Originally published 07/18/2013
Alexander C. Kafka is deputy managing editor of The Chronicle Review.A debate is raging over Hollywood's alleged collusion with the Nazis. At stake: the moral culpability of Jewish studio heads during cinema's golden age.The catalyst is a forthcoming book from Harvard University Press, The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact With Hitler, by the 35-year-old historian Ben Urwand. The book is still several months from publication, but emotions are running high after an early review in the online magazine Tablet, followed by an exchange of rhetorical fire in The New York Times between Urwand and Thomas Doherty, a professor of American studies at Brandeis University who this spring published his own account of the era, Hollywood and Hitler: 1933-1939 (Columbia University Press). The clash comes during a period of heightened scholarly attention to Nazi infiltration and counterinfiltration in Depression-era Los Angeles, complicating the story of Hollywood's stance toward fascism.
Originally published 05/29/2013
The Thatcher Library in Citizen Kane (1941).The most famous depiction of an archive in Hollywood cinema is the Thatcher Library in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941), a foreboding and noirishly lit mausoleum presided over by a prissy custodian who resents the intrusion of an actual researcher. The drudge work of scholarly investigation may yield rose buds of precious information, but the task of acquisition will be dust-ridden and tedious, and the stewards of the stacks will be cranky spinsters who eye you with suspicion as they hand over white gloves and caution you to use only the pencils and papers provided for note taking.
Originally published 02/11/2013
"Lincoln does not have the phallus; he is the phallus," proclaimed the editors of Cahiers du Cinéma in 1970, in a group-written polemic on the ideological superstructure of Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), John Ford's moody paean to the salad days of the Great Emancipator. The piece is a doozy of a performance, a high-wire act exemplifying the airy delights of the high renaissance of French-accented film theory. Alternately enlightening and maddening, the essay ends on a declaration that few Americans could ever abide: that in Ford's film, Lincoln emerges finally as a figure of “monstrous dimensions.” A monster? Not Abe, never Abe -- he is our guardian angel, secular saint, and -- virtually since the birth of American cinema -- celluloid hero.
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