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How to Watch a Movie

2.97  ·  Rating details ·  565 ratings  ·  88 reviews
From one of the most admired critics of our time, brilliant insights into the act of watching movies and an enlightening discussion about how to derive more from any film experience.

Since first publishing his landmark Biographical Dictionary of Film in 1975 (recently released in its sixth edition), David Thomson has been one of our most trusted authorities on all things ci
Hardcover, 242 pages
Published November 2015 by Knopf (first published October 15th 2015)
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Paul Bryant
Oct 26, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: movies
I’ve really had a plateful of old white men woozily blurting forth about their distant childhoods, O the poignant poverty, sexual scarcity, familial wit wisdom and woolly warmth, distant father, cloying mama, oh the songs and the laughter, the tears and the bonks on the cranium, ooh the discovery of Ingmar Bergman and the Bride of Wittgenstein – I had Woody Allen’s version (Radio Days), Colum McCann’s version (Let the Great World Spin), Julian Barnes’ version (The Sense of an Ending) and now I g ...more
Oct 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Thomson is the author of many books and articles on film. For the cinemaphile, he has written The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, which I have reviewed and still enjoy reading.

This recent book is his take on many issues including the changes in technology that take us from the movie theater to the 4 or 5 inch screen of our phone.

Thomson is a controversial movie critic. He often seems to adopt an attitude of how only his perspective can possibly be the correct one. He can be persuasive, but
Apr 21, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Apparently only about 5 good movies have been made since the 1960s ... this book is the equivalent of "Old Man Yells at Cloud. " ...more
Gwendolyn Neal
Dec 18, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I expected this to be good because it only took the author 10 pages to compare a Gatorade commercial to "Triumph of the Will", but then slowly whatever potential insights I could gleam from it declined into the kind of dense and bad writing infused with personal hangups, contradictions, and irrelevant interjections that gave me serious flashbacks to reading Howard Bloom.

Also the extremely creepy and constant discussion of actresses and young women in general wasn't pleasant.
Dec 13, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction, film, 2016
A well-thrown pebble that skips across the surface of cinephilia. Could be a handy Film Lit 101 book, but beyond that lacks any real lessons or insight. At least it's a quick read.

If I didn't know better, I'd swear the author was a producer on the Robert Redford film "All is Lost". There's no other explanation for that film being cited as an example as often as it is.
Mary Ronan Drew
Feb 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
When it comes to the history of Hollywood and film criticism there's nobody like David Thomson. This isn't a textbook on the subject but rather a rambling discourse. My Netflix list just doubled. ...more
Dec 25, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: movies, 2016, film, non-fiction
3.5 stars - You don't have to look very far to see that this book has some pretty low ratings on Goodreads, but I wonder how many of those reviewers
1) have never read anything else by Thomson
2) took the title as a literal textbook
3) are perhaps guilty of falling prey to one of Thomson's main points, that many people watch films simply because they want to be entertained while not having to think too hard.

Yes, the book is uneven, Thomson is pretentious and is often a windbag, but there's some rea
Tom Holehan
Dry, text book style - Roger Ebert was more fun to read.

Jan 04, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Didn't see the point. ...more
Al Bità
Books on the movies always have something of interest for the reader, if only because they represent a person’s responses to films one may or may not have personally seen. This could reinforce one’s own prejudices, or may stimulate a re-consideration of the work in question; and underlying all this there is the possibility that one might disagree completely with the author. None of these considerations are necessarily inimical to the reader’s enjoyment in the process.

Thompson’s book is no except
Nov 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book topic veers off the path of my normal book taste onto a side road of "hmmm...this sounds interesting." Recommended by a man (they seem to always have varied book tastes in a way that women do not), I thought I would expand my horizons and read something I've never read about and because it I felt like it at the time.

And it proved to be what I sought it out for - interesting. It covers topics like: music in a film, what kinds of movie shots there are, difference between fact and fictio
Feb 08, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
After all this time you'd have thought I knew how...David Thomson has an unusual way of writing about film. Although immensely knowledgeable about both the history and craft of film making he eschews jargon to try and focus on the experience of watching films and why they did, or didn't work for him. In outline this looks like a quite conventional introduction to films with chapters on things like the shot, editing, narrative, the relative importance of actors, directors, and the other people wh ...more
David Meldrum
A strange book. Always stimulating and highly readable - whatever else you think, David Thomson writes beautifully; but the title is not descriptive of the book. It's a guide to how the author watches movies, and the opinions he holds. Some of them are engaging; some of them are odd (e.g. the idea that Empire of The Sun is Steven Spielberg's best film). Not bad - but not as good as I had hoped. ...more
Jack Walker
Jul 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think this was great, I think that it’s really changed the way I’m going to watch films. Xoxo
Jack Wolfe
Feb 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"I don't think he has ever done anything better." -David Thomson, on Rob Lowe in DirectTV ads

If you've read any Thomson before, you shouldn't be surprised that this book doesn't actually show you "How to Watch a Movie," at least not in any step-by-step way. The dude is digressive as fuck. You could mix up the titles of all the chapters and probably not change a thing, in terms of how you interpret the book.

