Conspiratorial Visions in American Film
Sales Date: January 10, 2002
334 Pages, 6.13 x 9.25 in
- Published: January 2002
- Published: January 2002
A lit cigarette glows in the dark. A faceless voice describes sinister forces that are hard at work behind the scenes-a hidden conspiracy that controls our lives and perhaps even our thoughts. Then, like a ghost in the night, the voice is gone, leaving a residue of unease and a whisper of paranoia.
As emblematic as “Deep Throat” in All the President’s Men or the “Cigarette Smoking Man” in the wildly popular X-Files, that ghostly presence stands in for numerous other “voices” in a wide range of American films from the classic era of film noir through Oliver Stone’s JFK and Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential. In this sweeping and idiosyncratic synthesis of film and politics, Ray Pratt shows us how such movies are deeply rooted in postwar American culture and continue to exert an enormous influence on the national imagination.
For decades American cinema has mirrored and promoted the postmodern anxieties and paranoid perceptions embedded in our society. Tapping into the moviegoing audience’s own projected fears, many Hollywood films seem to confirm our belief that there are indeed secret sinister forces at work and that our lives are at risk because of them.
Pratt revisits blockbusters and cult favorites alike and shows how their images of conspiracy have been fostered by the public’s increasing distrust of large organizations, producing in turn a cinematic “narrative of resistance” that challenges the status quo. He offers Seven Days in May and Dr. Strangelove as signposts of Cold War hysteria; Chinatown, The Conversation, and Missing as clear reflections of our distrust of political and corporate elites in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate; and Blue Velvet and The Stepfather as dark countermyths to the “family values” touted by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. He also considers gender paranoia in films like Klute, Fatal Attraction, and Silence of the Lambs and reminds us that sometimes, as in Serpico, our guardian police forces need a bit of guarding themselves.
Deftly interweaving cultural, political, and film theory with fresh insights into film noir detectives, nuclear angst, sexual predators, and government conspiracies, Projecting Paranoia is essential reading for anyone interested in the American psyche or great moviemaking.
Click here to read an online review at http://www.cercles.com.
"An unquestionably fresh addition to film and political theory. . . Deserves praise for its imaginative appraisal of Americans’ current fascination with and fears about the power of political authority. Moreover, by so comprehensively examining his topic from multiple angles, Pratt is able to successfully extricate meaning from a phenomenon as complex and contradictory as the American political psyche. The cultural-studies approach frequently gets a bad rap, but here Pratt has demonstrated its potential for illuminating the interdependency of art and life—or, in this case, are and lies."—Cineaste
"A useful overview of the general themes of conspiracy and paranoia in many American films of the 1940s, 1960s, and beyond. . . ."—Journal of American History
"Pratt provides an overview and illustration of how the American public’s view of government and society has become darker and more suspicious in the postwar era. . . . well written and well argued."—Library Journal
"An imaginative and original book that shows the terrible price we pay in lost possibilities when we allow a culture of fear to shape the political practice and the social imagination."—George Lipsitz, author of American Studies in a Moment of Danger
"Conspiracy and paranoia are dominant motifs of Hollywood films that explore the dark side of American life. Pratt engages these films, disclosing that they provide important insights into the modes of power that have haunted postwar America."—Douglas Kellner, author of Media Culture and Television and the Crisis of Democracy
"In this intriguing and wide-ranging study, Pratt offers a provocative analysis of the way movies have insightfully addressed our fears about powerful agents gaining control over our lives."—Robert Brent Toplin, editor of Oliver Stone’s USA
List of Illustrations
1. “Our Greatest Export is Paranoia”: Visionary Paranoia
2. Film Politics
3. The Dark Vision of Film Noir
4. The Culture of Resistance in Films of the 1960s
5. “You May Think You Know What’s Going On Here”: From Neo-Noir Cynicism to Conspiratorial Paranoia
6. Family Values? The View from Ronald Reagan’s Closet
7. “She Was Bad News”: Male Paranoia and Femmes Fatales
8. Women and Sexual Paranoia
9. Bad Cops and Noir Politics
10. From Assassination to Surveillance Society
Afterword: New Political Possibilities in Film Culture