Reconstructing American Historical Cinema by Smyth Review


Reconstructing American Historical Cinema From Cimarron to Citizen Kane by J.E. Smyth Review 2019 Read books online

Reconstructing American Historical Cinema by Smyth Review

In Reconstructing American Historical Cinema: From Cimarron to Citizen Kane, J. E. Smyth dramatically departs from the traditional understanding of the relationship between film and history. By looking at production records, scripts, and contemporary reviews, Smyth argues that certain classical Hollywood filmmakers were actively engaged in a self-conscious and often critical filmic writing of national history. Her volume is a major 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), Smyth explores historical cinema’s connections to popular and academic historigraphy, 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, Smyth 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. Reconstructing American Historical Cinema uncovers Hollywood’s diverse and conflicted attitudes toward American history. This text is a fundamental challenge the prevailing scholarship in film, history, and cultural studies.




“A scrupulously researched discusson of historical films produced by Hollywood from 1931 to 1942. In treating Westerns, gangster films, Civil War films, and various kinds of biopics, she brings to the discussion a treasure trove of production materials that show how far from thoughtless these films really are. Smyth stakes out new critical territory. Essential.” ―Choice”

“Although Hollywood is noted for its formulaic filmmaking, Smyth argues that serious historical treatment is evident in different genres. Her endorsement of certain films as honest reflections of the American past will pique readers’ interest.”―Library Journal”

“Smyth provides a rich context for the industry’s commitment to American history by examining past production records and scripts.”―Choice”

“J.E. Smyth’s book is a controversial, innovative, and meticulously researched text that reconfigures time-worn conceptions of what constitutes history on and in cinema.”―American Historical




“This is an excellent book. It serves as an important challenge to traditional readings of classical Hollywood, to traditional understanding of American historiography, and to those theories of ‘film and history’ that are rapidly becoming traditionalized.”―Nicholas Witham, Screening the Past”

“Smyth provides a fascinating history of a Hollywood when producers, more than directors, controlled the texture of American film.”―Film Quarterly”

“Smythtakes a unique approach, uniting the study of popular and academic historical writing, historical fiction, and screenwriting, to provide a rich context for the movie industry’s commitment to American history while investigating the rarely discussed production records and scripts from studio archives.” ―University of Kentucky News”―


From the Publisher


“Bold and thoroughly researched, J.E. Smyth’s important new perspective on how Hollywood represents American history challenges, and will surely revise, current views on the subject held by historians, cultural studies specialists, and film scholars.”-Robert Sklar, New York University

“Reconstructing American Historical Cinema is a smart, well-researched and well argued book that will be controversial in two, possibly three fields-cinema studies, communications, and history-controversial in the best sort of way, for it is a sustained attack on some of the conventional wisdom in all three fields&. What one is left with at the end of the book is a far deeper and richer appreciation for the serious accomplishments of filmmakers during that era than one previously had.”-Robert A. Rosenstone, California Institute of Technology

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