For the seasoned LARB reader — or indeed, for almost any contemporary reader — neither Greil Marcus nor David Thomson should need an introduction. Marcus, the author of such books as Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century and Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes, is one of our most flexible and surprising interrogators of the American grain. Thomson, author of more than 20 books, including The New Biographical Dictionary of Film and Try to Tell The Story, may be our greatest living film historian. Recently, Marcus and Thomson sat down to discuss matters ranging from the origins and complexities of Thomson's new book, The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies, to our predilection for vile protagonists. A heavily edited version of this conversation ran recently in Sight & Sound, but LARB is pleased to present their rich and engaging dialogue in full.
GREIL MARCUS: Let’s start with your new book, The Big Screen. I’m a very slow reader, but I tried to just roar through it, and it was completely impossible. It’s a ruminating book, full of echoes. The ideas, the references, the words in the sentences, the construction of the sentences, they continue echoing throughout. So if you just read for information or read for plot, you’re not watching the movie. It’s 525 pages long not counting notes and texts, and no pictures.
DAVID THOMSON: Well there are pictures to come. There are two photographic insets.
GM: All right, there are pictures. But I haven’t seen them, and didn’t miss them. And I think in fact, if you show a picture of the ending of Bonnie and Clyde, where Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway are being ripped to pieces, which is a moment you come back to many times in the book — do you show a picture of that?
GM: Good — because you don’t need it. It would just take away from the reverberation that’s already there. I found the greatest thrill in this book to be its sentences. You bring something into such perfect focus, something that’s so right and so swift that you’d completely miss it if you didn’t read it all. You’ve got an argument throughout about the nature of the screen in relationship to a human being, to the human eye, human memory. Starting with Muybridge, going to video games and past that to wherever past that will be. You raise any number of issues outside of cinema proper, having to do with social life, with cultural and individual memory, having to do with community, with the whole idea of communication and what it means to live in a democracy. What kind of culture does democracy produce? What kind of culture does democracy depend on? But that’s not how the book reads. The book reads like floating down a very, very long river. And the boat doesn’t change, the occupant of the boat doesn’t change. But the weather changes, the terrain changes. The people you pass who you meet on the river, who you see on the shore are continually changing. In other words, to me, regardless of the other arguments you seem to be making that might seem to be of greater import, this is a self-referential book in the richest way. About The Pass...read more