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  • Written by David Thomson
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The Whole Equation

A History of Hollywood

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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

With the same style and insight he brought to his previous studies of American cinema, acclaimed critic David Thomson masterfully evokes the history of America’s love affair with the movies and the tangled history of Hollywood in The Whole Equation.

Thomson takes us from D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, and the first movies of mass appeal to Louis B. Mayer, who understood what movies meant to America–and reaped the profits. From Capra to Kidman and Hitchcock to Nicholson, Thomson examines the passion, vanity, calculation and gossip of Hollywood and the films it has given us. This one-volume history is a brilliant and illuminating overview of “the wonder in the dark”–and the staggering impact Hollywood and its films has had on American culture.

Excerpt

The Gamble and the Lost Rights

On a brilliant Saturday morning in late March 2003, warm yet fresh
enough to keep many Californians out in the bliss of the air itself, I
was invited by the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities to have a
public conversation with Robert Towne, the screenwriter, as part of a
weekend conference entitled “From Sunset Blvd. to Mulholland Dr.: Los
Angeles in the Cinematic Imagination.”

We were in a large basement hall at the Davidson Conference Center at
the University of Southern California, but it was fun, relaxed, and
instructive to a degree. I have known Towne for twenty years. We have
talked a good deal, and enjoyed it. We are friends, or friendly. We did
our best to be serious about the beguiling gloom of noir Los Angeles,
and the foreboding of Towne’s best-known movie, Chinatown.

We did a decent job, I hope, yet nothing matched the burnished day
outside where, in an urban sprawl far beyond Nathanael West’s worst
nightmares (to say nothing of the invasion of Iraq that had begun),
some people seemed to be having a good time, or as good a time as
people have had in human history; that is not to flatter L.A. or the
U.S.A., and I hope it’s not being silly or sentimental about all the
wretchedness there must have been in L.A. that day and others. Still,
free people took their leisure–on the beaches, on playing fields, in
the shops and open-air restaurants (at the movie theatres even?). Some
read books, or wrote them. Some must have married, or been in love.

In the period allowed for questions, a young woman asked Towne whether
there was any chance for the completion of the “trilogy” that had been
begun with Chinatown. For in his mind, at least, there had been a time
when Towne had hoped to follow his private eye, Jake Gittes, through
the decades–1937, 1947, 1957–tracing the story of water rights, of oil,
and of the killing of public transport to let the automobile own Los
Angeles. There had been a second movie, The Two Jakes–much troubled and
not satisfactory, and plainly removed from Towne’s control or
authorship–but nothing of a third film.

Towne is a successful man as screenwriters go. He has an Oscar and a
fine house in Pacific Palisades. He has been involved with the two
Mission: Impossible pictures (and even a third?) at a very high salary.
He has a great dream, to film John Fante’s Ask the Dust, one of the
best novels about Los Angeles in the thirties–and that film has come to
pass. Yet I think I know him well enough as a man who would count his
losses first if you asked him to describe himself. And he lost Jake
Gittes–long ago. “No,” he told the questioner. “No chance.”

That’s what I want to talk about–for if he meant what he said, we are
all the losers for it.

Robert Towne is an Angeleno; he has lived there most of his life, and
he wears the badge of the city on his sleeve, as it were. In the
Preface to a published version of the Chinatown screenplay (and very
few screenplays get published), he wrote about his memory of the
childhood scents of Los Angeles, of a quality in the air now gone in
the toxic rush of urbanization. He wrote about it with such warmth and
feeling and nostalgia–like a true writer would:

Chinatown is a sort of eulogy for me. It is a eulogy I’m afraid for
things lost that would concern others about as much as a missing button
or a dead mouse. Easterners, for example, have often tended to be a
little snide about the tepid weather and negligible change in
seasons–things I have loved perhaps the most about L.A. I’ve loved the
first hint of October nipping thru the sunlight after school, New
Year’s Day, chilly and clear as crystal as tho someone put the sun in
the freezer overnight, the February rains that came with Valentines and
would flood intersections with muddy waters rushing around stalled
cars, vacant lots in March that overnight sprouted thousands of sharp
green spears you could pull and send with a clod of dark earth hurtling
at another kid, little ponds of black polliwogs squiggling like
animated commas–and then spring and summer with the smell of pepper
trees mentholated more and more by eucalyptus, the green lots turning
to straw leaving foxtails in your socks and smelling like hay in the
morning, the Santa Anas progressively drying the city into sand and
summer smells.

