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Toplin focuses on movies released over the past sixteen years-during which twelve historical films won the Oscar for Best Picture-and argues that critics often fail to recognize the unique ways that fictional films communicate important ideas about the past. His work establishes commonsense ground rules for improving critical analysis in this area. Citing films like Gladiator and Braveheart, Gandhi and Nixon, he underscores the pressures placed on filmmakers to simplify and alter historical fact to conform to the demands of an extra-ordinarily expensive mass medium.
Toplin demonstrates how a historical epic like Glory may contain "creative adjustments" that worry historians but shows how its distortions communicate broader and deeper truths about the Civil War experiences of African Americans—just as Saving Private Ryan presented little factual detail about World War II and yet effectively conveyed the experience of combat. He also shows how other films—such as Mississippi Burning, Amistad, and The Hurricane—contain so many elements of fictional excess and oversimplification that they deserve the criticism they receive.
Toplin draws upon his own experiences in film production and takes direct aim at recent writing about film dominated by jargonistic theory and empty rhetoric. He urges film studies scholars to move beyond their preoccupation with formal aesthetics and recognize that, in historical films, content does matter.
In engaging prose that will appeal to any moviegoer, Reel History helps build bridges between defenders and detractors of history-by-Hollywood and enlarges our understanding of film as a communicator of truths about the human condition.
This book is part of the CultureAmerica series.
Author Biography: Robert Brent Toplin is professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and film review editor for the Journal of American History. Among his ten books are Oliver Stone's USA: Film, History, and Controversy, History by Hollywood: The Use and Abuse of the American Past, and Ken Burns's The Civil War: Historians Respond.
|List of Illustrations|
|1||Cinematic History as Genre||8|
|2||Judging Cinematic History||58|
|3||Awarding the Harry and the Brooks||90|
|4||Screening History: A Test Case||139|
|5||The Study of Cinematic History||160|