What could have been an insightful examination of the nature of a popular art and the duration of a classic is instead a...

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THE REEL CIVIL WAR

MYTHMAKING IN AMERICAN FILM

The ripe topic of how filmmakers mythologized the Civil War is manhandled into pedantic submission in this well-organized but dreary film history.

Chadwick (Film & Journalism/Rutgers Univ., Jersey City) has written widely on the Civil War (The Two American Presidents, 1998, etc.) and brings to this effort a comfortable knowledge of American history and extensive research on the many hundreds of Civil War films and their creation. Smartly, he divides the topic into sections on Civil War history, components of the Civil War film, and war-related genres. He also rightly devotes chapters to The Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind, and detailed recountings of the films’ receptions are useful. But his film analyses are often wanting, rehashing accepted assessments (for example, that GWTW succeeded because it was a women’s film; that 1930s films were escapist fare), or positing limited viewpoints, such as his take on how Hollywood presented Abraham Lincoln and the author’s statement that Birth of a Nation was “a film that would, indeed, live forever—in ignominy.” Even interesting observations (such as those on the mythologizing within the miniseries Roots) are deadened by seemingly hasty composition. Lines such as “Victorian women also used held-in sexuality,” “she [Margaret Mitchell] reinforced the shackles that already gripped African Americans so tightly,” and “It [the Civil War] was the most family-wrenching war in American history” scream for a line editor and compel readers to scan ahead for a citation from a more graceful writer. Finally, after all this discussion of films, a filmography of Civil War films would have been more than welcome.

What could have been an insightful examination of the nature of a popular art and the duration of a classic is instead a massively researched but ultimately pedestrian history paper. (42 photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-40918-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2001

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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