The boy noticed; the man learned to write.* Towne’s parents were well
off, but he attended Pepperdine College, up on the way to Malibu. And
he drifted into screenwriting, by way of acting classes–the place where
he first met Jack Nicholson. He still likes acting and actors, and even
in private talk he has a way of being that is casual but intimate, like
the best sort of naturalistic acting. I like this quality in him, and
others, but I know some who feel it is just a touch too calculated, too
stylish, too unreliable. Make up your own mind. But still its ease and
attractiveness, and its worldliness, are deep at the heart of this
book’s subject.

Towne worked for Roger Corman. He did a few scripts for exploitation
films. And then he began to demonstrate, or act out, one of his most
vital traits: he made friendships in which his discreet touch, or
treatment, was highly esteemed. He had met Warren Beatty–some have said
that he and Beatty learned their stylishness in the course of long
telephone conversations, absorbing it from each other. Whatever, when
Beatty came to make his first movie as a producer, Bonnie and Clyde, no
matter that he had a highly original script (by Robert Benton and David
Newman), and a very good director (Arthur Penn), still Beatty hired
Towne to go on location with the film to Texas to work on the script,
to touch it up, to give it what Beatty wanted, to doctor it. To make
sure Warren was in charge.

When that film opened, and eventually enjoyed its outstanding success,
Towne had a most unusual credit on it: Special Consultant. I’m not sure
that a writer had ever had so secret yet so public a credit, though
very often in Hollywood history, writers had done uncredited work
doctoring or rewriting scripts. Towne’s insider status was confirmed
when it became known–and somehow it did slip out–that he had joined The
Godfather at short notice to “help” with the final scenes of Vito
Corleone’s life.

It’s worth stressing (with what I have in mind) that up to this moment
(1972), Towne was most illustrious for his imprecise intervention,
doctoring, or help on other writers’ scripts. Which would not always
have left those other writers feeling better, happy or well treated.
But it was Towne’s way to success, and I do not doubt the value of what
he brought to those two films. Still, I want to underline his ghostly
presence, for it is close to the odd avoidance of responsibility in
Hollywood.

By the early seventies, therefore, he was in a position where he could
expect to get assignments to write whole films, big pictures,
worthwhile ventures. In fact, he wrote three scripts in a row–The Last
Detail, Chinatown, and Shampoo–that all received Oscar nominations. It
was the peak of his career, with the Oscar going to Chinatown, and to
him as the sole writer of an original script.

No one has ever argued but that Chinatown was his idea. Towne has said
that in April 1971 his wife brought him a copy of Carey McWilliams’s
book, Southern California Country, which held the germ of the story of
how William Mulholland* had secured water for a growing Los Angeles
from the Owens Valley, 250 miles to the north. Around the same time, he
saw a magazine article in which a photographer had re-created the
late-1930s mood and look of the Raymond Chandler novels.

He had begun work (on spec), or he looked forward to beginning it, when
he had dinner with Robert Evans, a key figure at Paramount, and the
executive who had had The Godfather made. Evans had come to the table
to ask Towne to take over the script for The Great Gatsby, but all
Towne wanted to talk about was Chinatown. It’s about how Los Angeles
became a boomtown, he said–incest and water. It’s set in the thirties.
A second-rate shamus gets eighty-sixed by a mysterious broad. Instead
of solving a case for her, he’s the pigeon. I’m writing it for
Nicholson.

