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Cinematic Uses of the Past

1996
Author:

Marcia Landy

Cinematic Uses of the Past

Explores the connection between film and popular history.

Looks at British, American, Italian, and African films for what they can tell us about popular history and our cultural investment in certain images of the past. Author Marcia Landy provides a revealing interpretation of popular history, exposing the fragmentary, tentative, and invested nature of cultural memory.

Marcia Landy’s Cinematic Uses of the Past represents a daring and innovative treatment of the intersections between the cinema, popular history, and cultural memory. Ranging over a broad range of national cinemas from Great Britain, Italy, America, Africa, and Germany, Landy applies theories from the works of Nietzsche and Gramsci to explore what the author calls ‘the nature of cinema’s investments in the past,’ analyzing in the process what constitutes popular history and discussing how popular history can be recognized through the images of film. Films discussed in depth include: A Fistfull of Dynamite, The Scarlet Empress, Dance with a Stranger, Holocaust, Shindler’s List, The Leopard, and 1860. Landy’s readings of these important works relates their use of history and popular memory to ideas of nation, sexuality, gender, and race. In short, this is a book with many audiences: not only will it appeal to readers interested in particular national cinemas, but it also makes original contributions to film theory and the study of popular culture. Cinematic Uses of the Past is required reading for anyone interested in why cinema really matters in contemporary culture as well as in contemporary academic discourse.

Peter Bondanella, Indiana University

From the first, cinema has sustained a romance with the past. The nature of this attachment, and what it reveals about our culture, is the subject of Marcia Landy’s book. Cinematic Uses of the Past looks at British, American, Italian, and African films for what they can tell us about popular history and our cultural investment in certain images of the past.

Landy peruses six different moments in the history of cinema, employing the theories of Nietzsche and Gramsci. Her reading of these films explores their investments in history and memory in relation to ideas of nation, sexuality, gender, and race. Among the films she discusses are A Fistful of Dynamite, The Scarlet Empress, Dance with a Stranger, Holocaust, Schindler’s List, Le camp de Thiaroye, Guelwaar, The Leopard, and Veronika Voss.

A thoroughly compelling reading of these emblematic films, Cinematic Uses of the Past is also a revealing interpretation of popular history, exposing the fragmentary, tentative, and invested nature of cultural memory.

Marcia Landy is professor of literature and film studies at the University of Pittsburgh. She is the author of several books, including Film, Politics, and Gramsci (Minnesota, 1995).

Cinematic Uses of the Past

Marcia Landy is Distinguished Service Professor of English/Film Studies at the University of Pittsburgh with a secondary appointment in the Department of French and Italian Languages and Literatures. She teaches courses on film genres, film directors (e.g., Pasolini and Rossellini), national cinemas (e.g., British and Italian), film history and theory, cinema and the transnational, melodrama, and politics and film.

Her articles on film have appeared in Screen, Post Script, Jump Cut, Cinema Journal, Ñew German Critique, Critical Quarterly, Journal of Film and Video, Cine-Tracts, boundary 2, and in anthologies.

Her books include Fascism in Film: The Italian Commercial Cinema, 1929–1943; Imitations of Life: A Reader on Film and Television Melodrama; British Genres; Cinema and Society, 1930–1960; Cultures, Politics and the Writings of Antonio Gramsci; Queen Christina (with Amy Villarejo); Cinematic Uses of the Past, and The Folklore of Consensus: Theatricality in the Italian Cinema, 1930–1945, Italian Film, and The Historical Film: History and Memory in Media.

Cinematic Uses of the Past

Landy’s theoretical method, and her emphasis on the importance of melodrama to historical films, is valuable and her close readings compelling and insightful.

Film and History

Marcia Landy’s Cinematic Uses of the Past represents a daring and innovative treatment of the intersections between the cinema, popular history, and cultural memory. Ranging over a broad range of national cinemas from Great Britain, Italy, America, Africa, and Germany, Landy applies theories from the works of Nietzsche and Gramsci to explore what the author calls ‘the nature of cinema’s investments in the past,’ analyzing in the process what constitutes popular history and discussing how popular history can be recognized through the images of film. Films discussed in depth include: A Fistfull of Dynamite, The Scarlet Empress, Dance with a Stranger, Holocaust, Shindler’s List, The Leopard, and 1860. Landy’s readings of these important works relates their use of history and popular memory to ideas of nation, sexuality, gender, and race. In short, this is a book with many audiences: not only will it appeal to readers interested in particular national cinemas, but it also makes original contributions to film theory and the study of popular culture. Cinematic Uses of the Past is required reading for anyone interested in why cinema really matters in contemporary culture as well as in contemporary academic discourse.

Peter Bondanella, Indiana University