Murder and the Movies audiobook
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I’ve decided to stop reading Murder and the Movies at about halfway mark. It is plainly obvious David Thomson is passionate about the subject, and obtains a treasure trove of knowledge and trivia, however the meandering writing style makes the content very difficult to digest.
The book reads like a run-on sentence, where the subject at hand is compared with a previous topic mentioned pages earlier (often in the 15+ pages range), and the comparison itself becomes another point of discussion, to be referenced to another 15+ pages further. Not only is it difficult keeping track of all the open topics, it also feels very aimless. In short form, like an essay, I can see this tree-branching approach being very engaging, as it pairs up disconnected concepts into an unexpected conclusion. But as a 200+ pages book, it constantly feels like the author is simply spitballing random thoughts without a formalized structure.
Perhaps I’m not patient enough to read it through the end, and see how all the puzzle pieces fit together, but as someone who love cinema and am always on the look out for deep dive into the subject, I cannot recommend Murder and the Movies as a place to start.
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This book, Murder and the Movies, by British film critic and historian David Thomson, might be considered “a panorama of mayhem, a miscellany of malice.” Thomson writes about the ubiquitous depiction of death and murder in the media, especially films, and asks what it says about us, the consumers who happily watch all the dying and destruction.
In his discourse Thomson skips around from topic to topic, including:
personal anecdotes: like the time his father showed him a ravaged homeless beggar, and said it was former British welterweight champion Johnny Summers;
history: like a tidbit about infamous cult leader Jim Jones and the Jonestown Massacre;
television shows: like the large number of characters murdered in the first season of Ozark;
mass killings: like school shootings perpetrated by “inhuman forces [that] keep getting access to guns, sometimes guns with video-game momentum”;
philosophy: like his assessment that “some young people are in despair over their lives and the potential for life” so that “they begin to shift towards the impersonality of electronic media that measures lives as digital hits”;
Kevin Spacey: like his opinion of the disgraced star, “who was an exceptional actor….the real and lasting thing: insightful, risk-taking, and ambiguous.” Thomson laments Spacey’s banishment from Hollywood, and says “he may be dead to his art – and that will be a loss to all of us as well as to the other people who could be employed on his projects”;
satire: like Jonathan Swift’s pamphlet ‘A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for Making them Beneficial to the Publick’ – which suggests that ‘babes’ should be sold to the rich as ‘delicacies and choice food stuffs’;
……to riffs on Lee Harvey Oswald: Agatha Christie; Alfred Hitchcock, and more.
For the most part, though, Thomson dissects death in films, and our reaction (or lack of reaction) to the killings….be it murder, manslaughter, casualties of war, or something else.
As a renowned critic, Thomson saw a plethora of movies, from little known films shown in only thirteen theaters – like Keith Maitland’s ‘Tower, to blockbusters – like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Thomson opines about detective films; true crime movies; war films; comedies; live theatre productions; television series; and books – ranging from early entertainments to modern ones.
Thomson’s appraisals are generally detailed and long, covering many aspects of the arts, especially movies. For films, Thomson discusses things like plot; scenes; denouement; actors; director; cinematographer; location; cost; prizes; remakes; and more. To provide a taste of Thomson’s thoughts, I’ll give some brief examples:
Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’: “One of the coldest comedies ever made, and an admission of how murder can get into our blood. In The Shining, RED RUM sounds like a pick-me-up for a cold winter’s night, until we see that the scrawled word in the a mirror says MURDER.”
Steven Spielberg’s ‘Jaws’ – “There was really no future in Jaws if that opening scene didn’t provide the enterprise with a good-looking corpse…..ripped and shredded by [shark] teeth.”
Anthony Minghella’s ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’ – “Tom Ripley feels an urge to murder his new chum, a perfect, arrogant s*** named Dickie Greenleaf”…..and then thinks of something brilliant….”He could become Dickie Greenleaf himself.” Thomson says, “Tom does it in existential irony, to pass the time, and as a response to the absolute unfairness of being alive.” (Note: This assessment is a bit too philosophical for me. Maybe Tom is just a greedy s***. )
Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ – “Hitchcock was English, till the end. Faced with the slaughter of Marion Crane, he did it daintily, fastidiously. He boasted that, in that shower scene in Psycho, you never saw a knife entering flesh. It was just that you thought you had seen it.” (Note: In my opinion, that shower scene is waaaay not dainty. )
Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s television documentary ‘The Vietnam War’ – “It is steadily conceded that official ‘permitted’ combat killing was one thing, and the casual offing of civilians, or ‘the wrong gooks’ was another. Still, there will always be a conservative interpretation of military killing that regards it as men’s work, a duty that will let guys be all that they can be.” (Note: This seems harsh, but true. )
Director David Fincher – “Fincher is one of the few exceptional and personal directors left in America. When I say personal, I am talking not just about the authentic signature of his style – he is a planner more than a poet, and an expert with the camera, with sound and actors – but in his choice of material.” (Note: Fincher’s films include: Alien 3, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Gone Girl.)
