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American Cinema of the 1990s

Themes and Variations

Edited by Christine Holmlund

Publication Year: 2008

With the U.S. economy booming under President Bill Clinton and the cold war finally over, many Americans experienced peace and prosperity in the nineties. Digital technologies gained popularity, with nearly one billion people online by the end of the decade. The film industry wondered what the effect on cinema would be.The essays in American Cinema of the 1990s examine the big-budget blockbusters and critically acclaimed independent films that defined the decade. The 1990s' most popular genre, action, channeled anxieties about global threats such as AIDS and foreign terrorist attacks into escapist entertainment movies. Horror films and thrillers were on the rise, but family-friendly pictures and feel-good romances netted big audiences too. Meanwhile, independent films captured hearts, engaged minds, and invaded Hollywood: by decade's end every studio boasted its own "art film" affiliate.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ii-iv


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pp. v

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pp. vii-viii

From start to finish this anthology has been a collective endeavor, even though I have held primary responsibility as editor. Together the essayists and I have discussed how best to showcase key films among the many from the 1990s we find intriguing. We have tried to make our individual essays dovetail with each other, in order to provide a more complex picture of the...

Timeline: The 1990s

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pp. ix-xiii

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Introduction: Movies and the 1990s

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pp. 1-23

The World Wide Web. The Internet. Cell phones. Palm pilots. Chat rooms. Spam. Computer viruses. Netscape. E-Bay. Amazon.com. Google. Yahoo. E-mail. Blogs. Webcasts. CD-Rs. Digital cameras. DVDs. Netflix. Zip drives. Cyber space. iFilm. “See you online.” “The server’s down.” A flood of words and concepts linked to digital technologies changed our...

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1990 Movies and the Off-White Gangster

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pp. 24-44

In Goodfellas, one of the year’s most critically acclaimed films, the main character says of a fellow mobster, “Jimmy was the kind of guy that rooted for bad guys in the movies.” In the first year of the new decade, Americans sometimes found it difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys. With the Berlin Wall and the Soviet bloc newly dismantled, Cold War...

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1991 Movies and Wayward Images

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pp. 45-69

The Gulf War came to us as a seamless flow of eerily simulacral images, remarkably consistent grainy black-and-white computer pictures from the point of view of unmanned missiles, producing an entirely abstract landscape cut to the measure of the TV screen that we watched every day. Images provided by a disembodied agency as abstract as a video...

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1992 Movies and the Politics of Authorship

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pp. 70-90

This was the year President George H. W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton in the presidential election. At stake in this election, which marked a cataclysmic shift to the liberal/left after more than a decade of Republican leadership, was the question of who would embody the values and political responsibilities of the American people. The election makes visible a...

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1993 Movies and the New Economics of Blockbusters and Indies

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pp. 91-114

In the year the Clinton presidency began, New York’s World Trade Center was attacked by Islamic fundamentalists exploding a truck bomb in the parking garage, and Michael Jackson was accused of pedophilic assault, making famous the “wacko Jacko” personality to which the tabloids had alluded for years. But these were surface phenomena compared to the...

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1994 Movies and Partisan Politics

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pp. 115-136

Two political cartoons by Mike Peters help to illustrate the year’s zeitgeist: in the first, a man in a voting booth stands poised before a ballot offering a choice between “Thief,” “Liar,” “Crook,” “Adulterer,” and “Psycho,” and in the second, labeled “Foreign Gump,” a Bill Clinton/ Forrest Gump composite sitting on a park bench proclaims to an onlooker,...

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1995 Movies,Teens,Tots, and Tech

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pp. 137-156

The middle year of the decade was marked by a visible concern for youth within the nation’s media. The most disturbing evidence of this came in the aftermath of the bombing of Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on 19 April. Many news sources initially assumed the attack had been perpetrated by foreigners, but within days authorities...

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1996 Movies and Homeland Insecurity

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pp. 157-179

At first glance, this seems like a rather stable year for the United States. President Bill Clinton was reelected, the first Democrat to achieve this feat since Franklin Roosevelt. Although partisanship was intense, his relationship to moderate Republicans was not unduly strained, despite Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr’s continuing investigation i...

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1997 Movies and the Usable Past

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pp. 180-202

The animus of this year is a peculiar mélange of death, commerce, and corpses. Princess Diana was killed in a car crash after being hounded by paparazzi through the streets of Paris. Five days later, Diana’s friend, Mother Teresa, passed into immortality and quickly began her journey toward full-fledged sainthood. The Heaven’s Gate cult took a less...

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1998 Movies, Dying Fathers, and a Few Survivors

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pp. 203-224

Even the alignment of the stars predicted this would be a bad year for father figures. Early in the year, astrologers foresaw trouble for the powerful in the positions of Uranus and Pluto. In June, Chiron and shocking Uranus clashed, carrying the energy of Scorpio, the sign for secrets and sexuality. The conflict between Uranus and Chiron was massively...

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1999 Movies and Millennial Masculinity

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pp. 225-248

On 20 April, the 110th birthday of Adolf Hitler, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold executed a plan they had hatched more than a year earlier. Storming Columbine High School near Littleton, Colorado, the two teens killed thirteen people and wounded more than thirty before committing suicide. Having named themselves the Trench Coat Mafia, the...

Select Academy Awards, 1990–1999

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pp. 249-253

Works Cited and Consulted

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pp. 255-269


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pp. 271-272


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pp. 273-288

E-ISBN-13: 9780813545783
E-ISBN-10: 0813545781
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813543659
Print-ISBN-10: 0813543657

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 33 photographs
Publication Year: 2008