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The New Biographical Dictionary of Film: Sixth Edition Paperback – May 6, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The first edition of this work was published in 1975 (under the title Biographical Dictionary of Cinema). More than 100 new entries have been added since the last edition, in 2010, including Amy Adams, Benedict Cumberbatch, Joaquin Phoenix, and Robin Wright. Thomson is not shy about broadcasting his very personal views on people involved in filmmaking, among them performers, directors, producers, writers, and translators. (As examples of the highly subjective nature of the work, the entry for Sir Kenneth Branagh includes the line, “Nothing suggests that Branagh is either competent or interesting when detached from Shakespeare,” while the entry for Jodie Foster sidetracks into an odd commentary on the provenance of her children.) Each person is listed alphabetically by surname, with birth and death dates (where applicable) and place of birth. Director entries contain a chronological list of film titles. Entries range from several paragraphs to a couple of pages. Readers need to come to the text with the awareness that it is less a reference tool than a very readable collection of commentaries on a wide range of motion-picture people and their work. This book—with its at times very opinionated perspective—is suitable for most medium-sized and large public libraries, for both reference and circulating collections. Libraries owning older editions will want to replace with this version. --Rebecca Vnuk

Review

"The best book on the movies ever written in English." —The New Republic

“Thomson proves anew that he is irreplaceable . . . His monologue has blossomed into an unlikely, searching dialogue about what to value in the movies—how to love what’s come before without nostalgia, and how to find the courage to demand more from the stuff being made right now . . . Deservedly treasured . . . One of the most probing accounts ever written of a human being’s engagement with the movies.” —Sarah Kerr, The New York Times Book Review

“Delicious. One of the best and most useful books written about the movies.” —Edward Guthmann, San Francisco Chronicle

The Dictionary is not only an indispensable book about cinema, but one of the most absurdly ambitious literary achievements of our time.”  —Geoff Dyer, Sight & Sound

“A marvel . . . Eccentric, audacious, sparkling . . . Probably the greatest living film critic and historian, Thomson writes the most fun and enthralling prose about the movies since Pauline Kael.” —Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic

“From Abbott and Costello to Crumb’s Terry Zwigoff, David Thomson expertly caters the banquet of film history in the latest edition of this classic. One critics’ poll called it the best movie book ever; it also has some of the finest, orneriest writing in the English language.”
Time 
 
“Truly, maddeningly, gloriously subjective . . . Buy this book for a friend, and bask in the pleasure of knowing that you have incalculably enriched his life. Buy it for yourself, and book some quality time with one of the finest writers the story of film has ever had.”
—Saul Austerlitz, San Francisco Chronicle
 
“[A] mad and magnificent opus . . . Thomson is a great rhapsodist of how film acts on his, and therefore our, imagination. . . . Close viewing, and the insights that spring from rapt attention, are what Thomson’s criticism is all about. Despite its seemingly straitlaced A-to-Z format, the ‘Dictionary’ is oddball and Borgesian, finding imaginative ecstasy in its encyclopedic tendency. The book crackles with epigram while often reaching for meanings that endow familiar subjects with a new reality. . . . It’s an essential, loony, irresistible book, and scarcely a week passes when I don’t submerge myself for an hour or two in its labyrinthine marvels.”
—Richard Rayner, Los Angeles Times
 
“Essential . . . Razor-sharp reviews are often commentaries on both the filmmaker and the audience. . . . We’re always aware that we’re engaging with a passionate educated human being. Isn’t that more interesting and rewarding than marketing-driven Netflix summaries? Great critics are cinema’s most inspiring enthusiasts. Four stars.”
            —Jeffrey Overstreet, Books & Culture
 
“Witty, expasive, convincing, honest, more than a little mischievous and, so often, absolutely on the money. Thomson’s voice is one of the most distinctive and enjoyable in film criticism. It leaps from the pages of this spruced up classic like flames from a bonfire. . . . Almost every page contains at least one unexpected nugget of information that you would struggle to come across by any other means. . . . However, the real value of this book lies not in facts, but in opinions. Thomson’s views are so shrewd, so exquisitely stated that, more often than not, they feel like thoughts you already held but were never quite sure how to put into words. . .  In a world awash with amateur pundits, the value of a genuine expert who knows his own mind has never been higher. . . . Dip into any entry and you will find irrefutable proof that his gaze remains as sharp as ever. For as long as there are films worth writing about, Thomson’s opinions will remain worth reading.”
            —Benjamin Secher, The Telegraph
 
