LOOKING AWAY: Hollywood at War from Hitler to Hanoi by Julian Smith

LOOKING AWAY: Hollywood at War from Hitler to Hanoi

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The interpenetration between film and society is an exciting and important area of investigation, and both the war film in general, and Hollywood's response to Vietnam in particular, are excellent subjects for study. But Julian Smith's montage of cultural signs, portents and artifacts does not rise above the artificial new undergraduate game of ""exposing the zeitgeist."" Looking Away is a methodological miasma, a regression from even the approach of Siegfried Kracauer. At least Kracauer -- for all his ponderous excesses -- had a method, drawn largely from psychoanalysis and social psychology. Julian Smith's style is ""personal"" (the Author as Average American, matching his own evolution with the nation's) and he has a penchant for ferreting out ""cheap ironies"" (his phrase). He spends pages establishing allegedly significant parallels between JFK and Audio Murphy, ""the foremost Americans to die for Vietnam,"" and then offers some unproven (and unprovable) assertions about the power of films to form attitudes, shape values, and alter behavior (according to him, by ""calling Vietnam the 'barrier between Communism and the Free World'"" director Samuel Fuller was, in China Gate, ""unconsciously signing a death warrant for that unhappy land""). The two decades (and the war films) before 1960 are represented as little more than rehearsals for the Vietnam war, which is treated as some sort of inevitable culmination of all previous American history. Looking Away is as nostalgic and a-historical as the recent cycle of nostalgic films it derides -- not really a successful work on popular culture.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1975
Publisher: Scribners