Best Of The Web
“”We all of us sleep with strangers in our heads,” David Thomson declares near the beginning of Sleeping With Strangers: How the Movies Shaped Desire. That sentence as aptly describes the physical experience of dreaming as it does the omnivorous nature of sexual fantasy. Much of Thomson’s work over a career now into its fifth decade—he’s 78—has dwelled in the ambiguous space where dreams, fantasies, and movies overlap. To call the London-born, San Francisco–based Thomson a film critic isn’t quite right. Nor does the label of film historian fit, exactly, though his knowledge of the cinematic past is certainly formidable in its depth and detail. Rather, he’s an autobiographical essayist who approaches movies as a psychic toy set to be dismantled and rearranged according to the dictates of his own voluminous memory and florid imagination.
Thomson, the author of more than 30 books—including biographies of David O. Selznick and Orson Welles and monographs on Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman, and Gary Cooper—has been called the greatest living writer about film. He’s also been dismissed as a loquacious show-off in love with his own meandering voice. When the latest edition of his best-known book, the monumental and monumentally weird The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, was released in 2014, I allied myself more closely with the former camp than the latter. This labyrinthine reference work can be infuriating, but it is a one-of-a-kind compendium of thumbnail biographies of performers, directors, writers, and the occasional cinematographer or costume designer. Thomson sums up not the life or career of particular creators, but his impressionistic experiences with their work.
Thomson’s approach to the collective psychosocial phenomenon he sometimes designates simply as “movie” (“ ‘movie’ was a place people longed to be”) is guided by a deep-seated critical principle: Desire is a form of understanding. At its best, this method inspires passages of lively first-person prose. The lengthy dictionary entry on James Dean, Thomson’s generational compatriot and one of his favorite actors, includes a sense memory of the plush pile carpets and easy-to-evade usherettes at the Granada Theatre, in the South London district of Tooting, where he sneaked into a showing of Rebel Without a Cause in 1955. His commitment to letting himself love what he loves and hate what he hates can make for soaring arias of praise as well as scathing dismissals. Sarah Polley’s direction of Julie Christie in Away From Her “has shown us that certain characterizations in fiction may be as far-reaching as explorations into space, higher mathematics, or the genome project.” The Danish provocateur Lars von Trier is “brilliant in a way that gives that term a bad name.””
JJ Editor's Daily Picks
"Have world leaders really got the will to bring peace to Yemen? We hear much about Yemen’s crisis, but far less about the hypocrisy of states fuelling the very conflict they condemn."
"No poll so far in our database has tested Trump against the relatively unknown Weld... Indeed, Weld seems like one of the weakest candidates that anti-Trump Republicans could put up in a national campaign. "
"An initiative by the mayor of Tiberias for the municipality to help provide public transportation on the Sabbath has caused the issue of the social status quo to the forefront of public discussion."
"Like “30 Rock,” “Kimmy Schmidt” obviously slanted leftward, but most always exhibited a similar eagerness to skewer politics more generally than just the GOP."
"Yes, we’re all overwhelmed with email. One recent survey suggested that the average American’s inbox has 199 unread messages. But volume isn’t an excuse for not replying."
"... platforms now have a stranglehold over publishers who, individually and even as a group, have little-to-no bargaining power when it comes to algorithmic changes, ad rates, and much else."
"[There's] a subgenre known as National Socialist black metal, which espouses neo-Nazi views and has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as aiming to recruit youth to white-supremacist causes."
"“The Ideas That Made America” by Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen is an anomaly in the genre. Its brevity is a point of pride, yet it aspires to do a little of everything."
"My wish is to die in my own bed, cared for by people I love—clean, comfortable and relatively free from pain. I hope to have time to say my goodbyes and give my final blessings."
"A diet for fast weight loss is a pipe dream. Many of us want to lose weight without making permanent changes, because we view thinness instead of health as a success."
"Opportunity casts a long shadow over all subsequent Mars rovers, setting a gold standard of JPL engineering. Customized versions of its mobility software are used on the rovers Curiosity and upcoming Mars 2020."
"Biblical scholarship has deepened our understanding of the Torah and at the same time challenges us to consider the implications of our declaring the Torah to be emet. What is emet and what does it mean to say that the Torah is emet?"