“We will sit in the dark and we will contemplate the worst scenes of violence and cruelty, and if we were to see them in real life, we’d feel horrified and compelled to try to intervene. But the movies tell you you don’t have to brave. It’s only a movie.”
With his new book Disaster Mon Amour (Yale University Press), legendary film critic & writer David Thomson explores the intersection of disaster-as-entertainment and disaster-as-real-life. We get into how the imminent destruction from catastrophes like the pandemic, climate change, and authoritarianism have made us more cynical, why we thrill to CGI’d destruction, how his book evolved from his 2019 pitch, and how it pairs with his previous Murder And The Movies. We also talk about what we lose when we stop seeing movies in theaters, why romantic/screwball comedies of the ’40s and not noir are the best American films, his Pauline Kael story, the decade he most adores, and whether after 45 years in the US he’s ever felt quite American. Plus, we discuss whether he’ll do another revision to The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, his upcoming essay about The Godfather and whether he’ll pretend the third one didn’t happen, his literary upbringing and the radio adaptations that set him on his literary path, my lightning-round questions of Dostoevsky vs. Tolstoy and Bleak House vs. Middlemarch, and much more! Give it a listen! And go read Disaster Mon Amour!
“This is a book over which I had intense pleasure and fun. I’m not ashamed to say it; I think it’s part of the mystery of it.”
“Screwball comedies of the 1940s are the most pleasant and beguiling films I know, and I love them and I love the idea there was an era when films were made for fun.”
“We shouldn’t be ashamed about having a good time. Having a good time — whatever form it takes — is a very precious, essential part of human society.”
“I always had a slightly abnormal in how things were done in the movies. As a kid, my friends were totally caught up in the story, but I was already focused on how those effects were achieved.”
About our Guest
David Thomson is one of the great living authorities on movies. He has written more than twenty books, including The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, Murder And The Movies, and biographies of David O. Selznick and Orson Welles. His new book is Disaster Mon Amour
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of David by Michael Lionstar. It’s on my instagram.