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Readings on Cinema

Sunday, December 2, 2012
5:20 p.m. The Truman Show
Peter Weir (U.S., 1998)

Presentation and book signing/David Thomson

It is simple to say that we gaze at screens, but to say that the screens gaze back is not so simple. In a sense this is what esteemed Bay Area–based film historian David Thomson is getting at in his newest book, The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies—and What They Have Done to Us (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux): that cinema is not a passive presence relegated to the screen alone, but a dynamic force that departs from the screen and enters our lives. This imaginative venture starts at the beginning with still photography and tracks our accumulating fascination with the moving image, first as a beautiful distraction, then as an encompassing medium that persistently envelops our consciousness. What better way to illustrate this concept than with Peter Weir’s existential comedy in which Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey), a seemingly content claims adjuster, discovers that everything he took for real is actually the stuff of a top-rated TV show. How will this sudden change of mind effect the show’s ratings? Perhaps David Thomson will tell us when he stands beside our big screen.

Thomson’s previous books include Have You Seen . . . ? A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films; The New Biographical Dictionary of Film; The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood; biographies of David O. Selznick, Warren Beatty, and Nicole Kidman; and novels such as Suspects.

• Written by Andrew Niccol. Photographed by Peter Biziou. With Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Ed Harris, Noah Emmerich. (103 mins, Color, 35mm, From Paramount Pictures)