This was more or less so. Nicholson and Towne had talked about
Chinatown. But Nicholson had not purchased the idea or the script, or
Towne’s time. I know, that sounds crass when a person is gently nursing
a great story and his fondness for a lost city into being. But writers
have to eat.

Evans, acting for Paramount, offered Towne $25,000 to do Chinatown; he
had been ready to pay him $175,000 to doctor Truman Capote’s wretched
Gatsby script.

Towne created it–but Paramount owned it. Yes, such formulae operate all
the time in Hollywood, so let me explain the setup carefully. Suppose
Chinatown was a first novel. That is a little far-fetched, because
Towne had done several things already. Nevertheless, in terms of how
far the material was autobiographical in feeling, Chinatown was like a
first novel, in which case he might well have written the book in
private, on his own time, and only then offered it to a publisher. Or
he might have secured a modest advance on account of promise.

In which case, the deal would have gone thus: for an advance of, say,
$5,000 (generous for 1972), Towne would have delivered a novel. When it
was published, he would get a royalty of, say, 10 percent of the
selling price on the first 5,000 copies; 121⁄2 percent on the next
5,000; and 15 percent after that. There would be provisions in the
contract for sales of paperback and other subsidiary rights–including,
perhaps, a sale to the movies. Towne would have retained the copyright.
That means the author owns the work and is simply licensing the
publisher to sell it. His editor at the publishing house might fight
tooth-and-nail for a year or more trying to get Towne to rewrite the
book, to make it clearer, to make it more saleable. (In fact, on a
$5,000 advance, that kind of striving is unlikely–it’s not practical or
rewarding. An editor works hardest on a book he expects could be a
bestseller. If you can’t understand a first novel when you read it that
first time, why publish it?)

Still, there could be editorial work, and rewriting, and fights before
a novel is printed. But they get settled because, once the contract is
signed, it is acknowledged that the book belongs to the author. If it
goes out of print, and stays out, the author can regain the rights he
licensed. He can try to get a new publisher. When he is dead, for at
least seventy years, the copyright and any income the book earns go to
his heirs or estate. Only after that does a book enter what is called
public domain.

The script of Chinatown that Towne delivered perplexed its best
supporters. Evans and Nicholson joked together how they couldn’t follow
its twists and turns. Roman Polanski, the director Evans had hired to
make the film, was equally at a loss, and sure that he had to take
drastic measures to make it “work.” Rewrites from Towne didn’t clarify
enough. Executives at Paramount were advising Evans not to make the
picture, or not to attach himself to it so personally. And, of course,
Paramount could have elected not to make the movie–they owned it, and
thus they had the right of refusal. Evans stuck by it: “I knew I had
Nicholson locked, and, even though I didn’t understand the script, I
knew Towne was a great writer. I felt like a blind gambler wanting to
throw back-to-back sevens.”

Several important points come from this. Scripts are not easily read,
and possibly the richer a film, the harder it is for “outsiders” to
detect its quality. It’s not going too far to say that in the history
of the movies, many semiliterate people (or disadvantaged readers) have
had to make a judgment on a hundred or so pages of single-spaced
typing, laid out in a strange and inaccessible way. That is one reason
why some of those men, the executives, have thrown away scripts in
despair and told someone to just tell them the damn story. To this day,
“the pitch”–telling a movie story in a few persuasive minutes–is vital
to getting projects made. It follows therefore that many scripts are
never actually read. In turn, this encourages everyone’s assumption, or
hope, that they can exist in a state of continual rewrite.

But note Evans’s attitude. “I knew I had Nicholson locked. . . .” He
saw himself as if not the film’s proprietor, then its skipper,
assembling units of talent and identifying the picture with his ego and
status at the studio. Chinatown would not have existed without Robert
Towne. Roman Polanski became the project’s director, and perhaps the
best-known theory of film production is that everything depends on the
director, the auteur. When the general public says Chinatown to itself,
it sees the sour smile on Jack Nicholson’s face; not to mention Faye
Dunaway or John Huston (hefty presences in its story and mood), Richard
Sylbert (its production designer), John A. Alonzo (the
cinematographer), or Jerry Goldsmith (who wrote the memorable theme
music at the last moment, in just ten days, after another score had
been dropped). Still, Evans felt sure and safe in thinking the picture
was his because his peers–the powerbrokers of Hollywood–would expect it
of him. Studios own movies. Producers make them.

