Memory and Popular Film

Memory and Popular Film

Memory and Popular Film

Memory and Popular Film


One of the first books to put memory at the centre of analysis when exploring the relationship between film culture and the past. Provides a sustained, interdisciplinary perspective on memory and film from early cinema to the present, drawing from film studies, American studies and cultural studies. Adopts a resolutely cultural perspective and unlike psychoanalytic or formalist approaches to memory, explores questions of culture, power and identity. Contributes to the growing debate about the status and function of the past in cultural life and discourse, discussing issues of memory in film, and of film as memory. Considers such well known films as Forrest Gump, Pleasantville, and Jackie Brown.


Sharon Monteith

Memory believes before knowing remembers.

(William Faulkner)

Forgetting is just another kind of remembering.

(Robert Penn Warren)

Film history cannibalises images, expropriates themes and techniques, and decants them into the contents of our collective memory. Movie memories are influenced by the (inter)textuality of media styles — Fredric Jameson has gone so far as to argue that such styles displace `real' history. the Civil Rights Movement made real history but the Movement struggle was also a media event, played out as a teledrama in homes across the world in the 1950s and 1960s, and it is being replayed as a cinematic event. the interrelationship of popular memory and cinematic representations finds a telling case study in the civil rights era in the American South. This chapter assesses what films made after the civil rights era of the 1950s and 1960s express about the failure of the Movement to sustain and be sustained in its challenges to inequality and racist injustice. It argues that popular cultural currency relies on invoking images present in the sedimented layers of civil rights preoccupations but that in the 1980s and 1990s movies also tap into `structures of feeling'. Historical verisimilitude is bent to include what Tom Hayden called in 1962 `a reassertion of the personal' as part of the political, but it is also bent to re-present the Movement as a communal struggle in which ordinary southern white people are much more significant actors in the personal and even the public space of civil rights politics than was actually the case. Historical facts as we retrieve and interpret them are only one facet of the movie-made Movement.

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