Thomson has written a good many books on the subject of film; his best known are perhaps the oft-updated The New Biographical Dictionary of Film (its fifth edition was published in 2010) and a 2008 reference entitled ‘Have You Seen...?’: A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films…a weighty tome that reminds me of a funny story which I’m not going to tell because it makes me look like an idiot.
True to his freethinking tastes, Thomson’s choices are often surprising and different. For example, while you and I would probably think of the infamous shower murder of Marion Crane in Psycho, for Thomson his standout memory occurs just before that bloodbath, when Marion “meets the first gentle, sympathetic or insightful person in the film” (her murderer, Norman Bates) and has a cheese sandwich with him. The moment that makes Casablanca is not when Rick tells Ilsa that, oh, she’s getting on that plane…but rather the instance where she enters his café for the first time, and reunited with her friend Sam, tells him to play “As Time Goes By.”
My caveat would be that if you’re already familiar with Thomson’s essays (particularly in ‘Have You Seen…?’ or his celebrated The Big Screen: The Story of Movies and What They Did to Us) you might find Moments a little thin on the criticism side, with the photos accompanying the essays doing most of the heavy work. (Though he includes classics like Sunrise and Pandora’s Box in Moments, I find his statement “But I don’t know that I would ever have fallen in love with silent cinema” a little curious for a respected film historian.)
The first book of Thomson’s I read as a budding film fan was Suspects—a page-turning novel that had much fun with the style known as film noir, using characters from old movies to tell a most interesting and suspenseful tale. If you were to ask me to recommend an essential Thomson book, I’d go with ‘Have You Seen…?’—but I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest that Moments is a most welcome primer for those just getting their foot in the door.