And then there was the longing in Evans to see the whole enterprise as
a gamble: not just in terms of winning big as opposed to losing; but
because to gamble is to defy all those sacred American codes of hard
work and just reward; it is believing in magic. Nearly everyone
important in the old Hollywood gambled several nights a week, as if
they dared not lose touch with magic.

Towne and Polanski sat down together to convert the script into a
shooting script–the one is a dream, the other is a precise plan of
action to determine which sets are built and costumes ordered, and how
time and money are scheduled. The two men got on very badly. Towne was
hesitant, Polanski aggressive. In a story that had so many hints of
rape, Towne felt he was being robbed, or got at. Polanski was intent on
the bare practicalities, and he felt Towne was clinging to obscurity
and doubt. Writers and directors are not always alike, which is one
reason they envy each other.

The decisive battle concerned the ending of the film. Towne’s initial
concept and the story he had sustained throughout his writing process
was gentler than the film we know. Evelyn Mulwray (Dunaway) and her
daughter were to get away. Noah Cross (Huston) was to be killed. Jake
Gittes was left as the patsy.


From the Hardcover edition.
David Thomson|Author Q&A

About David Thomson

David Thomson - The Whole Equation

Photo © Lucy Gray

David Thomson, author most recently of “Have You Seen . . . ?” is a regular contributor to The Guardian, The Independent, The New York Times, Movieline, The New Republic, and Salon.  He lives in San Francisco. 

David Thomson is represented by Random House Speakers Bureau (www.rhspeakers.com)

Author Q&A

A Conversation with David Thomson


Q: The title of the book comes from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon, which says “You can take Hollywood for granted like I did. . . . Not half a dozen men have ever been able to keep the whole equation in pictures in their heads.” What did he (or you) mean by invoking this idea?

A: Like me, Fitzgerald had very mixed feelings about Hollywood. He was a novelist (one of our best, if briefly), yet clearly he was excited by this new form of story-telling–one at which he had failed notably, in his attempts to be a screenwriter. But Fitzgerald had been inside Hollywood. He had seen the mix of monsters and brilliant people, and he understands how much (in the ‘30s, say) movies moved the public. He was also alarmed about the ruthless role of profit in movies, and the pressure to make successes as opposed to pictures that challenged and changed America.

Earlier than most people, he recognized that how decisions were taken in Hollywood mattered to the overall culture of America–our minds were being shaped now by the new story-telling. He was unsure how that process was going to work itself out, but he saw a classic struggle between business and art, and he recognized that there were leaders of the industry who were trying to have the best of both worlds. His central character, Monroe Stahr (based on people like Irving Thalberg and David Selznick) is a wonderful example of that conflicted urge to make a fortune and make art at the same time.

Can it be done? Or is the attempt a dangerous compromise? The questions hang over us as much in the age of Michael Eisner and Harvey Weinstein as they did in the ‘30s.

The other important thing about the Fitzgerald book is its wonderful, inside account of how the place worked. No one had done that before. What Fitzgerald meant–and it’s true to this day–was that very few people have had the ability to make great pictures and run a prosperous business for very long. “The whole equation” doesn’t exist–you can’t expect to look it up or find it in your fortune cookie–for truly it is the daily habit of having the right hunches. But Steven Spielberg has it in the way Chaplin did. And that handful of rare beings have changed us.

Q: You talk about the importance of Hollywood and Los Angeles to the movies because, among other reasons, they gave the movies a language of light, space, and movement that was unlike anywhere else. In contrast to other places making films–England, for example–how did this make Hollywood films different?

