Shadows on the Past: Studies in the Historical Fiction Film

Shadows on the Past: Studies in the Historical Fiction Film

Shadows on the Past: Studies in the Historical Fiction Film

Shadows on the Past: Studies in the Historical Fiction Film


Studying popular Hollywood films from Gone With the Wind to Reds and such distinguished European films as La Marseillaise and The Rise to Power of Louis XIV, Leger Grindon examines how historical fiction films interpret the present through a representation of the past. The historical fiction film is characterized by a set of motives and, Grindon argues, deserves to be considered a genre unto itself. Appropriation of historical events can insinuate a film's authority of its subject, veil an intention, provide an escape into nostalgia, or direct a search for knowledge and origins. Utilizing the past as a way of responding to social conflicts in the present, Grindon shows how the genre promotes a political agenda, superseding the influence of scholarship on the public's perception and interpretation of history. Author note: Leger Grindon is Assistant Professor of Film and Television Studies at Middlebury College.


All knowledge is rooted in a life, a society, and a language that have a history; and it is in that very history that knowledge finds the element enabling it to communicate with other forms of life, other types of society, other significations: that is why historicism always implies a certain philosophy.

--Michel Foucault, 1966

In the living world there are no individuals entirely sealed off by themselves; all individual enterprise is rooted in a more complex reality. . . . the question is not to deny the individual on the grounds that he is the prey of contingency, but somehow to transcend him, to distinguish him from the forres separate from him, to react against a history arbitrarily reduced to the role of quintessential heroes.

--Fernand Braudel, 1950

The Rise to Power of Louis xiv ends in contemplation. the king, triumphant at Versailles, retreats from his courtiers to a private room to meditate upon the maxims of La Rochefoucauld. After deliberately taking off his gloves, hat, sword, wig, necklace, sash, and outer jacket, Louis puts on a simple coat and reads aloud:

There is a loftiness that does not depend on fortune. It is a certain air of superiority that seems to destine one for great things. It is a prize that we award ourselves imperceptibly. This quality enables us to usurp other men's deference and places us further above them than birth, rank, and merit itself.

After repeating the final phrase, the king continues, "Neither the sun nor death can be faced steadily." Again he repeats the maxim . . .

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