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Reflections on the Screen

by Nick Clooney

Pub Date: Nov. 5th, 2002
ISBN: 0-7434-1043-2
Publisher: Atria

Former film commentator for TV’s American Movie Classics, who has clearly seen films by the thousands, discusses 20 that profoundly changed either their audiences or the film industry.

This is neither gossipy nor insider-ish about the making of films, nor is it a list of best films, such as Citizen Kane (which Clooney sees as a “stunning film . . . that did not change anything”) or Gone With the Wind (a brilliant achievement but “essentially a revisiting of ground already plowed by The Birth of a Nation a generation earlier”). It focuses instead on social mores and turning points in filmmaking. None are independent films, excellent though the independents may be. Saving Private Ryan, for example, often shown in high schools to students aghast at Spielberg’s D-day on Omaha Beach, awoke blinkered students in France to the fact that—while the French underground did its job—France did not overthrow the Nazis, nor did Europe; rather, they were saved by a non-European army from America, whose soldiers died for freedom in lands not their own. George Lucas’s Star Wars changed the content of filmmaking, heralded the narrowcasting of films, and, for better or worse, brought special effects to the fore. Taxi Driver led to the Brady Bill by way of John Hinckley Jr.’s love of Jodie Foster, admiration for pimp-murdering Travis Bickle, and attempted assassination of President Reagan. Mike Nichols’s The Graduate helped kill off romantic movies, making them “leaner, a bit meaner, and nearly devoid of sentiment,” while the vulgarity of Nichols and Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? blew the Production Code’s decency to bits. Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove led to deep skepticism about the military establishment. On the Waterfront led to films about labor unions, The Snake Pit to films about mental health. As for the great race film that changed us? Hasn’t happened, Clooney says.

Serious and eye-opening.