I can see how this frustrates people, but I'm sucker for sentences that make me feel smart
Kasa Cotugno
Disappointed. Usually I've found Thomson's books to be more insightful, humorous and informative, and was eager to learn, after almost 70 years of watching movies, to find out if I was doing it wrong. Guess not. There really wasn't anything new here, except for a few autobiographical anecdotes which were delightful. He has a wealth of cinematic knowledge which I've enjoyed over the years, through both hearing him in person on several occasions and in reading other works of his. ...more
Mary Bronson
May 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was an interesting book. At first it was a little slow in the beginning, but I did enjoy reading about how you can watch a movie a different way. I think David Thomson did a good job at exlpaining things and I liked the different examples he gave from different movies.
Skimmed the second half. I found it hard going.
Jun 22, 2017 rated it did not like it
I'll be blunt: I hate this book.

The problem isn't with the information author David Thomson provides, or with the fact that anyone who has spent any reasonable amount of time reading and learning about film, film theory, and film criticism will nothing new here; there are always going to be people coming to film with a serious interset who need a place to begin.

No, the problem with HOW TO WATCH A MOVIE is that as a writer and critic, David Thomson is fucking insufferable. Thomson is obnoxiously
Justin Clark
How to Watch a Movie by David Thomson is a poignant and poetic love letter to film that doesn’t always hit its mark. One-part film analysis, one-part film history, and one-part memoir, the book falls short of its intended goal, which the author actually acknowledges at the end. I found this book enjoyable but also frustrating. The book is at its best when chronicling how a film like Citizen Kane was made or the history of the art form but at its worst when the author indulges in unnecessary flou ...more
David Thomson has a many-decades long career as a film critic and scholar. This book of his has a rather misleading title, for while “How to Watch a Movie” might lead you to expect a clear and straightforward introduction to the technical aspect of cinema (how shots are constructed, lighting, editing, etc.), that is not what you actually get here. Instead, the book is Thomson’s very impressionistic account of how he personally approaches various films that broadly belong to the mid-century canon ...more
Marilyn Shea
Jun 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love movies and ask others often for their recommendations but I am usually very disappointed when I am told how great a movie is and, well, it isn't. The author, David Thomson, is a film critic who writes so engagingly about films, actors and directors, telling why they are important, what new techniques in filming and storytelling they introduced and giving background information. As I read, I had to stop and watch some of the movies he mentioned, going back to watch again films I had seen y ...more
Feb 22, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: art-theory
Not the book I thought it would be, not a book I enjoyed.
Not entirely free of insight, but boy is it tough to dig out between the endless non sequiturs, literary jump-cuts, and inscrutable pondering.

Lists of things that don't relate, endless parenthetical statements, and concepts that get picked up and dropped like Thomson was shopping for fruit made me think I was going crazy trying to track with his ideas. This sounds ruder than I mean it to be, but if in a few years we all find out the autho
Jeroen De Ryck
On one of the last pages the writer sums up his book in a good way :

“You came into this book under deceptive promises (mine) and false hopes (yours). You believed we might make decisive progress in the matter of how to make a movie.”

This book explains a few basic things and makes some observations but overall it’s just a book that spoils a bunch of movies that you might not have seen yet and tells you you should watch them. Still entertaining to read but filled with spoilers and would not recom
Thomson writes and analyzes well, but has a super-irritating tendency to veer off the tracks, getting lost in memories and images from his past, which he then ends up talking about at the expense of the topic he's supposed to be writing about. If he had stayed on point and written about his favorite films themselves, analyzing them for their subtexts and psychological dimensions, he would have delivered a great book. But, alas, this is more the attempt of a movie critic to write a memoir tied to ...more
Mar 06, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Couldn’t get to the end of this one. What I hoped would be an expert’s eye-opening advice about how to consider film more fully turned out to be a bunch of disjointed memories and reminiscences by the author about films he’s seen and not much else. At nearly the 100-page point I realized there wasn’t going to be much else here. Disappointing, particularly for how much the tiny book cost when I bought it new in 2015.
Oct 13, 2017 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: no one
Shelves: film
I felt like a young waitress stuck behind the counter at the mercy of an old man with a captive audience. I don't know why I stuck with it. I really enjoyed the beginning, but it took me forever to read it because it just got so boring. It lost all style and became a weird stringing together of seemingly random thoughts that were highly subjective. ...more
Brett Gerlt
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was ok
I enjoyed parts of the book. There was some interesting bits of film history and theory. I felt like David Thompson went back to the same examples too often. I had trouble getting past the way he wrote about women in a boorish manner. I realize that a big part of film has always been sex but I think David Thompson could have spent lest time exploring that aspect in his various examples.
Steve Parsons
Jan 13, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
Good in parts, but mostly a meandering, nearly stream-of-consciousness, undirected text. Thomson offers some interesting thoughts and observations here and there, but they are too few and far between to make this book worth the time. It mostly feels random and unconnected.
Jul 12, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2017
I did a lot of eyerolling through this book. Thompson and I do not see the same things in many films. And he frequently makes grandiose sounding statements that don't actually mean anything. Still, I liked the concept of this book, even if the execution was not for me. ...more
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David Thomson, renowned as one of the great living authorities on the movies, is the author of The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, now in its fifth edition. His books include a biography of Nicole Kidman and The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood. Thomson is also the author of the acclaimed "Have You Seen . . . ?": A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films. Born in London in 1941, he now liv ...more

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