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American History and Contemporary Hollywood Film

American History and Contemporary Hollywood Film

Trevor B. McCrisken
Andrew Pepper
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    American History and Contemporary Hollywood Film
    Book Description:

    Hollywood has a growing fascination with America’s past. This is evidenced in the release of a rash of films of this genre in the past 25 years. This book offers an analysis of how and why contemporary Hollywood films have sought to mediate American history. It is the first book to explore, comprehensively, the post-Cold War period of film-making, and to consider whether or how far contemporary films have begun to unravel the unifying myths of earlier films and periods. It also considers why such films are becoming increasingly integral to the ambitions of a globally-focused American film industry.The relationship between film and history - the way in which film mediates history and vice versa - is a complex one. In this book, the authors work from two main assumptions. First, that films revision events to challenge or, perhaps more typically, to reaffirm traditional historical interpretations. Second, that this process can only be understood in the context of contemporary debates about identity politics, America’s role in world affairs, and the globalisation of the American film business.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-7924-9
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
    (pp. vi-vii)
    Andrew Pepper and Trevor McCrisken
    (pp. viii-xii)
    (pp. 1-14)

    Hollywood has not typically enjoyed a good reputation as a purveyor of history. American filmmakers are frequently condemned for rewriting history, for providing an ‘arrogant distortion of the historical record’ or even for the ‘rape of US history’.¹ Films made about particular episodes or events from America’s past are often accused of providing a disturbingly falsified picture of ‘what really happened’; they consistently privilege action and drama over historical accuracy; they simplify the complexities and contingencies of the past by attempting to impose clear-cut resolutions on the ‘mess’ of history; and their aim is to entertain audiences and make money...

  6. Chapter 1 Lessons from Hollywood’s American Revolution Revolution; The Patriot
    (pp. 15-38)

    There are a number of points of departure for this chapter, and this book as a whole. The first relates to the vexed question of historical accuracy and the now familiar complaint that Hollywood films deliberately falsify the historical record, as though that record itself is somehow inviolate and unchanging. As we argued in the Introduction, we begin from the assumption that what should concern us when considering how the past is represented is not so much the issue of how accurately films represent history but rather what they can reveal to us about the ways in which history is...

  7. Chapter 2 Rattling the chains of history: Steven Spielberg’s Amistad and ‘telling everyone’s story’ Roots; Amistad
    (pp. 39-63)

    If the American Revolution is a brilliant mirror for the nation’s dominant ideologies, an event whose image encapsulates all that its boosters imagine or desire ‘America’ to be, then slavery is its unpalatable alter ego; an indelible stain on the collective consciousness, a system or institution whose impact is both invisible and yet impossible to ignore and, like a ghost in the machine, whose presence continues to be felt in all areas of American life. Nowhere, one might add, is this ambivalence felt more acutely than in Hollywood. The cultural moment for Gone with the Wind-style representations of slavery as...

  8. Chapter 3 Hollywood’s Civil War dilemma: to imagine or unravel the nation? Gettysburg; Glory; Ride with the Devil; Cold Mountain
    (pp. 64-88)

    The unpopularity of slavery as a subject for Hollywood is underlined by the significantly larger proportion of films made about the American Civil War. The Civil War has traditionally occupied a hallowed place in the benign meta-narrative of American history, one in which the bloody divisions between North and South are incorporated into a larger story of nation in which the sacrifice, suffering and bravery of both sides are equally celebrated. As such, Hollywood, one of the key ‘players’ in shaping the nature and ideological content of American public history, has played an important role in transforming the Civil War,...

  9. Chapter 4 Saving the Good War: Hollywood and World War II in the post-Cold War world Saving Private Ryan; The Thin Red Line; U-571; Pearl Harbor
    (pp. 89-130)

    World War II holds a celebrated position in the benign meta-narrative of American foreign relations. This narrative holds that the United States is a benevolent nation whose foreign policy is based not on pure self-interest but rather on the greater good of all humankind. As H. W. Brands suggests: ‘If a single theme pervades the history of American thinking about the world, it is that the United States has a peculiar obligation to better the lot of humanity. . . Americans have commonly spoken and acted as though the salvation of the world depended on them.’¹ According to this meta-narrative,...

  10. Chapter 5 Oliver Stone and the decade of trauma Platoon; Born on the Fourth of July; Heaven and Earth; JFK; Nixon
    (pp. 131-159)

    More than any other American film director in recent years, Oliver Stone has looked to American history for his inspiration and subject matter. In doing so, he has also attracted greater controversy and passionate criticism than any of his contemporaries. The plaudits and condemnations come almost in equal measure. Stone is praised by some historians for advocating ‘a strong thesis about the meaning of the past’ and presenting a ‘powerful interpretation of contemporary American history’.¹ Some have even claimed that he is ‘the most influential historian of America’s role in Vietnam’.² Yet other historians deem Stone’s renderings of historical subjects...

  11. Chapter 6 From Civil Rights to Black Nationalism: Hollywood v. black America? Panther; Mississippi Burning; The Hurricane; Malcolm X; Ali
    (pp. 160-186)

    If contemporary filmmakers have felt compelled to do away with the explicit racism of pre-Civil Rights Hollywood movie-making and make African-Americans the subjects rather than the objects of their gaze, then the vexed question of how successfully have their ambitions been realised needs to be addressed. For while there has long been a slow trickle of ‘worthy’ films made by white liberal directors whose integrationist politics usually requires initially hostile black and white protagonists to put aside their differences and prejudices and join forces to tackle some kind of ‘outside’ threat (that is, In the Heat of the Night, Mississippi...

  12. Chapter 7 Hollywood’s post-Cold War history: the ‘righteousness’ of American interventionism Three Kings; Black Hawk Down
    (pp. 187-210)

    In the giddy optimism that accompanied the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the attendant disintegration of the Cold War, commentators, particularly from the American right, looked to a rose-tinted future in which the United States bestrode the world as its only superpower.¹ Most famously, or notoriously, Francis Fukuyama, then the Deputy Director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, argued that the ‘triumph of the West’ was evidenced ‘in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism’ and that the end of the Cold War marked ‘the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the...

    (pp. 211-216)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 217-228)