Allow an expert in his or her field to go to town on a favored subject, while keeping it all short, sweet, and accessible, and pay dirt is usually just around the corner. Fording the rivulet that divides the short essay collection and the “list” book, Have You Seen?: A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films is the kind of brief-attention-span read that leaves one not only free of guilt for having dipped into it but edified, itchingly eager to engage a fellow cineaste in aesthetic battle. Agree with him or not on his assessment of a given film, one can?t argue with the fact that David Thomson knows his stuff and then some. Author of the equally addictive Biographical Dictionary of Film, the San Francisco–based critic and author has seen — and evidently pondered — more movies than most of us will likely encounter in a lifetime. Have You Seen? considers those he deems particularly essential despite any faults his spot-on prose so clearly reveals. Thomson?s taste is refreshingly broad — he kicks off with a critique of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein — but far from down-and-dirty populist. Recognized Hollywood and international classics from Gone with the Wind to Persona are the norm here, sprinkled with intriguing personal choices (Went the Day Well, Rumble Fish) that reveal Thomson?s basically urbane taste — look to his critical grandchildren to find the best in Grindhouse and the like. We turn to Thomson to pinpoint why a film works or not, (“Don?t try telling the picture business, or the audience, that The Sheltering Sky was just another version of The Sheik with a white woman swept off her feet, her camel and her existential worldview by a glorious Arab”), and for the most part, he nails it.
About the Author
Steve Futterman writes the "Jazz and Standards" listings for The New Yorker.