A: It is still sinking in, in the USA, that a country founded and formed on the Eastern seaboard according to European models, and inhabited by exiles or escapees from Europe, began to shift westwards at just about the moment the movies came into being. So it’s important to understand how “Hollywood” is the nation state made by essentially very poor Jewish immigrants from Europe. Imagine the astonishing sense of plenty. Imagine the impact of space and light. And in a very real way, space and light are not just the media of American movies but the subjects and the guiding ideas. So the movies, famously, helped build California, Los Angeles and the West and built many new ideas about what America was–for one, a place wide open to Hispanics and Asians, a place where pioneering could vault from povert to wealth, and a place that would become a stronghold of American liberalism. And movie-making elsewhere never has quite the exhilaration of Californian films. What I am talking about is the energy, the optimism and the sense of a possible happiness that shine out of the American movie.

Like it or not, the last election was a battle between Western and Eastern ideologies–and maybe the first clear-cut election where dream and fantasy eclipsed fact. This is not necessarily good or healthy. But it is American, and it is long time now since we had a president out of the old Eastern establishment (JFK, I suppose–but JFK loved Hollywood and movie stars, because his father had been in that business).

Q: You say that by 1935 movies had altered the world. Peter Bogdanovich has said that more people went to the movies during the silent film era than after because without language, film was more universal and had fewer distractions. Would you agree?

A: With respects to Peter, I disagree. The audience was large in the ‘20s. It had its first decline in the early 30s–and you can put that down to the way talkies required the English language and to the fact that people were short of money. But then in the later 30s the numbers picked up, rose during the war (the central reassuring experience in the history of movie-going) and peaked in the years right after 1945. After that they went into a steady decline. That goes on in this sense: the movies claim a greater monetary revenue than ever (but that is because of massive increases in ticket prices. In fact, a smaller portion of Americans go to the movies now than ever before. I think Peter overestimates the unifying power of silence. In fact, people ate up talkies, in part because the films got smarter and better, but also because in the combined circumstances of hard times and war, people went to the movies to feel good, and to feel together. And their fantasy in the dark was hugely enhanced by sound.

Q: You talk about the obligation of a shared experience as “absolutely fundamental to the beauty and art (and even to the social marvel) of what we call ‘movie.’” Can you explain a little further?

A: More or less in the twentieth century we begin to realize that we are a vast crowed–a mass. And masses require mass media–ways of reaching the crowd as a whole (compared with the individual processes of reading, looking at pictures, listening to music). So we have movies, radio, TV and now the internet. And by 2004 it is hard to think of our society functioning without them. Movie was the first great way in which the crowd could come together–to laugh at Chaplin, to weep for Lillian Gish, whatever–as a crowd. I say this because in the age of DVD it is more than ever likely that we are going to watch small screens alone in our room. So be it. The technology shifts. But I believe that it is for the good of society and the sense of sharing, if the mass believes they are together. And there again World War II (our last unquestioned war) is crucial in the history of sharing or democracy.

Q: When Charlie Chaplin was allowed back in the U.S. in ‘72 to receive an honorary Oscar “for the incalculable effect he had on making motion pictures the art form of this century,” you write “That’s what the Academy was always for–to blur the equation enough so that profit and fame could be called art.” What exactly do you mean?

A: What I mean by that is that the Academy was always set up to promote the film business. Bringing Chaplin back in ‘72 was a gesture without the apology that was required. It was a way of saving face without saying, candidly, look what happened in the Red scare years was wrong, illegal, absurd and un-American. The same failure to own up occurred when Kazan got his honorary Oscar. He needed to admit apology or sorrow for others. And the Academy needed to say that “we” (the studios) did wrong.

Q: In your discussion of the making of Chinatown, and the history of the screenplay, you mention that nothing kills creativity like success. Do you think this will always be the case in the movie business?

A: Well, my discussion of Chinatown is a bit more complex than that. Yes, on the one hand, success makes repeated success harder–so sequels are seldom as good as the originals. Once a thing has succeeded, it becomes more likely that people are doing what they do for the money. The more profound thing about Chinatown is that a writer had a superb idea and lost control of it because of the nature of the business. A trilogy (as intended) in which Chinatown is just part I would be, or might be, a remarkable statement about the development of America and the way business interests exploited the West–issues that still burn today.

