VISIONS OF THE PAST

THE CHALLENGE OF FILM TO OUR IDEA OF HISTORY

A muddled series of essays investigating the limits and possibilities of film as a medium for comprehending the past. While Rosenstone is an accomplished historian (Calif. Institute of Technology; Mirror in the Shrine, 1988, etc.), he approaches film with all the zeal and incomplete understanding of a novice, particularly regarding film history. For example, the multiple perspectives, untraditional structure, and experiments with time that he identifies as hallmarks of the postmodern historical film have all been utilized in Hollywood as far back as the silent era and D.W. Griffith's Intolerance. Many of his arguments also have a warmed-over quality, as he rehearses the tired paradigmatic posturings of postmodernism (i.e., limits language of meaning impossible make). Still Rosenstone offers some worthwhile analysis of why films so often fail as history, especially when it comes to complex and/or nonvisual material. How do you show, after all, something like the rise of Portugal or the moral decline of the French aristocracy? Rosenstone offers some useful criteria for what makes a good historical film, what liberties it should and shouldn't take with the past. Then, in a game but vain bid for popular relevance, he proposes film as a fully viable alternative to history books. He wants cinema that ``create[s] a historical world complex enough so that it overflows with meaning; so that its meanings are always multiple; so that its meanings cannot be contained or easily expressed in words.'' But the decidedly obscure films he champions, such as Walker and Sans Soleil, are hardly encouraging models. The brave new multimedia world may make books seem a little dull, but despite Rosenstone's high hopes, ``Western Civilization: The Movie'' is unlikely to be playing at the local multiplex any time soon.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-674-94097-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1995

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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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