An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War

An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War

by J. Hoberman

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An Army of Phantoms is a major new work of history and film criticism from the highly regarded critic J. Hoberman. Here he applies the same dynamic synergy of American politics and American popular culture to the Cold War’s first decade that he brought to the 1960s in the critically acclaimed The Dream Life.

The years between 1946 and 1956


An Army of Phantoms is a major new work of history and film criticism from the highly regarded critic J. Hoberman. Here he applies the same dynamic synergy of American politics and American popular culture to the Cold War’s first decade that he brought to the 1960s in the critically acclaimed The Dream Life.

The years between 1946 and 1956 brought U.S. dominance over Europe and a new war in Asia, as well as the birth of the civil rights movement and the stirrings of a new youth culture. The period saw the movie industry purged of its political left while the rise of ideological action hero John Wayne came to dominate theaters. Analyzing movies and media events, Hoberman has organized a pageant of cavalry Westerns, apocalyptic sci-fi flicks, and biblical spectaculars wherein Cecil B. DeMille rubs shoulders with Douglas MacArthur, atomic tests are shown on live TV, God talks on the radio, and Joe McCarthy is bracketed with Marilyn Monroe. Here is a history of film that is also, to paraphrase Jean-Luc Godard, about the film of history.

Essential reading for film and history buffs, An Army of Phantoms recasts a crucial era in the light of the silver screen.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Village Voice film critic Hoberman offers the first installment of a projected three-volume chronicle of American films during the cold war years 1946–1956. Since Hoberman sees politics "filtered through the prism of Hollywood movies—their scenarios, back stories and reception," he begins with 1950's Destination Moon, which anticipated the "space race" and called for a lunar military base, echoing a National Security Council proposal for a massive rearmament to counter the Soviet atom bomb. Onscreen antifascist heroism and more atomic associations mushroom through the early chapters. Surveying such anticommunist films as The Red Menace and The Iron Curtain, Hoberman covers witch hunts, House Committee on Un-American Activities tactics, racial dramas such as Pinky, message movies, the blacklist, protests, propaganda, HUAC humiliations, and the "Cold War's key fictional text," Orwell's 1984, all capped by a trenchant analysis of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. With exhaustive research into linkages between headlines and Hollywood, Hoberman skillfully probes movie metaphors and underlying themes in all film genres to show how cinema mirrored world events. (Apr.)
From the Publisher

"In An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War, Village Voice critic J. Hoberman frames 1945 to 1956 in Hollywood's assumption that 'fantasy could be instrumentalized.' Fantasies include the voice of God on the radio, invasions from outer space, Westerns and a teenage menace. Monstrous ambitions beget screen monsters in this erudite study that's essential for anyone interested in American film....An Army of Phantoms is the prequel to Hoberman's earlier study of the 1960s, The Dream Life. Next he targets the Reagan 1980s. This Cold War saga will make you impatient for it."
San Francisco Chronicle
Library Journal
Hoberman (senior film critic, Village Voice; The Magic Hour: Film at Fin De Siècle) here delivers the second installment (after The Dream Life: Movies, Media, and the Mythology of the Sixties) of a three-volume study of American film as viewed through the lens of politics. Hoberman's exhaustive research taps into the mainstream, entertainment, and alternative press coverage; House Un-American Activities Committee testimony; FBI files; and archival sources. He discusses the period from 1946 to 1956 in a minutely detailed and richly textured chronology that interweaves cinematic, political, military, and social history. The activities of motion picture producers, actors, and screenwriters swept up in the investigations of communist activity in the entertainment industry are paralleled with those of political and military personnel and set against the backdrop of the movies themselves—the plots, premieres, and reviews. VERDICT Serious readers will appreciate the attention to detail and thorough treatment of the subject. Recommended for film historians and Cold War scholars.—Donna L. Davey, New York Univ. Libs.
Kirkus Reviews

Sharp analysis of postwar-era Hollywood by a leading film critic and historian.

LongtimeVillage Voicemovie critic Hoberman (Cinema History/Cooper Union;Bridge of Light: Yiddish Film between Two Worlds, 2010, etc.) published the second part of his projected Cold War trilogyThe Dream Life: Movies, Media, and the Mythology of the Sixtiesin 2003; here he covers the politically tumultuous and often dangerous period that preceded it, from the end of World War II in 1945 through Eisenhower's first term, ending in 1956. It was an era when some of the canon's greatest movies appeared (High Noon,On the Waterfront, The Searchers) alongside some of the schlockiest kitsch (My Son John,The Next Voice You Hear,The Prodigal). Hoberman, whose historical narrative is as richly detailed as his movie lore, masterfully shows how Washington's anti-communist crusaders influenced the culture-makers in Hollywood in the projects they chose to develop. Both sides of the divide were especially motivated by paranoia, of communism on the right and on the left of Senator McCarthy and HUAC. Paranoia inspired some of the most interesting, multilayered films, including several of the aforementioned, as well as Don Siegel'sInvasion of the Body Snatchers, Elia Kazan'sPanic in the Streetsand Samuel Fuller'sPickup on South Street. Quoting period memoirs, FBI files, HUAC hearing transcripts and movie reviews from the mainstream and communist press, Hoberman argues that many of the themes of these movies—fear of alien invasion and the rescue of captives, to name two of the most pungent examples—were already deeply ingrained in the American national consciousness from its earliest days and continue to resonate today.The author's engaging prose will provoke many an urge to revisit the familiar and forgotten gems of a film era that was less placid than it pretended to be.

Urbane, witty cultural history.

Product Details

New Press, The
Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
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5.90(w) x 8.70(h) x 1.14(d)

Read an Excerpt

From the Introduction:

The collective drama that An Army of Phantoms recounts was not restricted to America's movie theaters but played out in the press, comic books, popular music, ongoing FBI investigations, congressional hearings, and political campaigns. Thanks to the movies, however, this drama was elevated to a cosmic struggle against National Insecurity for possession of the Great Whatzit. The war was waged in desert surrounding Fort Apache and the streets of Hadleyville, as well as the hills of Korea and halls of Washington, D.C., and invoked all manner of imaginary beings. In the national Dream Life, this war was fought by archetypal figures: the Christian Soldier and the Patriot Roughneck were pitted against an Implacable Alien Other, as well as the Wild One, and sometimes themselves.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“Utterly compulsive reading … There’s something majestic about the reach of Hoberman’s ambitions … An Army of Phantoms may prove to be the definitive text on its subject.”
Film Comment

“An energetic and adventurous book … scholarly, even encyclopedic, yet written occasionally in a style akin to the Hush-Hush columns of L.A. Confidential.”
London Review of Books

“A welcome acknowledgment of how complicated the story of one particular period really is.”
National Review

“An epic: an alternately fevered and measured account of what might be called the primal scene of American cinema.”

“An important, overflowing and often compelling study of movie history … Smartly conceived, and its richness defies capture in a book review.”

Meet the Author

One of the most highly respected film critics working today, J. Hoberman is the senior film critic for the Village Voice. His thirtieth anniversary at the Voice was celebrated with a film series at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and he received the Mel Novikoff Award at the 2008 San Francisco Film Festival. Hoberman is the author of Bridge of Light; The Magic Hour; The Red Atlantis; Vulgar Modernism, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism; On Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures; and The Dream Life (The New Press), among other books; he is the co-author, with Jonathan Rosenbaum, of Midnight Movies. He has written for Artforum, Bookforum, the London Review of Books, The Nation, the New York Review of Books, the New York Times, and the Virginia Quarterly Review, among other publications, and has taught cinema history at Cooper Union since 1990. He lives in New York.

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