The American Nation: Historical Perspectives
American History and Culture in Film
I have argued throughout our course that movies not only reflect (a very imprecise word) our actual history, but they also shape (another imprecise word) the way we understand our history. Birth of a Nation would seem to have shaped our ancestors’ opinion of the Civil War and Reconstruction; Gone with the Win; may have had even more influence over our elders’ impressions of the Old South. But Glory and To Kill a Mockingbird& have also influenced our views of the South, so the sum of southern images presented by the movies is quite tangled and confusing. The same can be said of movie images of gangsters, and soldiers, of war and peace, of love and death, and of the American past in general.
To help you deal with this confusion, here are some guidelines for composing your final paper. What you will be writing is an analytical essay about a movie which portrays the American past-some event, some person, some period. Which movie should you pick? Look at our textbooks and their bibliographies for ideas, or browse around the internet, using such sites as the Internet Movie Data Base or the American Film Institute listings. Consult the sources I have listed below. The essays in our textbooks should also give you good examples of how to compose film criticism or analysis. Send me an email that describes your plan.
Your paper should first summarize the plot and characters of the film; second, it should assess the historical accuracy or credibility of the film; and third, it should interpret or ponder or philosophize about the relationship of the film to both the present time and the past event it purports to represent. In other words, what can you say the film means? But be careful here, because it may mean one thing to the director, another thing to the critics, and still other things to you. Therefore, be open to the possibility of conflicting meanings or different layers of meanings in the film you’ve chosen to analyze.
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