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Exclusive Excerpt from David Thomson's 'Moments That Made the Movies:' From 'Citizen Kane' to 'Burn After Reading'

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire October 2, 2013 at 11:22AM

We have an exclusive excerpt from David Thomson's new book "Moments That Made the Movies," which will be published this month by Thames & Hudson.
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Moments That Made the Movies
Thames & Hudson

Critic David Thomson, author of the essential "Biographical Dictionary of Film," re-examines a series of moments from 70 films across 100 years in his new book, "Moments That Made the Movies," which will be published this month by Thames & Hudson. In some cases, he focuses on one scene -- or even a few seconds from a wide range of films -- everything from "Sunset Boulevard," "Citizen Kane," "Casablanca" and "The Red Shoes" to "When Harry Met Sally," "Zodiac," "The Piano Teacher" and "Burn After Reading."

"There are surprises, offbeat choices, as well as plenty of films that you might have guessed would be included -- though not always with the moments you anticipated," writes Thomson. Below you can read an exclusive excerpt from the book's introduction, as well as some images from the book:

David Thomson
Photo: c.Lucy Gray David Thomson

Do you remember the movies you saw, like whole vessels serene on the seas of time? Or do you just retain moments from them, like shattered lifeboats where a very fierce tiger and Hedy Lamarr (change the animals to fit your history) are gazing at you from the other end of the boat wondering how the story will end? Can you recall the intricate plot of Laura, or do you simply see Dana Andrews falling asleep beneath that portrait on the wall? Most people, I find, remember moments from films they saw as children or adolescents (so true film buffs like to extend those stages of life). Yet often the moment has overwhelmed the film itself.

At fifteen, I walked into Rebel Without a Cause before the end of the previous screening, and I was confronted by the scene in which James Dean is trying to coax Sal Mineo (and his gun) out of the planetarium. In the movie as a whole, Jim (Dean) is as kind to Plato (Mineo) as an older brother and is trying to save him. But in that first moment, I saw Dean making a plan: so he seemed devious and cunning, and I always have seen his character, Jim Stark, as less a lost kid than a potential director.


"The Conformist"
Image credit: Paramount/The Kobal Collection at Art Resource, NY "The Conformist"

Excerpted from Moments that Made the Movies, by David Thomson  
Copyright © 2013 David Thomson  
Reprinted courtesy of Thames & Hudson Inc.  
www.thamesandhudsonusa.com

If we conform to the ancient tradition of twenty-four frames in a movie second, then a two-hour film has 172,800 frames. It’s a stretch to regard every frame as a moment, but fifteen frames can make a distinct contribution to and shift in a film, while some other moments last a minute or two, or even twenty minutes. There are certain films -- like High Noon or 12 Angry Men -- where the entire picture may be construed as an extended moment, a piece of unbroken duration, and a kind of narrative momentousness. I noticed, as I composed my new book, that some films seemed packed with distinct, quotable moments, while others -- often great works -- seemed to possess a continuity from which it was more difficult to isolate or extract moments. Once you were into that sort of film, it was harder to get out. Jean Renoir’s movies -- La Regle du Jeu especially -- seem to flow like the rivers he often took as a model. It is harder with Renoir to attend to just one scene without wanting to speak about everything in the film. Yet American films, by and large, do look to have sensational events, knock-out set-pieces that will be treasured long after the rest is forgotten and which will feature in the trailers and the advertisements...

"The Lady Eve"
Image credit: Paramount/Photofest. "The Lady Eve"

Excerpted from Moments that Made the Movies, by David Thomson  
Copyright © 2013 David Thomson  
Reprinted courtesy of Thames & Hudson Inc.  
www.thamesandhudsonusa.com

"Bonnie and Clyde"
Image credit: Warner Bros/Photofest "Bonnie and Clyde"

The moments I selected for my book have stayed in my memory, and leap onto the screen in my head if the title is mentioned. I think they are very "movie" moments, doing something that could be managed in no other medium—the look, the pace, the movement, the texture, the context, all these things are vital. I can describe them, or I will try, but really you have to witness them and feel them.

I was excited by the challenge to write about them, but I hope the moments will send you in search of the whole films, especially those you had never heard of, or not seen before. There are surprises, offbeat choices, perhaps even capricious or provocative selections, as well as plenty of films that you might have guessed would be included—though not always with the moments you anticipated.

You see, there is a gentle theory at work here, which is to wonder, "Well, what is a movie moment?" and in turn that may lead readers into the larger question of how movies function as stories, dreams, and shows, and how they become as potent in our imaginations as the rooms in which we spent our childhood... Once you start to see moments, you become like an editor or a director, getting closer to the strange dreamlike reality of movies.

Excerpted from Moments that Made the Movies, by David Thomson  
Copyright © 2013 David Thomson  
Reprinted courtesy of Thames & Hudson Inc.  
www.thamesandhudsonusa.com

This article is related to: Film History, David Thomson, Books