THE NEW BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF FILM

David Thomson, Author . Knopf $35 (976p) ISBN 978-0-375-41128-1

When this book was first published in 1975, it ignited arguments among many film buffs who disagreed with London-born critic Thomson's strongly opinionated summations. This latest upgrade—which includes 300 new entries—promises to do the same. Thomson retitled it, he says, "because so much is fresh and different." Now that the reference includes talents who've shot to fame during the past decade or so, including Renée Zellweger ("great range") and Ben Affleck ("boring, complacent and criminally lucky to have got away with everything so far"), it is truly massive, running the gamut from Abbott and Costello, who achieve the "lyrical, hysterical and mythic," to Ghost World's Terry Zwigoff, "a rare, individual voice". A critical minimalist, Thomson often nails the essence of a personality or career in less than a dozen words, such as Johnny Weissmuller: "No subsequent Tarzan ever matched him—the loincloth was retired." He deftly distills entire movies down to single sentences, with Internet-like linkages. Since his Haley Joel Osment profile sneaks in a critique of Spielberg's A.I. ("Osment was uncannily good as the robot/puppet coming to life, but ultimately betrayed by the inability of his director to keep control of the very ambitious material"), the hypnotized reader feels compelled to seek his lengthier comments on Spielberg: "Schindler's List is the most moving film I have ever seen." After the publication of a 1994 edition, the Internet Movie Database became one of the book's major competitors, linking nearly a half million performers with over 260,000 titles, but one still turns to Thomson for witty writing and potent, razor-sharp insights. With an immense passion for pictures, he plunges past the IMDb into the very soul of film. Agent, Laura Morris. (Oct. 11)

Forecast:Older readers will want to replace their earlier edition with this one, while an author tour, radio giveaways and advertising in the New York Times Book Review and Film Comment will attract a new generation.

Reviewed on: 08/05/2002
Release date: 10/01/2002
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