Success in America eluded Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, who drew Hollywood’s attention after combining art and politics in movies like “Strike” (1924) and “Battleship Potemkin” (1925). For months he knocked around town, playing tennis with Charlie Chaplin, watching Greta Garbo work, even palling around with Rin Tin Tin. But he never could get a project going with patron studio MGM — its brand of entertainment not being Eisenstein’s stock and trade.

Good storytelling about the movies cannot overlook American figures like Orson Welles, Howard Hawks and Billy Wilder or fine foreign directors like Ingmar Bergman and Francois Truffaut. Or those modern marvels Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.

Thomson casts a quizzical light on those two kings of contemporary Hollywood, willing to acknowledge their talent for making popular entertainment but not at all sold on their impact on culture and film. He writes that the second half of the Lucas’ “Star Wars” series “reduced movies to the level of fast food, filling stations and those ads that are so familiar that we chat along with them.”

Thomson’s reflections begin to turn dour after they pass the movies of the 1970s. Or is it that moviemaking began to lose its colorful backstories and became more about colorless deal-making and commerce?

Near the conclusion of “The Big Screen,” Thomson writes, “This book is a love letter to a lost love, I suppose.” Not that there are no longer movies he thinks are worth seeing. It’s just that how we see them, how they see us, and how we live with all kinds of screens have changed the entire movie experience.

For better or for worse? Read “The Big Screen” and discuss.

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