Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of the BFI Film Classics Series, even if my actual experiences with it have been decidedly mixed so far, ranging from disappointed indifference to rather unabashed pleasure.David Thomson's contribution on Howard Hawks's classic The Big Sleep (1946), which he professes in the first pages is his favorite film, falls somewhere in between: compulsively readable, but left me wishing for a bit more.As in something resembling actual analysis of the film.A line in the book, which is quoted in the synopsis on the back, makes the claim that "The Big Sleep inaugurates a post-modern, camp, satirical view of movies being about other movies that extends to the New Wave and Pulp Fiction."A tantalizing claim, right?But that's pretty much all Thomson has to say on the topic, other than some brief thoughts on how the film's last minute push for Bogey/Bacall sex and glamour over comprehensible plotting makes the film "one of the most formally radical pictures ever made in Hollywood."YES.But sadly that is about all Thomson has to say on that subject.
Instead, he sticks close to his talents and the majority of the tome is devoted to detailed autobiographical analysis, something I can't fault him for (he's made quite a reputation for himself by doing so).There's a lot of juicy details about Hawks and his second wife Nancy "Slim" Hawks, who Thomson claims Bacall's distinctive screen persona was modeled after, and deserves more credit because of it.It's also a nice description of how Betty Perske was transformed into Betty Bacal and then transformed into Lauren Bacall, Screen Icon.And Thomson certainly knows how to craft elegant sentences, and I was often reminded of the work of the celebrated James Harvey.
So, yeah.If, as-is, this was, say, the first half of Thomson's study, I'd be extremely impressed.But I was really hoping to read an analysis of one of my own favorite films as engaging as it was entertaining (because no one is looking for dry theory in this series), and in the end I really didn't get that.