Screening History (Magill Book Reviews)
Vidal confesses that “the only thing I ever really liked to do was go to the movies,” and some seminal films had a lifelong impact. Thus Vidal examines “the way in which one’s perceptions of history were—and are—dominated by illustrated fictions of great power, particularly those screened in childhood.” Especially influential on Vidal were THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER and FIRE OVER ENGLAND (both 1937). The first made an appeal to altruism in teaching the prince that there are others in the world besides himself to whom he must be responsible. Vidal’s awareness of the need to resist despotism was heightened by films about the French Revolution. FIRE OVER ENGLAND and THAT HAMILTON WOMAN were two in a series of films that caused American audiences to identify with England during the years in which war with Germany was looming. Films celebrating the British Empire or Britain’s resistance to tyranny were effective propaganda against isolationists who opposed supporting Britain against the Nazis.
In SCREENING HISTORY, Vidal reveals a good deal about his family and his private life. William Randolph Hearst, an ally of his grandfather and antagonist of his father, was not really understandable until CITIZEN KANE. After seeing Huey Long and “Uncle Harry” Luce declaim at the family table, Vidal could appreciate the degree to which their public performances were calculated.
The difference between real politics and reel politics was...
(The entire section is 446 words.)
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Screening History (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Gore Vidal first presented Screening History as the William E. Massey, Sr., Lectures in the History of American Civilization at Harvard University. In it, he deals with several kinds of screening history: the historical adventure, epic, and biographical films he saw as a boy; his own experiences writing screenplays for such historical films as Ben Hur (1959), Caligula (1980), and three films about Billy the Kid; The March of Time, other newsreels, and television screening—and sometimes distorting and manipulating—history as it happens; and finally, in an era of declining literacy, his proposal to teach schoolchildren history via films about such figures as Abraham Lincoln and Confucius.
Despite the precedence of “Sex and Art,” Gore Vidal confesses that “the only thing I ever really liked to do was go to the movies.” He saw his first film in 1929, the year that sound films replaced silents, and observes that his life “has paralleled…the entire history of the talking picture.” Although as a compulsive reader Vidal often averaged a book a day, he has been known to see as many as five films in that same time. He notes that in his boyhood, before the advent of television, film retrospectives, or videocassettes, a filmgoer had to concentrate intently on a film, since chances were that he or she would never see it again; nevertheless, or perhaps because of the concentration, some seminal films had a lifelong...
(The entire section is 1980 words.)