Thursday, September 07, 2006

In-Flight Reading

Not TIFF related per-se, but on my flight up to Toronto this morning I finished reading David Thomson’s new book “Nicole Kidman”, a paean to one of our time’s preeminent movie stars and actresses. Despite a chronological structure, the book is rambling and somewhat haphazardly composed. Within the same chapter, Thomson is likely to move from a critique of a given film, to a dissection of Kidman’s private life (or at least her private life as Thomson pictures it), to an imaginary casting session in which he places Nicole in a movie that she never made. The sum effect is a book that feels less academic than it might otherwise be, but Thomson readily confesses that his topic here is the status that Kidman, and those like she, hold in the minds of moviegoers as much as it is Kidman herself.

As such, Thomson, whose “A Biographical Dictionary of Film” established that he is one of the best film writers when discussing actors, spends way too much energy trying to get at the essentially indescribable relationship that we have with the projected image. At every turn, he aims for objectivity, even though he’s clearly (and rightfully so) smitten with Kidman. The resulting tome is far too conditional to qualify as a hagiography (he too often takes Kidman herself to task for failings in films that had little to do with her own talent), even though one can’t help but feel that Thomson would just as soon drop the pretense and rave about the actress.

Whatever indecision might plague Thomson, however, only helps further the point that Kidman, an actress who drops out of the sequel to Dogville to shoot Bewitched, is herself a frustrating, contradictory figure. At its best, “Nicole Kidman” takes this incongruity head-on, questioning whether the actress’ choices are a function of her insatiable desire for power, her need to be adored, her legitimate engagement with some questionable material, or her survival instinct. With very little input from or access to Kidman, Thomson, doesn’t quite settle on an answer, instead projecting his own perceptions and desires into his analysis of his subject. Somehow, for someone who seems as untouchable as Nicole Kidman, the approach feels right.
Oh, and it looks like I have time to squeeze in Kenneth Branagh's The Magic Flute this afternoon.

1 comment:

Ian said...

Stumbled across this item at IMDb this morning:

Nicole Kidman is furious with a film critic for writing an unauthorized biography on her after only having one brief phone chat with her. The Moulin Rouge star was shocked when she found out David Thomson was writing a book and was unaware her short interview would be exploited in the form of an explosive biography. Kidman claims she was deceived by the author, who told her he was writing a series of articles on several different films. According to Kidman's publicist, Wendy Day, "Nicole has never met David Thomson. She has only spoken to him briefly on the phone about her acting processes and various films. He's a well-respected film writer, and she accepted the interview only because she was under the impression he was writing a series of film essays." The book, entitled Nicole Kidman, hit bookstores in the US this week and paints a picture of the actress as a power-hungry fame seeker who used her 10-year marriage to Tom Cruise to hit the big time in Hollywood. The biography also claims the star is too self-obsessed to give herself to a husband. Kidman married country star Keith Urban in June. Thomson even goes as far as to suggest Stanley Kubrick's 1999 thriller Eyes Wide Shut ended Cruise and Kidman's marriage because it mirrored their off-screen relationship too closely. Kidman has not yet announced legal action against Thomson, who in his previous book, The Whole Equation: A History Of Hollywood, confessed to having a huge crush on her.