Focusing on Hollywood Mavericks

They provide potent reminders that sordid crimes and ruthless violence are as American as, well, apple pie.


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Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart starred in Howard Hawks' "The Big Sleep."

There are few things more pleasurable than listening to David Thomson talk about movies. (That short list might include curling up with one of the San Francisco critic’s many brilliant books, from the essential The New Biographical Dictionary of Film to his latest cultural history, Television: A Biography.) Thomson’s reservoir of Hollywood anecdotes, gleaned from researching and penning biographies of David O. Selznick and Orson Welles, is matched only by his insights into the studio system’s autocrats, narcissists, hacks, and geniuses.

Mulling his favorite postwar American pictures for the winter Wednesday seven-pack “In Focus: Hollywood Outsiders” at BAMPFA, Thomson opted for directors whose prickly personalities and preferred themes were often at odds with the moguls who wrote their checks. The series begins with Nicholas Ray’s discomfiting In a Lonely Place, centered on perhaps the most dislikable character—a self-pitying screenwriter who may also be a murderer—ever played by a major star (Humphrey Bogart) up to that point. (Thomson chose a second movie by that iconoclastic director, Bigger Than Life, which is also included in “On Dangerous Ground: The Cinema of Nicholas Ray” at BAMPFA this month.) Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep (with Bogart as private eye Philip Marlowe) and Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat (starring moll Gloria Grahame and enraged detective Glenn Ford) provide potent reminders that sordid crimes and ruthless violence are as American as, well, the apple pie served at this month’s inauguration. Thomson, an Englishman by birth, education, and temperament, has a special affinity for filmmakers who were compelled to challenge the bounds of Hollywood movies. He’ll introduce each film, and moderate a discussion afterward, with an abundance of wisdom and wit.

“In Focus: Hollywood Outsiders,” Jan. 18-March 1, BAMPFA, 2155 Center St., Berkeley,  510-642-0808, BAMPFA.org. 

 

This report appeared in the January edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

Published online on Jan. 10, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.

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