A Light in the Dark: A History of Movie Directors

Knopf. Mar. 2021. 304p. ISBN 9780593318157. $27.95. FILM
Legendary film critic Thomson (The Biographical Dictionary of Film) dissects decades of movie-making, chronicling how directors rose from obscurity to become larger-than-life celebrities. Thomson identifies as a curmudgeon, and his conversational tone is both authoritative and perplexing. He studies classic directors who well represent their decades, from Fritz Lang and Jean Renoir to Howard Hawks and Alfred Hitchcock, focusing on white men and spending much time on their romantic relationships and picks for leading men. He asserts that filmmakers direct for “access” to women, and his single chapter on female directors suggests that the successful women are those who make “male films.” His lone chapter on minority directors focuses on Spike Lee, who he describes as challenging and admits to not particularly liking. Thomson’s questionable opinions include the assertion that Woody Allen is a treasure who will eventually be recognized as such once again and his branding of Roman Polanski as a “ruffler of feathers.” The author concludes with a nod to Alik Sakharov, who directed the brilliant final four episodes of Ozark yet is likely unfamiliar to the general public, as proof that directors are back in the shadows and unrecognized as the geniuses behind the work.
VERDICT Thomson’s own genius is his ability to remain one of the leading authorities on cinematic history, without shying away from the controversial. Cinephiles seeking provocative arguments will appreciate his work.
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