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Longtime San Francisco resident David Thomson is widely considered the preeminent film historian of our time.

“The key to success is sincerity — if you can fake that, you’ve got it made,” according to the (perhaps apocryphal) quote from the late comedian George Burns. It might serve as a jumping-off point for David Thomson’s new volume, Acting Naturally: The Magic in Great Performances, the latest addition to a shelf full of books about the silver screen (“too many,” Thomson jokingly allows) — including the definitive New Biographical Dictionary of Film and his last book, 2021’s A Light in the Dark: A History of Movie Directors — that have led many to regard him as the preeminent film historian of our time.

“I’ve written a lot over the years about the fruits of what’s known as the auteur theory, which was valuable and rewarding in the sense that it says, ‘Look, movies are made by individuals, and we can look at them as if they were novelists or composers,’” explains Thomson, who was born in London but has been an American citizen living and working in San Francisco for years. (His wife, Lucy Gray, is a noted photographer.)


In Acting Naturally, out February 7 from Knopf, David Thomson provides insight into the craft of acting.