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This book departs from the traditional understanding of the relationship between film and history. By looking at production records, scripts, and contemporary reviews, the book argues that certain classical Hollywood filmmakers were actively engaged in a self-conscious and often critical filmic writing of national history. This volume is a reassessment of American historiography and cinematic historians from the advent of sound to the beginning of wartime film production in 1942. Focusing on key films such as Cimarron (1931), The Public Enemy (1931), Scarface (1932), Ramona (1936), A Star Is Born (1937), Jezebel (1938), Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), Gone with the Wind (1939), Stagecoach (1939), and Citizen Kane (1941), this book explores historical cinema's connections to popular and academic historiography, historical fiction, and journalism, providing a rich context for the industry's commitment to American history. Rather than emphasizing the divide between American historical cinema and historical writing, the book explores the continuities between Hollywood films and history written during the first four decades of the twentieth century, from Carl Becker's famous “Everyman His Own Historian” to Howard Hughes's Scarface to Margaret Mitchell and David O. Selznick's Gone with the Wind. Hollywood's popular and often controversial cycle of historical films from 1931 to 1942 confronted issues as diverse as frontier racism and women's experiences in the nineteenth-century South, the decline of American society following the First World War, the rise of Al Capone, and the tragic history of Hollywood's silent era. Looking at rarely discussed archival material, Smyth focuses on classical Hollywood filmmakers' adaptation and scripting of traditional historical discourse and their critical revision of nineteenth- and twentieth-century American history.
The University Press of Kentucky
Place of Publication
978-0-8131-7147-0 (pdf version)
978-0-8131-3728-5 (epub version)
Film and history, Hollywood, Filmmakers, National history, Historical fiction, Academic historiography, Journalism, American history, American society
American Film Studies | Film and Media Studies | Mass Communication
Smyth, J. E., "Reconstructing American Historical Cinema: From Cimarron to Citizen Kane" (2006). Film and Media Studies. 28.