THE SEX FILES: Book Review of “Moments That Made The Movies” by David Thompson

Moments bookA thick hardcover tome covering films from 1887 to 2008, David Thompson’s Moments That Made The Movies is filled with pictures (the ‘moments’ from the title) as well as some good facts and synopsis. Interestingly enough (and why I include a book review in this particular column this week) is that from the first piece of celluloid Mr. Thompson reveals to many more through-out the book, we get a decidedly erotic ‘view’ (if you will pardon my use of the word) of the history of movies.

Sure he includes studies of films like Casablanca, Heat, The Right Stuff, The Big Sleep, The King Of Marvin Gardens and a bunch of other stuff that wouldn’t ever fall into the realm of erotic celluloid. But for the most part Thompson is a grand voyeur in the very best sense of the word, picking out many films-and their moments-of decidedly naughty nature. Certainly early on in the making of film there was a lot of consideration of that which occurs between man and woman (gay themes snuck in too, but were never mainstream) and Thompson is a man well versed in what was happening.

I love the opening piece on Eadweard Muybridge’s study Animal Locomotion. For those unfamiliar with early attempts at visual recording, Muybridge was famous for filming a horse in mid gallop, helping to prove the challenge of a bet that at one time all four of a horse’s hoofs were actually off the ground. In the series of ‘sequential still photos’ shown here (yes, not technically a film but as Thompson points out “one way of defining the process of movie”) we see two naked ‘work study’ female students from Muybride’s own University of Pennsylvania engaged in the simple act of sitting, smoking and moving around a chair out in the open air.

The interesting thing about the skinny ladies is that they are naked. There are loving shots (the book boasts 250 illustrations) of bisexual beauty Marlene Dietrich from her startling and starring role in Josef Von Sternberg’s Morocco but the just as sexy Louise Brooks nearly losing her top in Pandora’s Box; all that dangerous leg from Barbara Stanwyck lounging round Henry Fonda in The Lady Eve; the obvious gay undercurrent of 1957’s Sweet Smell Of Success (a point I feel not made enough about this film); a very detailed study of the love and eroticism in a film I had never heard of, Hiroshima Mon Amour and a strip sequence of Meg Ryan’s fake orgasm face from When Harry Met Sally.

Is Thompson saying that those moments that make the movies are mainly the sexy ones? Well, I’d have no real quarrel with that assessment but to be fair he’s not actually saying this since he gives great big color stills from Gone With The Wind, iconic shots from Taxi Driver and Jack Nicholson’s big smile from The Shining (as well as Joe Turkel’s even scarier one from the same film). Running up to modern times, Thompson as much studies a war epic as he does a screwball comedy, it just seems we, as a society, are indeed concerned with the heat that exists between two people to a very grand degree…which I believe is one of Thompson’s points actually.

Whether he is talking about Pandora’s Box or The Godfather, Thompson catches the movie from all angles with his each chapter synopsis hitting all the pertinent points of the history when the film was made as well as giving us details of who the players were who made these films (the man does do his research, that’s for sure.) And of course one of the best results to come from reading a big book on film like this is that the reader gets turned-on to a whole bunch of films he or she might never have heard of and because of the author’s passion for them, might just go and seek them out…as I certainly will with a good many here.

Moments That Made The Movies is a lush hardcover of 300 pages. It tells of many an incredible filmed moment to be sure (sexy and otherwise), revealing some great pictures and is well researched through-out. 

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