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Shadows on the Past

Shadows on the Past: Studies in the Historical Fiction Film

Copyright Date: 1994
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Shadows on the Past
    Book Description:

    Studying popular Hollywood films fromGone With the WindtoRedsand such distinguished European films asLa MarseillaiseandThe Rise to Power of Louis XIV, Leger Grindon examines how historical fiction films interpret the present through a representation of the past.

    The historical fiction film is characterized by a set of motives and, Grindon argues, deserves to be considered a genre unto itself. Appropriation of historical events can insinuate a film's authority of its subject, veil an intention, provide an escape into nostalgia, or direct a search for knowledge and origins. Utilizing the past as a way of responding to social conflicts in the present, Grindon shows how the genre promotes a political agenda, superseding the influence of scholarship on the public's perception and interpretation of history.In the seriesCulture and the Moving Image, edited by Robert Sklar.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0488-6
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Chapter 1 Analyzing the Historical Fiction Film
    (pp. 1-26)

    From the earliest days of their artistic practice, filmmakers have engaged in the centuries-old tradition of grappling with the present by writing about the past. “This time-honored disguise and this borrowed language”¹ noted by Marx is a means by which the cinema associates past events with contemporary issues that it seeks to explain, justify, or exalt. Examples abound. While his compatriots contested Nazi foreign policy, Sergei Eisenstein filmedAlexander Nevsky(1938), in which Nevsky battles the Teutonic Knights. The victory at Agincourt in Laurence Olivier’sHenry V(1945) echoed the Normandy landing that brought British troops to the Continent in...

  6. Chapter 2 The Politics of History: La Marseillaise
    (pp. 27-68)

    La Jfarseillaisewas a product of France in 1937, Depression France, France of the Popular Front. This chronicle of the French Revolution is enmeshed in its political milieu, and only distance from the circumstances of the production can sustain François Truffaut’s view of the film as detached and nonpartisan. A return to contemporary reports places the film firmly amid the struggles of its time, and one sees not the objective account, but the disjointed polemic.

    News ofLa Marseillaisebegan to appear in the press early in 1937. On February 11Paris-Soirannounced, “For the first time in France there...

  7. Chapter 3 Hollywood History and the French Revolution: From The Bastille to The Black Book
    (pp. 69-90)

    Few Hollywood films progress from the initial concept to premiere screening without change; financial pressures, social forces, and contending personnel all influence a film’s development. Sometimes the off-screen drama proves more meaningful than the film itself. In the absence of a commanding figure like Charles Chaplin, David O. Selznick, or John Ford , many films fail to express a unified and coherent view; these are best understood by examining the tensions that arose during production. The making ofReign of Terror(1949) is a case in point; Hollywood's meditation upon Robespierre reveals more about its own time than it does...

  8. Chapter 4 Risorgimento History and Screen Spectacle: Visconti’s Senso
    (pp. 91-122)

    Marlon Brando was the big news of the 1954 Venice Film Festival. AlthoughOn the Waterfronttook second prize while Renato Castellani’sRomeo and Juliettook first, it was by all accounts the popular favorite. When Jean Gabin was named the festival's best actor, the fans let their preference be known with shouts of “Brando! Brando!” Other films honored includedThe Seven Samurai, Sansho the Bailiff,andLa Strada,but one noteworthy entry stirred controversy when it was ignored by the jury. Foreign reporters commented on the slighting of the Italian production Senso. InVarietyRobert Hawkins described the film...

  9. Chapter 5 The Politics of the Spectacle: The Rise to Power of Louis XIV
    (pp. 123-178)

    The Rise to Power of Louis XIVends in contemplation. The king, triumphant at Versailles, retreats from his courtiers to a private room to meditate upon the maxims of La Rochefoucauld. After deliberately taking off his gloves, hat, sword, wig, necklace, sash, and outer jacket, Louis puts on a simple coat and reads aloud:

    There is a loftiness that does not depend on fortune. It is a certain air of superiority that seems to destine one for great things. It is a prize that we award ourselves imperceptibly. This quality enables us to usurp other men's deference and places us...

  10. Chapter 6 Politics and History in Contemporary Hollywood: Reds
    (pp. 179-222)

    On December 7, 1981, less than a year after Ronald Reagan assumed office, the president hosted a gala Hollywood event. The lavish Paramount Pictures release,Reds, had a special screening at the White House a few days after its nationwide release. Warren Beatty, the director and star, his co-star, Diane Keaton, and thirty guests joined the president for an evening at the movies. Reagan’s friends had no reason to fear that the controversial film about the early days of the American Communist Party would compromise the Republican president’s convictions, but the gracious host and experienced promoter had only kind words...

  11. Coda
    (pp. 223-226)

    History represents social memory. This study finds that the historical film is fundamentally concerned with the association of the individual and the state and the relationship between personal experience and the extra personal forces shaping history. In essence it is a political genre. Characterization and intimate drama ground the fiction in personal acts, but the historical perspective strives to expand and generalize their significance. This tension between private and public life is expressed in the generic motifs of the romance and the spectacle.

    By studying the historical film in its particularity and in its relationship to politics, history, and the...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 227-244)
  13. Index
    (pp. 245-250)