dec 13, 2012 Bob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Simply the best book on movies I've read. I like that it references (and takes much inspiration from) another favorite, Jerry Mander's Four Arguments....I just couldn't put it down.
Al Bità
Apr 17, 2016 Al Bità rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Every page of this comprehensive overview of Cinema exhibits Thompson’s encyclopaedic knowledge and erudition in the field. He begins more or less from the “beginning”, with Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic studies of animal and human motion, right through to the first decade of the 21st-c. In this sense, the book can be seen as an historical chronology, and this is satisfying in its own terms. However, as Thomson himself declares, this is more a series of personal meditations on a century of c ...more
Sean Wicks
Sep 01, 2013 Sean Wicks rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the best Film books I have ever read...period. I have always been a huge fan of David Thomson's work thanks to the NEW BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF FILM and SUSPECTS (which will blow your mind and make you look at films you thought you knew in a whole different way).

Here Thomson takes on the history of the screen and nothing is spared. It starts right from the beginning of the movies, through silents, through Television and even includes Las Vegas, Pornography, Video Games and YouTu
JS Found
Jul 19, 2013 JS Found rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not only a history of the movies for the budding cineaste to consult as he checkmarks all the film's he hasn't seen, Thomson's ambivalent work is also an elegy for the movies of the past, and, more disturbingly, a philosophical treatise on what film wrought, to us and to life. The big screen not only projected the Saturday night entertainment but fundamentally changed us, how we are and how we view life. It brought us closer to the real world and at the same time alienated us from it. Because we ...more
Peter O'Brien
Dec 15, 2014 Peter O'Brien rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"The coming of sound was termination for some people. Photoplay magazine mocked the claim that sound had been perfected: 'So is castor oil,' it said. The the audience dropped off in the 1930s. In 1951 there was David Selznick wandering in an empty studio and crying, woe is us - we betrayed our chance, we made so few worthwhile pictures. Television seemed the obvious and natural way of watching moving imagery, including movies. Later in the 1950s, attendance fell for good and a few smart films nu ...more
Sep 15, 2014 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very welcome Christmas present that I have been steadily been working my way through. It is a huge analysis of the history of film and I cannot pretend I read every page. Some of the foreign studies are just too much even for a film buff like me. However at the start of PART I: THE SHINING LIGHT AND THE HUDDLED MASSES there are some very interesting passages about early movies. These included silent films like The Birth of a Nation" directed in 1915 by David Wark Griffith, the 1929 Pandora's B ...more
Aaron Brame
This book is a massive, comprehensive look at the history of film. It begins with Eadweard Muybridge, the eccentric and creepy innovator of the first moving images, and ends with the extra-theatrical life of film in works such as The Sopranos. The book proceeds roughly chronologically, though it employs an unnecessary and confusing structure that makes you wonder if you are reading it correctly. Thomson tackles it all, paying particular attention to films that lie on the fringes of the causaual ...more
Howard Goodman
Apr 23, 2013 Howard Goodman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A rich, highly readable history of the movies, from Muybridge’s studies of the gallop of horses to the hypnotizing frenzy of video games. David Thomson is a great appreciator, with an expansive view of cinema that stretches from Godard to Lucille Ball, and he spices his capsule biographies of F. W. Murnau, Orson Welles, Howard Hawks, Ingrid Bergman, Jean Renoir, Max Ophuls -- and so many others -- with wonderful sentences.

D.W. Griffith was “someone who developed a future technology that would re
Oct 17, 2013 Tawney rated it really liked it
I received this book compliments of Farrar, Staus and Giroux through the Goodreads First Reads Program.

To David Thomson a movie is on film and projected on to a large screen. The Big Screen is both the story of the movies as history and of his opinion as to their impact on moviegoers. Each chapter illustrates a particular time and/or place by examining the relevant movies and people involved. One or two films are given a detailed treatment as to what contribution they made to film history. He be
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“The longing for improvement and the fear of waste and worse - it is a pattern still with us, and maybe it speaks to the medium's essential marriage of light and dark, or as Mary Pickford put it in her autobiography (published in 1955), Sunshine and Shadow. Light and dark were the elements of film, and they had their chemistry in film's emulsion. They had a moral meaning, too. But not everyone appreciated that prospect, or credited how it might make your fortune.” 0 likes
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