From Publishers Weekly
In mapping out his bold vision of how Hollywood movies of the 1930s, particularly comedies and musicals, were not mindless escapes from the Depression, but promoted egalitarian visions of democracy, May presents a startling, revisionist history of Hollywood's impact on politics and American culture. A professor of American studies at the University of Minnesota, he explores such questions as whether FDR or Will Rogers was a more influential proponent of the New Deal; how Stepin Fetchit, whose very name has become synonymous with Hollywood racism, helped the status of blacks in the motion picture industry; and how Bob Hope and Bing Crosby's road movies helped move U.S. culture from the progressive ideals of the 1930s to the consumer culture of the 1950s. Prodigiously researched, his study is filled with revealing details--how Rita Hayworth was made literally whiter as she progressed from being a character actor to a star; how Warner Oland's portrayal of Charlie Chan resisted preexisting stereotypes of Asians in Hollywood films; how silent films promoted an idea of an all-white America; and how the introduction of sound allowed the immigrant experience to be more fully represented. May's perceptive readings of a wide range of materials--film scripts, union documents, newspaper reports, movie palace floor plans and war reportage--make for a convincing and important addition to American cultural criticism. (June)
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From Library Journal
With its steady flow of gaudy musicals, idealized views of small-town American life, and "Capra-corn" fare like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Depression-era films are often regarded as escapist. Instead, May (American studies, Univ. of Minnesota; Screening Out the Past) argues that they formed part of a cultural dialog that reinvigorated the democratic spirit, creating an alternative vision of America. World War II and the Cold War ended the utopian romance of Hollywood and "validated a new corporate order and a homogenous consumer ethos." May contends that Hollywood iconoclasts (Marilyn Monroe, Billy Wilder) led the way for the 1960s counterculture and a conservative reaction led by old Hollywood pro Ronald Reagan. That's a lot for any book to take on, and along with thoughts on changing theater design, racial stereotypes in films, SAG (Screen Actors Guild) activities, and blacklisting, May has a lot to handle. Provocative theories compete with generalizations and simplifications, notably expressed in May's attempt to link the frothy Hope and Crosby "road" movies to a "taming of mass culture." This academic supplement to earlier studies like Neal Gabler's An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood (LJ 11/1/88) is an appropriate purchase for university film collections.DStephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., PA
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