cover of the 2004 paperback edition, featuring a still from the film To Have and Have Not
|Genre||Film criticism, Reference Book|
|November 16, 2004|
|LC Class||PN1998.2 .T49 2004|
|Preceded by||A Biographical Dictionary of Film, Third Edition|
|Followed by||The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, Fifth Edition|
The New Biographical Dictionary of Film is a reference book written by film critic David Thomson, originally published by Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd in 1975 under the title A Biographical Dictionary of Cinema. Organized by personality, it is an exhaustive inventory of those involved in international cinema, whether contemporary or historical, elite or esoteric. Beyond its scope, the tome is most notable for infusing subjectivity into its fact-based form; the technique may best be described as a playful deconstruction of the "reference book." It is currently available in its sixth edition, released in May 2014.
The New Biographical Dictionary of Film has garnered wide acclaim throughout the releases of its various editions; in a 2010 poll by the British Film Institute, it was voted the greatest of all books about film.
Fourth edition press notes from Random House:
Although it looks very much like a dictionary or encyclopedia, each of the book's approximately 5,000 brief biographical sketches is highly subjective: a typical entry may begin with a birthplace and filmography but always concludes with something closer to criticism and memoir as the author examines his connection to the subject's career both academically and personally.
Thomson's entry on Tom Cruise, for example, opens by considering the actor's age, recognizing that detractors see him as "representative of all that is most immature in American cinema today." Thomson notes that Clark Gable was a rising star at thirty: "Now, in our collective recollection, Gable may seem older, worldlier, and more grown-up than Cruise was at thirty. But when did Gable ever risk playing the jerk to whom Cruise was totally committed in The Color of Money? When was Gable as uninhibitedly tender as Cruise managed in Risky Business? And could Gable have survived the black-hole narcissism of Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man?" The entry closes with the actor's late-90s comeback, calling his work in Magnolia, "his most searching and self-critical performance," and abandoning objectivity altogether: "So, after bad years, I remain hopeful, even if all the [Mission:] 'Impossibles' put a greater load on things that might be."
The Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd-published first edition--the 600-page Biographical Dictionary of Cinema--was followed by Biographical Dictionary of Film, published by William Morrow & Co in June, 1980; the third, entitled A Biographical Dictionary of Film, would be released on November 17, 1994, by Andre Deutsch Ltd. 328 pages longer than the first edition, it added 200 new entries including Molly Ringwald.
The 2004 edition was a major overhaul. Although the book's first edition contained 600 pages, the fourth was enlarged to 1,080 pages, updating older entries and adding 30 new personalities. The book's cover art was reworked and the word "new" was added to its title.