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About the book:

"It's like writing history with lightning!" marveled President Wilson upon first screening Birth of a Nation in 1915. Indeed, the celluloid image had indelibly impressed upon him--and the rest of the viewing world--a singularly unique language that expressed itself as an innovative marriage of form and content. That an equally distinctive discourse should arise surrounding the infant art form was unsurprising as students, historians, and social scientists have struggled for decades to define the dynamic relationship between cinema and society.

The essays compiled in Hollywood as Historian all seek to explore this burgeoning relationship further, weighing in on the various ways films have distorted history, revised history, provoked social change, and have been affected by the political and social climate in which they were produced. For example, the examination into D.W. Griffith's landmark film Birth of a Nation reveals not only a narrative of structural ingenuity, but a prime example of how the celluloid depiction of a fictional society--in this case a Southern culture replete with racist overtones--can effectively alter the public perception of history. Intended as a collegiate text, the book discusses the films in a way that does little to forge new territory in the arena of film and popular-culture studies. The essays compiled were largely penned in the 1970s and have doubtless made their rounds in the targeted scholastic communities. However, the revised 1998 notes serve as a potent reminder of the causal relationship between art and society. As we live in an era where filmmakers are sued over the misinterpretation of their product and the media are routinely blamed for the general degradation of social values, it is more important than ever to recognize the impact that each sphere of influence has over each other. --Katrina Brede

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