Literate film buff Thomson (The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood, 2004, etc.) recalls his early days.
Readers of such magisterial efforts as The New Biographical Dictionary of Film (2002) will recognize the rich, cadenced prose that has distinguished the author’s work throughout his career. The memoir begins in South London, where Thomson came of age as World War II ended. He recalls his grandmother teasing him with the notion that Hitler was hiding out at the local common; he half-believed her as he ran off into the hardscrabble streets. Thomson joined friends to play in the bombed-out shells of houses whose staircases stopped in midair and to wave at Churchill as his motorcade passed by in a victory celebration. Sharp portraits of his education at private and public schools follow. He doesn’t remember the very first “picture” he saw: Olivier’s Henry V was an early one, in 1945, and he recalls playing hooky later on to see Red River and The Third Man. Thomson almost rhapsodizes as he describes how Citizen Kane brought his life into focus, his passion for film and a certain young woman blossoming simultaneously. The content and imagery of Thomson’s work recall Hope and Glory, John Boorman’s autobiographical film about postwar Britain, but the core and tone are less nostalgic, more that of a gritty black-and-white drama with a turbulent family triangle at its core. Thomson’s father abandoned the family early on but returned on some holidays and weekends to take his son to the movies, moments the boy treasured. Dad was both duplicitous (he lived secretly with another woman) and treacherous; he ruthlessly cut his son out of a deserved inheritance. The wounds of their breach haunt Thomson to the book’s close, when he muses over a false mustache that belonged to his father, a sometime actor who in life and at the cinema led his son to both pain and pleasure.
Blends the techniques of film and fiction into a strong, evocative memoir.