Q: You are a self-confessed fan of the actress Nicole Kidman, and you say that movie-goers get to “fall in love” in the dark with actors and actresses to whom we are attracted. Who else for you has held that power or fascination?

A: The thing about falling in love at the movies is that you can fall every week. For myself, it’s a matter of tracing pictures seen at a certain age, so, one way or the other I fell for Joanne Dru, Donna Reed, Pier Angeli, Ida Lupino, Doris Day, Grace Kelly, and many others. And this still goes on. I think we all go to the movies to find people to love, and you can always sniff the air and get that public affection. It’s there for Johnny Depp. It was there for Dean, Brando and Clift. And, by the way, same-sex adoration is just as common as cross-sex. In turn, I think that has had a lot to do with gay feelings coming out of the closet.

Q: After a series of scandals in the ‘20s involving drugs, rape, and murder with movie stars like “Fatty” Arbuckle and the director William Desmond Taylor, lawyer Will Hays was enlisted to draw up a series of “thou shalt nots” for the movies–a production code of 13 laws which included things like, “do not make vice attractive; no prolonged passionate love scenes; no nakedness.” While you say that Hays was “an idiot and a humbug” and the code “had a chilling effect on the imagination, the vigor, the candor, and the artistic potential” do you think it forced directors to be more clever in how they would convey things like sex?

A: The Hays Code (like any set of silly rules) was a great stimulus to inventiveness. For example, Hitchcock read that a kiss couldn’t go on more than a few seconds, so in Notorious Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman keep doing short kisses–and it’s a wildly sexy scene. I think the point that is interesting is that suggestion is often more creative than direct expression. And censorship nearly always increases interest in the thing it wants to stop.

Q: You talk about the changes to film “after the war” meaning World War II, for good and bad. What were the most significant ones to come about?

A: Well, they were many: the world had changed–the revelation of the war (concentration camps, nuclear weapons) took an edge off even American optimism–so films needed to get darker (film noir) and that alarmed some audiences. Next, the industry at last suffered the anti-monopoly legislation long threatened. The audience married and had children– less moviegoing–and then along came television to keep them at home. Add to that mix the insane un-American activities attack on some of the most interesting film-makers.

Q: While you say that the House Committee on Un-American Activities which blacklisted so many people in the industry in the ‘40s and ‘50s may be “no more,” you also say that “there were forces in America, business and political, that felt the danger of too many open, critical movies. We have not yet reversed that trend.” Can you explain a little further?

A: Only last week 60-odd ABC stations refused to run Saving Private Ryan because of the language soldiers used in the film and because it showed the shocking impact of bullets and explosion. We could easily be on the brink of a lot of nervous self-censorship for fear of government disapproval. It is still hard to make movies that seriously challenge American orthodoxy.

Q: You talk about the influence of TV: people coming of age in the ‘60s and ‘70s getting so used to moving imagery and the repetitive narratives, they could no longer take them seriously, so that’s when things started to become “camp” or “ironic” (like Myra Breckinridge and Some Like it Hot). Prior to this shift do you think people took movies more seriously?


A: Yes. When I went to movies as a child, I believed in the stories–they were silly stories very often, but I cared about the characters. My 15-year-old son (one of the people to whom the book is dedicated and a very big influence on it) loves the movies–but he never believes in the stories. He thinks that’s for fools. In other words, he treats movies the way I do ads. He knows they are fake and manipulative. Still, he wants to make movies. But music moves him–not films.

Q: Did Jaws and the “blockbusters” that followed irrevocably change movie-making?

A: Yes. In so many ways. Jaws identified mass openings with huge TV advertising. It discovered the teenage audience, happy to go back again. And it found a compelling form of total fantasy–impossible dreams (the start of computer imagery and special effects). We don’t really believe in that kind of shark, we know the story could not happen (another kind of campness); and it stressed horror as the last genre that worked.

