Hollywood's Cold War.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, scholars have devoted increasing attention to the culture of the Cold War in the United States, especially Cold War cinema. This author challenges common notions that Hollywood moviemakers produced anticommunist films merely to placate the House Un-American Activities Committee, rabid McCarthyites, and the patriotic public. Tony Shaw argues that, starting in 1918, agencies in the U.S. government and motion-picture concerns created a fluid, "state-film network" in the United States that became, in effect, a propaganda apparatus to disseminate an "American" picture of the Cold War to domestic and foreign audiences. Directors, screenwriters, actors, and producers voluntarily, and in many cases eagerly, cooperated with federal agencies like the FBI, CIA, State Department, Department of Defense (DOD), and White House, to make films that served their own personal convictions, studio desires, and government agency interests.
Shaw rejects the simplistic "top down" or "bottom up" approach to anticommunist Cold War culture, in which the ideology either emanated from the federal government or represented a populist push from the public, in favor of a more dynamic and symbiotic relationship in the state-film network. The network functioned more on a continuum, from U.S. Information Agency- and DOD-produced cinema for export to developing nations to John Wayne's voluntary solicitation of the White House to make The Green Berets. In many cases, a quid pro quo relationship existed between filmmakers and government agencies, as in the case of Louis de Rochement, who made films like Walk East on Beacon, which glorified the FBI. The FBI granted de Rochement exclusive access to secret Bureau information; in return, de Rochement made films that supported J. Edgar Hoover's propagandistic desires. In most cases, the government's fingerprints on the cinema remained largely invisible, or "grey" as Shaw puts it, revealing itself only under close scrutiny, as in the changes made to the films Animal Farm and 1984 from their literary counterparts.
Shaw also analyzes change over time in the state-film network, arguing that there was increasing space in the relationship for a counter-ideological cinema to emerge, a space that widened considerably with disillusionment over the Vietnam War and the detente of Gorbachev in the 1980s. Films like On the Beach, Hearts and Minds, Walker, and Red Heat (which depicted U.S. and Soviet police cooperating to catch drug traffickers) demonstrate that U.S. Cold War cinema was more fluid and open than the cinema behind the Iron Curtain.
This book makes a significant contribution to the historiography of the Cold War. Shaw makes an excellent case that the Cold War was fought culturally, as well as diplomatically, economically, and militarily. By mining recently declassified government documents, he presents a clear picture of the unique way that U.S. Cold War propaganda functioned and of the differing degrees of intrusive government involvement in cinematic productions. Some readers may find frustrating the lengthy production histories Shaw offers in the book, but this is an extremely minor issue in what is an important contribution to the field. It will prove indispensable to anyone considering further research and to those teaching courses on U.S. Cold War cinema.
College of the Redwoods
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2009|
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