THE WHOLE EQUATION: A History of Hollywood

David Thomson, Author . Knopf $27.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-375-40016-2

The "whole equation," a phrase borrowed from F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished Hollywood novel, The Last Tycoon , refers to the balancing of financial acumen, artistic aspiration and sociological savvy that movie moguls needed to keep Hollywood flourishing during the Depression. It's also what Thomson (The New Biographical Dictionary of Film ) aims to achieve in his idiosyncratic chronicle of American filmmaking. He explores personalities (Louis B. Mayer, David O. Selznick) and specific films (von Stroheim's Greed , Spielberg's Jaws ) to explain the 20th century's shifting sensibilities. Thomson addresses seminal effects from the last 100 years—from the ramifications of sound and color to the chilling consequences of the McCarthy hearings—to explain the culture of moviemaking. His writing is lyrical, but his pronouncements hyperbolic. (His ire against psychiatry, manifested in a dislike of Method acting, is particularly pronounced; its influence on an acting style, claims Thomson, "could yet destroy a society.") Thomson is considerably frustrated with current films and what he sees as moviegoers' lowered expectations. His melancholy metaphor for survival in Hollywood is the 1974 film Chinatown , where "the lone seeker of truth is told to shut up at the end." This fascinating, sometimes frustrating love letter to Hollywood doesn't shirk from exposing the blemishes on Thomson's inamorata. 23 photos. (Dec. 10)

Forecast: Knopf will release an expanded edition of Thomson's Dictionary of Film in November, which could spur additional interest in this title, which will have a 75,000 first printing.

Reviewed on: 10/11/2004
Release date: 12/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
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