Q: What would F. Scott Fitzgerald make of Hollywood today, do you think?

A: He’d want to read The Whole Equation quickly. He’d be sad, very sad–but he was when he was alive. I hope he’d salute my book and we could share a drink, or seven. I would love to try to finish The Last Tycoon the way he laid it out.

Q: On your epigraph page you quote Gore Vidal as saying, “Find out the movies a man saw between ten and fifteen, which ones he liked, disliked, and you would have a pretty good idea of what sort of mind and temperament he has.” Would you agree with that and can you remember one or two of your own favorites?

A: Oh yes, I quoted it because I agree–though my years started a bit younger than Vidal’s. For me, the list of key films includes Red River, The Third Man, Meet Me in St Louis, Rear Window, From Here to Eternity, A Place in the Sun, East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause.


From the Hardcover edition.

Praise

Praise

“A must-read for anybody who loves film and is fascinated with the less-than-romantic machinery behind the glitter. . . . Engaging.”–Liz Smith, The New York Post

“You are not likely to find a more affecting and intellectually absorbing book on film...”
—Louis Menand, The New Yorker

“I’ve always wanted to read a history of the movies that dealt with their whole ecology—what they were, why they were, who made them, who watched them, how they were paid for, and where the money went. This is it. It’s engaged, passionate, tender, informative, critical, mournful, funny, and unsentimental.”
—Richard Eyre

“Once again, with his intelligent eye and sharp wit, David Thomson has managed to bring the reader inside and underneath the world of cinema, this time creating a remarkable one-volume compendium of the history and the magic that we call Hollywood.”
—Harvey Weinstein

“Thomson traces an arc as sure and elegant as the best of Tinseltown’s movies in his totally absorbing book, hitting all the right bases along the way—risk, fantasy, ruthlessness, joy, horror and money, always money. A remarkable summing up from perhaps the only observer with the right balance of passion and perspective to pull it off.”
—Kate Buford

“From the opening chapter on writer Robert Towne and his struggles with Chinatown to the cloudy denouement–the future of cinema–this is a must-read for anybody who loves film and is fascinated with the less-than romantic machinery behind the glitter...For its candid good taste alone, the book goes on my shelf.”
–Liz Smith, New York Newsday

“The excitement of Mr. Thomson’s wild ride is infectious. . . the author’s penchant for outrageous bons mots never fails to hit the bull’s eye…Thomson’s “mathematics” of myth-building–both Hollywood’s and his own–is so compulsively readable…you still can’t turn the pages fast enough.”
–David Fear, Time Out New York

“On one end the problematic creative folk like Charlie Chaplin, Erich von Stroheim, Marlon Brando, on the opposite end of the equation are the businessmen and studio heads whose interest was, and always will be, the bottom line. As Mr. Thomson unreels the history of film in a series of flashbacks forward and back, budgets are broken down, boardrooms are spied upon, scripts and personalities pass before us in fascinating and unprecedented review.”
–Stefan Kanfer, The Wall Street Journal

“ . . . With strong opinions and acerbic prose Thomson puts a contemporary spin on Hollywood’s origins by crunching the numbers in Greta Garbo’s contract, dissecting the budget of Gone with the Wind, and psychoanalyzing pioneering producers Thalberg and David O. Selznick… A meditation on [the American film industry’s] significance, Thomson’s engrossing book blows the dust off forgotten scandals and offers vivid examples of money’s toxifying power.”
–Andrew Johnston, Entertainment Weekly

“ A deliciously opinionated, wise and witty work…A profound and often humorous and poignant [book] that examines Hollywood movies with a wide lens.”

“Compelling are [his] musings on stars and directors, from Charlie Chaplin to Steven Spielberg… He offers arguments powerful enough to make the reader view the movies in a new light…Most important is the intersection of art and business, the center of The Whole Equation.
–John McMurtrie, San Francisco Chronicle


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