“The newest edition of David Thomson’s New Biographical Dictionary of Film is 1,076 pages long. It weighs a ton. And yet, it’s almost impossible to put down.”
The New York Observer
 
“Invaluable and occasionally maddening.”          —Steven Rea, The Kansas City Star
 
“Skip the movie; read David Thomson instead. Addictive . . . his landmark work. You’ll see how erudite, generous, cheeky, elegant and fascinating Thomson’s writing is. Take any entry and it’s impossible not to want to read to the finish.” —Kyle Smith, New York Post
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 1168 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 6 edition (May 6, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375711848
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375711848
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 2 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #225,177 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Publius on August 24, 2014
Format: Paperback
The Biographical Dictionary of Film has always placed in film journal polls among the Top Five film books ever written. His entries are wonderfully concise and precise, and often extremely perceptive. Like John Simon before him, his entries can sometimes be mean-spirited towards some actresses he is not fond of (he finds Julie Christie to be "lantern-jawed...") On the other hand, he confesses his crush on Angie Dickinson.

Whether you agree or disagree with him, however, you will refer to this book often just to see how much his opinion of directors and actors differs from your own and enjoy his (for the most part) pithy and witty observations.

The one failing on his updated editions (this is now the sixth) is that he generally does not add any NEW commentary to actors, actresses and directors currently working once he has written his original entry in a prior edition. He merely updates his original entry by listing the more recent titles and dates of films with at most one or two words of commentary every now and then. Thus, I have to deduct one star for recent laziness.

I would definitely recommend another of his volumes... "HAVE YOU SEEN...?"... where he discusses his 1000 favorite films of all time. I found "Have You Seen..." to be even more enjoyable than this volume.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J. Hundley VINE VOICE on October 10, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I love reference books. They are the best for nightstand and bathroom reading. A good, solid reference on a subject you are interested in a wise investment in time and money.

This new edition of a long-time classic is, as the past editions have been, a sheet delight. Like the old potato chip commercial put it, you can't eat just one entry. You will find yourself staying up later than you intended (or taking a lot longer to get ready for the day, etc.), but pfft. Who cares when a writer like Thomson is keeping you reading? He has not lost any of his edge, strong opinion, or ability to make you laugh out loud. If you agree with his take, you nod your head at his wit and incisive writing. If you disagree with him, all the better. It's still enlightening and more often than not, a hoot. Not just everybody is listed here, of course, but then, not just everybody deserves to be.

Turn on the side lamp, adjust the pillow, and expect to be tired in the morning.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ron DiCostanzo on June 10, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A terrific book, though not fully updated. Regardless, and despite largely subjective and some might think often wrong-headed commentaries, this is a splendid book to own. It is great fun to look up someone, find him or her there, and enjoy the thoughts Thomson shares. Agree or disagree.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By P. D. Bacon on July 5, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A must have for anyone interested in the movies, from the casual fan to the film scholar. This is the third of the six editions that I own.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By G. Detore on July 28, 2014
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Thomson is always interesting
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By John J. Costello Jr. on July 7, 2014
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Very entertaining. Goes in depth into review of actors, usually concentrating on one or two or their most influential films.
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Format: Paperback
So, Barbra Streisand. What to say about Barbra Streisand?
'Only in her early seventies.. as volatile and brooding as the San Andreas fault..' That sly 'only' is very David. What I want to know is, if this is 'the best book on the movies ever written IN ENGLISH' (cover quote), in what language was the very best book on movies EVER, bar none, written? Whatever, Thomson's an essential component of any library, personal or private. In its newest avatar his magnum opus manages to remain surprisingly manageable in size. It is gloriously addictive.

Edit 17 June 2015
The next edition must make room for Roy Andersson. The New Statesman's Ryan Gilbey finds his new movie, the serio-comic A Pigeon Sat.., less profound than its two predecessors. What does David think?
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My husband loves any type of film and all the info on each one and was very happy that he got this book for father's day
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The New Biographical Dictionary of Film: Sixth Edition
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