- Windows of Historical Contexts
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 30, Number 1, March, 2000
- pp. 89-88
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Windows of Historical Contexts | Gallagher Edward J. Gallagher Lehigh University firstname.lastname@example.org Windows of Historical Contexts Donald R. Stevens, ed. Based on a True Story: Latin American History at the Movies. Scholarly Resources, 1997. (243 pages; $35) Sonya Lipsett-Rivera and Sergio Rivera Ayala find in the quincentennial 1492 (USA, 1992) is, with little exception, familiarly mainstream. Columbus is the safe and traditional "Renaissance Rambo" who protects the Indians. On the other hand, though, Aguirre (Germany, 1972), in the director's own words, is not about real happenings or people at all, which propels Thomas H. Holloway to print the famous mutinous 1561 letter and propose his own representation of Aguirre as loyal soldier betrayed by "the system." In regard to the relation between fact and fiction, for instance, James Schofield Saeger blisters the depiction of the Guarani war in The Mission (USA, 1986) for displaying an outlived paternalistic perspective in which the Guarani are no more than "cultural ciphers." On the other hand, Robert M. Levine finds that Pixote (Brazil, 1980) tells the truth about abandoned children during Brazil's transition to democracy — so truly, in fact, that the film's title actor, a real slum child, was later killed just like his film character. Some films explain history, and some need history to explain them. Susan E. Ramirez finds that /, the Worst ofAll (Argentina, 1990), for instance, closely follows Octavio Paz's biography of proto-feminist Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. And Barbara A. Tenenbaum finds that the lack of a standard immigration experience and the consequent propensity to embrace the indigenous past explain why Mexicans understand important elements of Like Water for Chocolate (Mexico, 1992) — like the heroine's suicide ("How Mexican an ending!") — that mystify North Americans. Some films reveal a hidden history. Films like Tïie Other Francisco (1975) and The Last Supper (1976), for instance, are the result of concerted efforts after the 1959 revolution to revise Cuban history. The focus here is slave rebellion, which "contains the seeds of Cuban nationalism." John Mraz finds Francisco the more important film because it tells its story in both a Gone with the Wind style and a documentary one, forcing us to reflect on how history is written. Mark D. Szuchman shows that The Official Story (1985) and Miss - article continues on page 88 turies (Camila, The Other Francisco), ana six about the 20th century (Lucia, Gabriela, Like Water for Chocolate, Miss Mary, The Official Story, Pixote). Three films — /, tiie Worst ofAll, Camila, Miss Mary— are by one director, Maria Luisa Bemberg. Historian Stevens provides an introductory essay that plays off D. W. Griffith's blithe prophecy that film would render the reading of history obsolete, and he rehearses the chilly relationship between historian and film, ending up squarely (there are "possibilities and perils" to cinematic history), if melancholily (we "plodding empiricists " still have something to say), in the middle ("Neither book writing nor filmmaking provides a perfect window on the past"). It is not surprising, then, that neither Stevens nor his contributors pursue any grand polemic in the body of the work. There is no big generalization about film and history wrestling for acceptance here and no attempt to sweep together all Latin American cinematic history. What there is, refreshingly, is simply "a series of windows" — case studies of historical contexts for individual films with handy, annotated supplemental resources for further study. The windows yield a variety of perspectives on cinematic history. In regard to portraying historical figures, for instance, on the one hand the image of Columbus that Vol. 30.1 (March, 2000) | 89 Shull I Films of the Fifties Michael S. Shull Frederick Community College/The Washington Center ShullMS@aol.com Films of the Fifties Alan C. Fetrow. Feature Films, 1950-1959: A United States Filmography. McFarland, 1999. (718 pages; $72.50) Feature Films, 1950-1959, a Filmography ofAmerican Movies, is the third such enterprise by Alan G. Fetrow. His first two efforts, also published by McFarland, dealt with Hollywood's Sound Films, 1927-1939 (1992) and Feature Films, 1940-1949 (1994). With regards to Fetrow's earlier books, it is highly recommended by this reviewer that scholars engaged in serious...