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Film Nation

Hollywood Looks at U.S. History, Revised Edition

2010
Author:

Robert Burgoyne

Film Nation

Explores contemporary American films that challenge official history.

In analyses of five films that challenge the traditional myths of American history-Glory, Thunderheart, JFK, Born on the Fourth of July, and Forrest Gump-Robert Burgoyne explores the meaning of “nation” and highlights issues of power that underlie the narrative construction of nationhood.

The chief merit of Film Nation is that it outlines a study of an important but neglected period of American film—the 1980s—from a sophisticated historiographical perspective, a complex version of postmodernism and cultural studies. That is, it arises, conceptually speaking, from within the film studies orbit and takes advantage in a provocative, and in my view, compelling way, the resources and perspectives of contemporary critical theory more generally.

Nick Brown, University of California, Los Angeles

Events of the past decade have dramatically rewritten the American national narrative, bringing to light an alternate history of nation, marked since the country’s origins by competing geopolitical interests, by mobility and migration, and by contending ethnic and racial groups.

In this revised and expanded edition of Film Nation, Robert Burgoyne analyzes films that give shape to the counternarrative that has emerged since 9/11—one that challenges the traditional myths of the American nation-state. The films examined here, Burgoyne argues, reveal the hidden underlayers of nation, from the first interaction between Europeans and Native Americans (The New World), to the clash of ethnic groups in nineteenth-century New York (Gangs of New York), to the haunting persistence of war in the national imagination (Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima) and the impact of the events of 9/11 on American identity (United 93 and World Trade Center).

Film Nation provides innovative readings of attempts by such directors as Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, and Oliver Stone to visualize historical events that have acquired a mythical aura in order to open up the past to the contemporary moment.

Film Nation

Robert Burgoyne is professor and chair of film studies at the University of St. Andrews.

Robert Burgoyne is professor of English and film studies at Wayne State University and is chair of the Department of English. He is the author of Bertolucci’s 1900: A Narrative and Historical Analysis (1991) and coauthor, with Robert Stam and Sandy Flitterman-Lewis, of New Vocabularies in Film Semiotics (1992).

Film Nation

Film Nation rewards the reader with a continuous flow of stimulating ideas about how to discuss the content of recent history films.

Journal of American History

Any historian who is interested in investigating film as history should forget about disciplinary turf wars and read Robert Burgoyne’s Film Nation: Hollywood Looks at U.S. History. A theoretically sophisticated but clearly and elegantly written work.

Rethinking History

In Film Nation Robert Burgoyne argues that popular film plays a crucial role in formulating the imagined community of the nation state. A rewarding read.

Film and History

Film Nation is distinguished by Robert Burgoyne’s critical acuity, his on-the-money remarks about the subjects he interrogates, as well as the singularity of his focus on American Cinema and the ways by which film suggests much about American national identity.

Cineaste

In this slender but provocative volume, Robert Burgoyne asserts that the major historical traumas of the American past—from the mistreatment of African Americans and Native Americans to the Kennedy assassination and the Vietnam War—are currently being redefined and rewritten in Hollywood films, resulting in a new ‘national narrative’ that challenges the old ‘dominant fiction’ of the past.

American Studies International

In Film Nation Robert Burgoyne argues that popular film plays a crucial role in formulating the imagined community of the nation state. A rewarding read.

Film and History

Film Nation is a learned discussion of the uncertain character of contemporary nationalism in the United States. Burgoyne sees recent historical films as part of a broader culture-wide project, that of redefining the United States in a way that maintains the privileged character of older progressive civic nationalism while reconfiguring the nation to include all of the previously suppressed racial and ethnic narratives that indicate ours has been a history of conquest, exploitation, and cultural resistance to white racial male dominations. Film Nation rewards the reader with a continuous flow of stimulating ideas about how to discuss the content of recent history films.

Journal of American History

Any historian who is interested in investigating film as history should forget about disciplinary turf wars and read Robert Burgoyne’s Film Nation: Hollywood Looks at U.S. History. A theoretically sophisticated but clearly and elegantly written work, Burgoyne’s study explains why historians’ preoccupation with issues of authenticity may be beside the point while revealing ‘the significance of the stakes on the table.’ Burgoyne’s Film Nation is an imaginative study that challenges us to rethink film as history. Burgoyne’s Film Nation foregrounds issues of representation that historians should consider in thinking about film as history.

Rethinking History

Film Nation is distinguished by Robert Burgoyne’s critical acuity, his on-the-money remarks about the subjects he interrogates, as well as the singularity of his focus on American Cinema and the ways by which film suggests much about American national identity.

Cineaste

The chief merit of Film Nation is that it outlines a study of an important but neglected period of American film—the 1980s—from a sophisticated historiographical perspective, a complex version of postmodernism and cultural studies. That is, it arises, conceptually speaking, from within the film studies orbit and takes advantage in a provocative, and in my view, compelling way, the resources and perspectives of contemporary critical theory more generally.

Nick Brown, University of California, Los Angeles

Film Nation makes a real contribution to film studies by underscoring how much the ‘war film’ has been revived for the purpose of contemplating nationhood, and how, more implicitly, the idea of ‘America’ or even ‘identity’ has become increasingly problematic in the era of international democratic capitalism.

Tom Conley, Harvard University

A brilliant and elegant series of essays which demonstrate how the best contemporary historical films provide a powerful counternarrative to traditional history and help us to rethink the American past. Burgoyne's is by far the best book to date on the important relationship between American history and American film.

Robert A. Rosenstone, Professor of History at the California Institute of Technology and author of Visions of the Past: The Challenge of Film to Our Idea of History

In this slim, densely argued volume, Burgoyne draws on a vast array of sources that include cultural and social critics, historians and film theorists in order to examine five recent films—Glory, JFK, Thunderheart, Born on the Fourth of July, and Forrest Gump—that are based on actual historical events. What is more important than mere presentation of facts is how the films act as a major forum for creating and shaping our beliefs about who we are as a nation— and how they do so by engaging the audience emotionally. This book provides intellectual tools that can be applied to a searching critique of any historically based film.

Detroit Metro Times

Sensitive and thought-provoking.

Choice

In this stimulating, if tantalizingly short book, Burgoyne explores the changing film narratives which, he contends, constitute genuine assaults on the ‘dominant fictions’ that define the American nation. Burgoyne’s explorations are a wonderfully perceptive introduction to the way US film has joined the debates over the nation’s past, setting forth counter-historical narratives which validate the cultural hybridity, differences and contests that are contemporary America. He is undoubtedly justified in claiming that film texts are central to efforts to reconfigure the ‘recovered memory’ of the American nation. His stimulating insights deserve a wide readership.

Screening the Past

A must-read for any serious student of American historical films.

FIlm & History

Film Nation

UMP blog - The Hurt Locker: Abstraction and Embodiment in the War Film

3/17/2010
I would like to offer a reading of the potential of the body in the war film to express something like the collective trauma of war. The film's climactic scenes revolve around two grisly sequences involving a "body bomb." In the first, the body of the teenage Iraqi whom James (Staff Sergeant William James, played by Jeremy Renner) has befriended, who called himself Beckham (played by Christopher Sayegh), is discovered by the EOD team, laid out on a table, covered in blood, his abdomen sliced open and a bomb planted inside. "Ever seen a body bomb before?" Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) asks Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), the youngest and most skittish member of the team. Here, the destructiveness of war is condensed into a figure of atrocity with a difference: the victim is now also a weapon; the victim of terror has become the medium of terror, the body turned into a bomb.
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