Film is a distinctly American medium, and the history of film is bound up with the history of America. Silent Film and the Triumph of the American Myth is a broad cultural study that connects the rise of film to the rise of America as a cultural center and world power in the twentieth century. Paula Marantz Cohen argues that through the medium of silent film, America was able to sever its literary and linguistic ties to Europe, and answered the call by nineteenth-century writers like Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman for an original form of expression uniquely compatible with its strengths and limitations as a nation.
Drawing widely from disparate topics in American Studies, this groundbreaking study demonstrates that nineteenth-century literature anticipates twentieth-century filmthat, in a sense, Douglas Fairbanks was the successor to Walt Whitman. Instead of condemning the culture of celebrity and consumption that film inspired, Cohen looks at the creative and democratic facets of this culture and its roots in nineteenth-century popular entertainment. She champions the concept of the "American myth" in the wake of recent attempts to discredit it, maintaining that film helped to consolidate and promote the myth of possibility and self-making that continues to dominate the public imagination and stands behind the best impulses of our contemporary world.
Offers a reappraisal of silent film and the concept of the "American myth"
About the Author:
Paula Cohen is Professor of Humanities and Director of the Literature Program at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Her books include Alfred Hitchcock: The Legacy of Victorianism and The Daughter's Dilemma: Family Process and the Nineteenth-Century Domestic Novel.
Veteran cultural critic Cohen (Alfred Hitchcock: The Legacy of Victorianism) explores the advent of the silent film, asserting that the early 20th-century medium represented what American society at the time both embraced (e.g., authentic expression and self-determinism) and rejected (e.g., antiquated European notions and societal stasis). The author considers the "raw materials" of film the body, the landscape, and the face and these components' respective 19th-century antecedents in vaudeville, panoramic displays, and portrait photography. She also discusses their corollaries in genre (comedy, the Western, and melodrama) and their film "vocabulary" (the cut, the long shot, and the close-up). Her contention that the medium is reflexive is not new, yet her seamless integration of seemingly disparate facts is refreshing and convincing. Cohen even reserves some praise for the consumerism fed by the star system and its concomitant fandom. The reader will gain insights into the American "myth" and will regret only that the book is so slim. A thoughtful, engaging, and scholarly study of the American myth of self-creation. Jayne Plymale, Univ. of Georgia, Athens Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.