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Film Nation

Film Nation: Hollywood Looks at U.S. History, Revised Edition

Robert Burgoyne
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition, Revised
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Film Nation
    Book Description:

    Film Nation analyzes films that give shape to the counternarrative that has emerged since 9/11—one that challenges the traditional myths of the American nation-state. Robert Burgoyne provides innovative readings of attempts by such directors as Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, and Oliver Stone to visualize historical events that have acquired a mythical aura in order to open up the past to the contemporary moment.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-7328-5
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface to the Revised Edition
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    With questions of national, racial, and cultural identity emerging as a central topic of debate in the United States, the American past has become a contested domain in which narratives of people excluded from traditional accounts have begun to be articulated in a complex dialogue with the dominant tradition. One of the most visible manifestations of this changing narrative of nation, a change that is evident throughout the spectrum of contemporary life, can be found in the resurgence of films that take the American past as their subject. Recent films such asGlory, Thunderheart, JFK, Born on the Fourth of...

  6. 1 Race and Nation in Glory
    (pp. 16-37)

    In resurrecting the forgotten story of a black Union Army regiment and its white leader, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw,Gloryconveys a particularly complex understanding of the way racial and cultural identity is both bound up with and competes with the forces of national construction. Examining the historical construction of racial and national identity in the United States at a moment when concepts of nation were being fundamentally redefined,Gloryemphasizes the tension between a civic ideal of nation conceived as a community of equals and the powerful appeal of ethnic and racial identities based on what Michael Ignatieff calls...

  7. 2 Native America, Thunderheart, and the National Imaginary
    (pp. 38-56)

    Every state, according to Edward Spicer, is a plural entity, containing within itself two or more nations. Although the widespread use of the termnation-statetends to obscure the fact, the nation-state is not a “welded unity,” but rather, almost without exception, consists of several entities that have long been considered nations in their own right, possessing distinct languages, histories, and cultural symbols.¹ Until recently, nation-states have generally succeeded in concealing or eradicating the cultural particularity of these “hidden nations”; today, however, partly due to the fascination of the mass media, many are becoming increasingly visible in ways that implicitly...

  8. 3 National Identity, Gender Identity, and the Rescue Fantasy in Born on the Fourth of July
    (pp. 57-87)

    Born on the Fourth of Julycan be read as a particularly complex variant of the cultural tendency that Susan Jeffords has called “the remasculinization of America”: the restoration of patriarchal concepts of nation through narratives that emphasize the renewal of masculine identity in the post-Vietnam period.¹ Whereas Oliver Stone’s film pointedly criticizes traditional myths of masculinity based on concepts of “punitive agency,” it nevertheless asserts the importance of the masculine role in a changing narrative of nation. Linking the iconography of nationalism to the symbolism of gender in an overt way, the film anatomizes the failure of masculinist national...

  9. 4 Modernism and the Narrative of Nation in JFK
    (pp. 88-103)

    The debate over Oliver Stone’sJFKhas been framed to date largely within the discourse of historiography, with greatest attention being paid to issues concerning the limits of fact and fiction and the erosion of the presumed boundary between documentary and imaginative reconstruction.¹ Defenders of the film have usually argued from a deeply theoretical position, pointing out the permeable nature of the border between factual discourse and imaginative reconstruction, as well as the protean quality of even the most substantial documentary record of the past.² In this chapter, I wish to shift the angle of approach to the film in...

  10. 5 Prosthetic Memory/National Memory: Forrest Gump
    (pp. 104-119)

    The extraordinary degree of contestation and debate circulating around recent interpretations of the American past has brought into view the powerful role that social memory plays in constructing concepts of nation. The public responses to recent museum exhibitions on the atomic bombing of Japan and the conquest of the American West, for example, have thrown into relief the radical differences between the interpretations of the national past offered by historians and the narratives of nation sustained in popular memory. Whereas social memory, as Michael Kammen notes, has long been uniquely divided from and joined to history in American culture—divided...

  11. 6 The Columbian Exchange: Pocahontas and The New World
    (pp. 120-142)

    Among the deepest and most indelible fictions of American national origin is the notion of the “new world” encountered by the earliest English colonists—a world typically characterized as a dense wilderness populated by “children of the forest” and untouched by the hand of any culture. Forming the backdrop of almost all subsequent narratives of nation, this idealized image of America as an unblemished garden and as a virgin land constitutes a rich trompe l’oeil landscape, an imaginary locale designed to convey a story of emergence that is also constructed as a story of return. As the environmental historian Alfred...

  12. 7 Homeland or Promised Land? The Ethnic Construction of Nation in Gangs of New York
    (pp. 143-163)

    The ethnic antagonism that dominatesGangs of New Yorkhighlights a recurrent tension in the national story seldom considered a constitutive or central part of its fashioning. Although ethnic tension has repeatedly challenged the vision of social coherence that animates the American project, it generally enters the American story only in a disguised form, cloaked in the theme of assimilation or dressed in the colors of the rainbow or the mosaic. In the traditional narrative of nation, conflicts between contending groups are universally resolved in the discourse of national belonging, with nationalism providing an apotheosis of difference (“out of many,...

  13. 8 Haunting in the War Film: Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima
    (pp. 164-189)

    Shortly after the introductory logo sequence ofFlags of Our Fathers,a faint voice emerges from the darkness of the screen, a voice with an old-fashioned texture and grain, singing a song that sounds like a fragment of a half-heard radio broadcast. The lyrics, barely audible, come through as “Dreams we fashion in the night. Dreams I must gather,” setting a mood of solitude, loss, and regret. The source of the song is ambiguous; it seems to float between the opening Dreamworks logo, crafted in antique black and white, and the beginnings of the diegesis, to be in both places...

  14. 9 Trauma and History in United 93 and World Trade Center
    (pp. 190-212)

    Simultaneously disruptive and conservative, the narratives ofUnited 93andWorld Trade Centeroccupy an odd netherworld of historical representation—challenging in terms of subject matter, but narrowly circumscribed in their approach. Shaped by the cultural barriers erected around the memory of 9/11, both films are scrupulous in their pursuit of authenticity, and yet focus on such a narrow slice of history that they seem to deflect historical understanding as well as any larger sense of “coming to terms.” While not rising to the level of prohibition that surrounded Holocaust representation beforeSchindler’s List,the idea that it is still...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 213-230)
  16. Index
    (pp. 231-236)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 237-237)