Reading David Thomson's new book, The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood is like listening to a favorite older uncle reminisce about his Hollywood career; it's full of interesting stories of yesteryear, lots of valuable insights, and probably good for you--even if some sections go faster than others. Thomson is an accomplished critic who has written for The New York Times and Salon (among others), and is also the author of several books on the subject of show biz, including The New Biographical Dictionary of Film. In The Whole Equation (a reference to F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel about Hollywood, The Last Tycoon), he attempts to cover "the history of American movies," and "the history of America in the time of movies." To do so, he brings in finance, film theory, and just plain gossip. (For those who haven't heard how Jean Harlow died, prepare to watch the facade of glamour crumble as never before.)
It's an ambitious project to say the least, and the movie business is probably too complex a subject to sum up in 350-plus pages. Often a reader can start a chapter, purportedly on one topic, and find themselves completely off the grid--or at least buried under a lot of words--a few pages later. Like that favorite uncle, Thomson isn't necessarily quick to make his point, nor afraid of straying from his main subject. Nevertheless, many parts of the book are enjoyable and valuable--particularly for those who really want to learn about the history of American filmmaking, and wouldn't mind finding out what Brando got paid for Last Tango in Paris in the process. --Leah Weathersby
With the same style and insight he brought to his previous studies of American cinema, acclaimed critic David Thomson masterfully evokes the history of America’s love affair with the movies and the tangled history of Hollywood in The Whole Equation.
Thomson takes us from D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, and the first movies of mass appeal to Louis B. Mayer, who understood what movies meant to America–and reaped the profits. From Capra to Kidman and Hitchcock to Nicholson, Thomson examines the passion, vanity, calculation and gossip of Hollywood and the films it has given us. This one-volume history is a brilliant and illuminating overview of “the wonder in the dark”–and the staggering impact Hollywood and its films has had on American culture.
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