September brings a new biography of Nicole Kidman by the famous film historian David Thomson. Preliminary information on the book has been on Bloomsbury Publishing’s website for about a year and a half now, which should dispel any doubts that this book is an attempt to cash in on the publicity generated by the actress’s recent marriage. The book might in fact use some of the publicity that will result when Kidman starts promoting Fur, a fictional portrait of the photographer Diane Arbus.
Thomson is probably best known for A Biographical Dictionary of Film, an opinionated and interesting compilation of major personalities in Hollywood. I recall checking out his entry on Kidman in the last edition of this book, in which he appeared – correctly I think – impressed by her in Eyes Wide Shut and The Portrait of a Lady, though he felt that Kidman’s voice was wrong for Isabel Archer, the elusive suffering heroine of Henry James’s novel. Having admired Kidman’s intense work in Dogville and Birth – relatively recent films which went unnoticed in the mainstream media – I am eager to read what Thomson has to say about Kidman’s evolution into a serious actress. Thomson acknowledges that he is a fan of the actress, having devoted an entire chapter to her in his previous book The Whole Equation. I read this with great difficulty, and found Thomson to be clever but not very concise, articulate but not at all systematic.
On the plus side, the new biography will be the first Kidman biography worth looking at, each of the earlier books being lame compilations of inaccurate reporting from celebrity magazines, arriving one after the other in quick succession around the time of le divorce. I admit rather shamefully that I was stupid enough to try out one of these terrible books by Ellis and Sutherland. Whatever his flaws, Thomson is an experienced film critic and will have something meaningful to say about Kidman, the actress rather than Kidman, the celebrity. It should make the book worth a cursory read, at the very least. After all, none of the many biographies of Katharine Hepburn was half as interesting as Star as Feminist – a different interpretation of her roles by the film critic Andrew Britton.
On the minus side, the title of the book is extremely underwhelming and the new cover photo is quite ridiculous – the latter leading me to think that Thomson and/or Bloomsbury don’t care too much about their product. I hope they do something about this before releasing the book.