David Fincher’s ‘Se7en’ – “John Doe (the murderer) is one of the most organized and authoritative people in cinema. He devises murders that would be beyond the imagining of most of us. You’d have to love your work to have such care and patience over it.” John Doe uses the seven deadly sins as his motive, and “to demonstrate gluttony, a man has been forced to eat until his stomach bursts – here are the spilled guts.” (Note: This is one of the most scary and disturbing movies I’ve ever seen. )
Fred Zinneman’s ‘Day of the Jackal’ – Edward Fox played the Jackal, an assassin hired to kill French President Charles de Gaulle. “The drawn-out process of preparation for the killing makes us hushed accomplices to it all, and Fox seems like a good fellow dedicated to the task. A part of me sees that film repeatedly in the daft hope that the Jackal might succeed – it is HIS day.” Ha ha ha
Martin Scorcese’s ‘Taxi Driver’ – “It is a searing portrait of a lost soul, a would-be saint, a Vietnam wreck, a man uncertain how to go mad but drawn to it, and a dangerous, likely killer (called Travis). Travis thinks of saving a maybe-fourteen hooker. In that process he murders three people, and it is up to us to decide how justified or deranged he is.”
To make his point about murder in movies, Thomson writes, “We know that “murder is not at all pleasant…..It’s horrid; It’s bad; It’s the last thing in the world you want to have come your way.” He goes on, “But why do you watch so much of it if it is really hideous, or disturbing, or simply not your kind of thing?”
For myself, I’d answer that we watch movies – or read books – because they’re entertaining. I don’t agree with Thomson’s tarring us with the brush of ‘indifference to killing’ because we watch detective movies or war films and the like. I’d say, we just want a bit of escapism.
On the downside, the book is a bit all over the place and overly philosophical. Still, I enjoyed the narrative, and would recommend it to movie buffs – who’d appreciate Thomson’s extensive knowledge of the entertainment industry.
Thanks to Netgalley, the author (David Thomson), and the publisher (Yale University Press) for a copy of the book.
Audiobook Murder and the Movies by David Thomson
If you’ve read David Thomson’s novels Silver Light and Suspects, you’re familiar with how he plays with movie history. He mixes the characters in films with the actors who play them. For Thomson the history of Hollywood is no more or less true than the stories on the screen.
In this book Thomson asks us if we could commit the crimes the filmmakers use to entertain us. What he won’t do is let us off the hook. The point of movies is the audience identifying with the hero. But what if the hero is a monster?
(Thanks to NetGalley and Yale University Press for a digital review copy.)
Audio Murder and the Movies narrated by Chris MacDonnell
I can tell that “Murder and the Movies” was written by somebody with interesting thoughts but this book unfortunately offers little depth on the broad topics it covers. Thomson jumps from film synopsis to political commentary to memoir throughout the book and doesn’t linger on any one topic long enough to say anything particularly convincing. I’d be interested to see how the author would handle a narrower topic of discussion, as this book is well-written despite its other faults. Thanks to NetGalley for providing an advance copy for review.
Free audio Murder and the Movies – in the audio player below
David Thomson is a fascinating writer; a thinking man’s writer. I have several books of his, all dealing with cinema. A life spent in the dark. This book focuses on an interesting subject: Murder in the Movies. However Thomson does something interesting here: he talks about real life murderers. Serial killers, snipers, assassins, murderers of all type. So instead of keeping our eyes on the screen he blends reality with fiction. I enjoyed this book and it was a quick read. Thomson certainly knows film and he references plenty of them here. The merger of actual fact with fictious art is certainly interesting. Since I am both a fan of true crime as well as film, I thought that this would be the perfect book for me, but somehow I am left with questions for which there are no answers. How many false murders have I witnessed, how many photographs of authentic homicide have I studied? Does it matter? A life spent in the dark is an interesting one and with a guide like Thomson. you realize how little you have seen. Fascinating.
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