“Have You Seen…” – A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films by David Thomson

“Have You Seen…” – A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films by David Thomson (2008)  1002 pages

“Have You Seen …” is an encyclopedic book of film in which David Thomson describes in detail the circumstances of 1,000 movies he considers essential. These movies are not in all cases his favorites; in the short one-page articles for each movie, Thomson expresses his opinions about each movie freely. These opinions are about the direction, the actors, the writing, the staging, the camerawork, the lighting, etc. The movies range from the year 1895 to the year 2008 when this book was written.

Thomson has described his film writing as “personal, opinionated, unfair, capricious,” However his detailed knowledge of the making of each of these movies is so wide-ranging, Thomson is entitled to his strong opinions. It is that opinionated capriciousness that makes his writing so interesting and so much fun.

In my own movie watching, I have reached the point where the oldness of a movie does not impede my selection of it as a movie to watch. The modern technical razzle dazzle has no effect on me whatsoever. In fact I much prefer watching many of the older films over watching still another comic book movie whether it is a so-called drama, comedy or indeed a comic book. There are still good movies being made, but you need to hunt for them. Of the movies of 2010, I actually preferred “The Fighter” over “The King’s Speech”.

Next, I’m going to quote two somewhat long excerpts from “Have You Seen…” about the movie “Double Indemnity” that will indicate the sweep of David Thomson’s knowledge as well as the quality of his insights.

“When Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) comes downstairs she is dressed, and she wears that anklet that catches Walter’s (Fred MacMurray) eye the way a hook gets a fish. Very soon they’re into this counterpunching flirtation that isn’t in the novel and that you could easily attribute to Wilder’s co-writer Raymond Chandler. But everything you get here is part of Wilder’s grinning fascination with nasty, sexy people and his huge respect for Cain’s basic story.”

““The casting is of a kind that changed Hollywood. Stanwyck was a little reluctant to be so nasty, but then she saw that it made her. Fred MacMurray simply looks a better and better actor as the years pass, and there are volumes to be said about a man who hates himself even while he is trying to look so good. But still, it’s Keyes who holds the film in place, and Edmund G. Robinson is a fussy little treat, nagging away at detail and looking for his matches.”

Every movie entry in “Have You Seen…” is filled with these fascinating insights into the movie being discussed. This is an excellent movie compendium.

Lastly I will leave you with one last excerpt from the book about the movie “The Sound of Music”.

“Yes, you’re right: I am a very sick, vicious old man, but writing 1,000 of these little recommendations can drive you crazy, especially when I come to a picture that I loathe but which — unquestionably — has to be in the book, if only because millions of the stupid and aggrieved will write in to the publisher, ‘Where was The Sound of Music?’ if it is not. It is here.”

From who else can you get candor like that?

Based on the write-up in “Have You Seen…”, my wife and I recently re-watched “The Right Stuff” which was fine and probably, as Thomson writes, should have won the Best Movie Oscar in 1984 over “Terms of Endearment”.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Probably (I say re The right stuff … though to say definitely I’d have to check what other movies were up that year). Sounds like an interesting book Tony.

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  2. Hi Whispering Gums,
    I googled ‘Academy Awards Best Picture 1984’ and the five nominees were ‘Terms of Endearment’, ‘The Right Stuff’, ‘Tender Mercies’, ‘The Dresser’, and ‘The Big Chill’, with ‘Terms of Endearment’ the winner. Those all seem like strong movies to me. It is fun to get David Thomson’s take on these things.

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  3. Sounds like a great movie book.

    Sam Shepard is the best thing about The Right Stuff, as a rock-and-roll band friend and I decided long ago. (It was kind of nice to chat about movies in the back of the exercise class when we tired of leg lifts.) Terms of Endearment is great, too. Debra Winger, Shirley McLaine, Jeff Daniels, and Jack Nicholson…I’ll see anything with any of these actors in it.

    Somebody, at some blog or newspaper or God knows where, recently wrote about rereading Pauline Kael. I loved her reviews, too.

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  4. Hi Frisbee,
    Yes, I can see where a woman might think that Sam Shepard is the best thing about a movie. Did you know that Sam Shepard and Jessica Lange live in Stillwater, Minnesota, which is only a few miles from the Twin Cities?. Sam Shepard is also an excellent fiction writer – http://bit.ly/ppBeBP

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