The Moviegoers

The Bloomsbury Movie Guide series celebrates the fine art of cinematic obsession

Although he controls himself quite impressively through the increasingly unsatisfactory first three films, by the fourth Thomson can stand it no longer and is off, riffing in the style of his novel Suspects, which webbed his favorite film-noir characters into one giant family plot. The version of Alien Resurrection he dreams is far more intellectually and narratively fertile than the barren specimen that ended up onscreen.

Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of these books is their weirdly mimetic conveyance of each film's zeitgeist: Goldfinger an unexpectedly profitable bit of piecework for British journeymen; Jaws pure product touched by magic; Performance an intermittently successful labor of love. Most appositely, after wading through French's 251 pages on Apocalypse Now, you slacken into surrender to the breadth and exhausting ambition of his vision--just as Coppola longed to communicate the experience of the war itself. French frequently lets you glimpse his own (mostly) willing servitude to a film he admits to having watched more than 40 times. Sometimes such fanatical precision leaves him cold, sometimes faith is its own reward: "This final section [Martin Sheen, Dennis Hopper, and Brando chewing through thickets of myth at Kurtz's compound] makes more and more sense the more often you see it, and this process of repeated viewing, existing somewhere in the realm between thorough research and obsession, leads to some odd conclusions," the author confesses.

Really, why bother if you're going to waste time being sensible? The madder these books get, the better they are, approaching that hapless infatuation that seduces every film geek early on. For the most part, they present not one reading but many--trailing clues for the reader but ultimately leaving most questions open. Unless you're dangerously in thrall to a single film, nobody needs this much detail. But that's no reason you shouldn't have it.

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