The Columbia Companion to American History on Film
Peter C. Rollins
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
American history has always been an irresistible source of inspiration for filmmakers, and today, for good or ill, most Americans'sense of the past likely comes more from Hollywood than from the works of historians. In important films such as The Birth of a Nation (1915), Roots (1977), Apocalypse Now (1979), and Saving Private Ryan (1998), how much is entertainment and how much is rooted in historical fact? In The Columbia Companion to American History on Film, more than seventy scholars consider the gap between history and Hollywood. They examine how filmmakers have presented and interpreted the most important events, topics, eras, and figures in the American past, often comparing the film versions of events with the interpretations of the best historians who have explored the topic.
Divided into eight broad categories―Eras; Wars and Other Major Events; Notable People; Groups; Institutions and Movements; Places; Themes and Topics; and Myths and Heroes―the volume features extensive cross-references, a filmography (of discussed and relevant films), notes, and a bibliography of selected historical works on each subject. The Columbia Companion to American History on Film is also an important resource for teachers, with extensive information for research or for course development appropriate for both high school and college students.
Though each essay reflects the unique body of film and print works covering the subject at hand, every essay addresses several fundamental questions:
• What are the key films on this topic?
• What sources did the filmmaker use, and how did the film deviate (or remain true to) its sources?
• How have film interpretations of a particular historical topic changed, and what sorts of factors―technological, social, political, historiographical―have affected their evolution?
• Have filmmakers altered the historical record with a view to enhancing drama or to enhance the "truth" of their putative message?
(Salish, 1899–1982), whose roles in Little Big Man (1970), Harry and Tonto (1974), and The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) were widely celebrated. George’s characters and performances cut against the grain of the stereotypically stoic, suffering, silent Indian and indulged humor, self-deprecation, and playfulness— even as his outward appearance confirmed the popular model of the noble, sagacious chief. Hollywood biographies of Indian chiefs typically warp, omit, and invent history for the sake of
thriller, but it offers an insight into the political paranoia of Cold War America while foreshadowing the acts of Lee Harvey Oswald a year later. The other film classic set in Korea, Robert Altman’s MASH (1970), is probably more concerned with the political issues of the 1960s than with the Korean War itself. The film’s 83 84 [ WARS AND OTHER MAJOR EVENTS many anachronisms (smoking marijuana, for example) suggest that the war in Vietnam rather than in Korea inspired the filmmakers. The
Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, underwent a transformation into mythic warriors when their most decisive engagement, the Battle of San Juan Hill (actually Kettle Hill) on July 1, was celebrated by the press as a heroic microcosm of the entire war. Earlier, on May 1, in aiding the Filipino insurrection against Spain, Commodore George Dewey steamed into Manila Bay in the Philippines and briskly annihilated the Spanish fleet. Previously, American plantation owners in Hawaii had aided in the overthrow of
exemplary, although this ecumenical attitude will take some time to reach America’s newspapers, cable networks, and movie theaters. References Filmography The Anderson Platoon (1967, D) Apocalypse Now (1979, F) Battlefield: Vietnam (1999, TV) Bat*21 (1988, F) Born on the Fourth of July (1989, F) Casualties of War (1989, F) Coming Home (1978, F) Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam (1987, D) The Deer Hunter (1978, F) The DI (1957, F) A Face of War (1968, D) First Blood (1982, F) Full Metal
Big Man anticipated the subsequent anti-Turnerian view of those writing the “New Western” history in the late 1980s. So did Robert Altman in another important film of the 1970s, Buffalo Bill and the Indians (1976). Based loosely on Arthur Kopit’s play Indians (1969), Altman presents Buffalo Bill (Paul Newman) as the “father of the new show business” and focuses on a fivemonth period when Chief Sitting Bull appeared with the show. It is a meditation on cultural conflict as well as on personal and