By choosing his favourite movie "moments," David Thomson is just looking for pretext: He can't resist telling us everything he knows about filmby Clive James / November 14, 2013 / Leave a comment
Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire in The Band Wagon (1953): “the climactic number, choreographed by Michael Kidd, is akin to nothing else” © Everett Collection/Rex
Movie critics in old age can be excused for remembering a moment from any given movie, rather than the whole thing. They might even decide that they never experienced anything except as a collection of fragments, and that all those old coherent memories were an illusion. Certainly I, when I learned that David Thomson had written this book, thought he might be on to something. Just recently I switched to the Film4 channel and found the screen full of a man’s thigh. I knew immediately it was Brad Pitt in Troy.
You get to where your capacity for recollection is like a bin full of charged particles. Let’s call them moments, as Thomson does. The question his book raises is whether or not the moments he has chosen from 70 films are always the right ones. But I should say in advance that this very question might guarantee a big sale: people will want to argue about the choices, just as they argue about the teeming judgements in his most famous book, A Biographical Dictionary of Cinema, first published in 1975 and since several times revised, while never ceasing to be slightly crackers.
David Thomson believes that Blue Velvet is one of the 10 greatest movies ever made. I believe that it is a bunch of fish heads wrapped in newspaper. Therefore it is a miracle that I agree with anything he says. It is a relief, when paging through this splendidly produced new book, to be able to agree with him at least sometimes. In Bringing Up Baby, directed by Howard Hawks, the movie is undoubtedly made by the moment when Cary Grant, on a formal occasion, accidentally rips Katharine Hepburn’s skirt off and must usher her out of the crowded room with his top hat concealing her behind.
You don’t have to do much work in your head before you remember that the same movie is packed with other moments. (The dinosaur collapsing, the professor imitating the leopard’s call, and so on.) But you remember the skirt-ripping scene without doing any work at all. Surely that should be the criterion: the moment that makes the movie is the moment you can’t help…