Modernist America: Art, Music, Movies, and the Globalization of American Culture

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Overview

America's global cultural impact is largely seen as one-sided, with critics claiming that it has undermined other countries' languages and traditions. But contrary to popular belief, the cultural relationship between the United States and the world has been reciprocal, says Richard Pells. The United States not only plays a large role in shaping international entertainment and tastes, it is also a consumer of foreign intellectual and artistic influences.

Pells reveals how the American artists, novelists, composers, jazz musicians, and filmmakers who were part of the Modernist movement were greatly influenced by outside ideas and techniques. People across the globe found familiarities in American entertainment, resulting in a universal culture that has dominated the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and fulfilled the aim of the Modernist movement—to make the modern world seem more intelligible.

Modernist America brilliantly explains why George Gershwin's music, Cole Porter's lyrics, Jackson Pollock's paintings, Bob Fosse's choreography, Marlon Brando's acting, and Orson Welles's storytelling were so influential, and why these and other artists and entertainers simultaneously represent both an American and a modern global culture.

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Editorial Reviews

The Wall Street Journal
“[T]here is much to enjoy here . . . a rousing jaunt through a period of remarkable upheavals in entertainment and the arts.”—The Wall Street Journal
Bookforum
Richard Pells's book leaps, lunges, gallops, and, once in a while, pirouettes its way toward something very close toa unified field theory of twentieth-century American culture.—Gene Seymour, Bookforum

— Gene Seymour

Dallas Morning News
[Pells’] book crackles with intellectual energy and showcases a formidable body of knowledge that leaps across all kinds of barriers. . . . Pells tackles big ideas in prose clear and accessible enough to make you forget you’re reading an academic text. He can talk John Wayne and Igor Stravinsky. You could say he’s a pretty modern guy.—Chris Vognar, Dallas Morning News

— Chris Vognar

Reviews in American History
Pells serves as an engagingly interesting and learned guide . . . Pells’ reading of American art, music, and movies is at its freshest and is most destabilizing of the easy generalities that we wrap around the products of American culture.—Daniel T. Rodgers, Reviews in American History

— Daniel T. Rodgers

Bookforum - Gene Seymour
"Richard Pells's book leaps, lunges, gallops, and, once in a while, pirouettes its way toward something very close toa unified field theory of twentieth-century American culture."—Gene Seymour, Bookforum
Dallas Morning News - Chris Vognar
“[Pells’] book crackles with intellectual energy and showcases a formidable body of knowledge that leaps across all kinds of barriers. . . . Pells tackles big ideas in prose clear and accessible enough to make you forget you’re reading an academic text. He can talk John Wayne and Igor Stravinsky. You could say he’s a pretty modern guy.” —Chris Vognar, Dallas Morning News
Reviews in American History - Daniel T. Rodgers
“Pells serves as an engagingly interesting and learned guide . . . Pells’ reading of American art, music, and movies is at its freshest and is most destabilizing of the easy generalities that we wrap around the products of American culture.” —Daniel T. Rodgers, Reviews in American History
Publishers Weekly
In his impressive new study, Pells (Radical Visions and American Dreams) works to dispel the common misconception that Modernism originated in America. He argues that Modernist America was a land not of invention, but of adaptation, blossoming through a mutual transatlantic relationship, mass immigration, and a healthy "disregard for cultural borders." Pells surveys the power of art in the 20th century, looking at the ways in which Picasso and Cubism, Futurism, and stream-of-consciousness literature influenced artists, such as Jackson Pollock, and subsequent movements. He examines the influx of European intellectuals during WWII, which stimulated a new era of creativity infused with non-American ideologies. Architectural celebrities Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier, indebted to the Bauhaus, transformed cities; and the skyscraper became a symbol of the modern age. When Hollywood faltered, the French New Wave and Italian Neorealism took center stage and influenced American cinema. The author's cultural appraisal of evolving musical tastes is nothing short of extraordinary; he begins in the 20th century, with "...in the history of Western modernism, the unrivaled American contribution...had always been jazz," then tracks back, folding in early Hollywood musicals (which introduced the world to Gershwin, Berlin, Porter, Bernstein, and others) and even Tin Pan Alley. Debates over high and low art, and the avant-garde vs. popular culture, rage throughout this absorbing volume.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
In this original look at modernism, Pells (history, Univ. of Texas, Austin; Not Like Us: How Europeans Have Loved, Hated, and Transformed American Culture Since World War II) packs a wealth of informative detail into individual chapters on art, film, music, and architecture—touching upon styles from jazz and art deco to abstract expressionism and film noir while placing their development into historical context. Along the way, he takes a fresh look at the negative presumption that the American cultural stamp in these areas has overshadowed that of other traditions. Pells underscores the ways in which artistic visionaries ranging from George Gershwin to Jackson Pollock drew serious inspiration from a vast wealth of other cultural sources—as eclectic as the melting pot of America's heritage—in order to explore and create new artistic horizons.Verdict An education in American modernism, this is also well-researched, thought-provoking, and uplifting analytical commentary on its cultural sources and universal influence. It will engage both scholars and lay readers and is essential reading for those interested in the myriad factors that have shaped contemporary modern culture.—Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300181739
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 6/12/2012
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 974,491
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Pells is professor of history emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin. He lives in Austin, TX.

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