The Way Histories are Written

I try to stay positive on this site (OK...not always successfully, I know), but I do have a legitimate gripe to air: Peter Lev's volume on 1950s is so frustrating. Not for lack of what I'm sure is a ton of work, time, and research. The bar admittedly is raised by the high quality and outright thoroughness of other volumes in the History of American Cinema series. But the value of this series has been that it carries a deep knowledge of industrial history of the period to challenge some of the complacent historiography that film studies still perpetuates.

Lev's The Fifties, however, minimizes industrial argumentation in order to make the canonical arguments already familiar to the field's conception of the decade. Take the films noirs he discusses: Asphalt Jungle, In a Lonely Place, The Big Heat, Kiss Me Deadly, and Touch of Evil. He mentions a couple others (not many others) in the summary of "genre and production trends" but it's clear these films' inclusion is based simply on their canonization, not their typicality as cycle examples. Moreover, he takes the typical explanations (color kills low-key noir) at face value.

It's frustrating because the 1950s are so ripe for reevaluation, in part because the field has considered them explained for so long (usually a sign that a Kuhnian revolution is imminent) and in part because video and cable re-release of 1950s films poses new questions about the narratives that has previously been told.


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