Can filmed history measure up to written history? What happens to history when it is recorded in images, rather than words? Can images convey ideas and information that lie beyond words? Taking on these questions, Robert Rosenstone offers a direction in the relationship between history and film. Rosenstone moves beyond traditional approaches, which examine the history of film as art and industry, or view films as texts reflecting their specific cultural contexts. This essay collection makes a venture into the investigation of a concern: how a visual medium, subject to the conventions of drama and fiction, might be used as a serious vehicle for thinking about our relationship with the past. Rosenstone looks at history films in a way that reconceptualizes what we mean by "history". He explores the innovative strategies of films made in Africa, Latin America, Germany and other parts of the world. He journeys into the history of film in a wide range of cultures, and traces the contours of the postmodern historical film.
In essays on specific films, including "Reds", "JFK" and "Sans Soleil", he considers such issues as the relationship between fact and film and the documentary as vision
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Harvard University Press
Publisher: Harvard University Press
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US Kirkus Review »
A muddled series of essays investigating the limits and possibilities of film as a medium for comprehending the past. While Rosenstone is an accomplished historian (Calif. Institute of Technology; Mirror in the Shrine, 1988, etc.), he approaches film with all the zeal and incomplete understanding of a novice, particularly regarding film history. For example, the multiple perspectives, untraditional structure, and experiments with time that he identifies as hallmarks of the postmodern historical film have all been utilized in Hollywood as far back as the silent era and D.W. Griffith's Intolerance. Many of his arguments also have a warmed-over quality, as he rehearses the tired paradigmatic posturings of postmodernism (i.e., limits language of meaning impossible make). Still Rosenstone offers some worthwhile analysis of why films so often fail as history, especially when it comes to complex and/or nonvisual material. How do you show, after all, something like the rise of Portugal or the moral decline of the French aristocracy? Rosenstone offers some useful criteria for what makes a good historical film, what liberties it should and shouldn't take with the past. Then, in a game but vain bid for popular relevance, he proposes film as a fully viable alternative to history books. He wants cinema that "create[s] a historical world complex enough so that it overflows with meaning; so that its meanings are always multiple; so that its meanings cannot be contained or easily expressed in words." But the decidedly obscure films he champions, such as Walker and Sans Soleil, are hardly encouraging models. The brave new multimedia world may make books seem a little dull, but despite Rosenstone's high hopes, "Western Civilization: The Movie" is unlikely to be playing at the local multiplex any time soon. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Robert A. Rosenstone
Robert A. Rosenstone is Professor of History, California Institute of Technology, and author of Mirror in the Shrine: American Encounters with Meiji Japan and Romantic Revolutionary: A Biography of John Reed (both from Harvard).