U.S. History in Film

Prof. McClurken’s HIST 329 — Fall 2008

Archive for September, 2008

Thoughts on the Professor’s perspective

As always I found McClurken to be entertaining as a lecturer while he was telling the class his opinion of the movie. He makes good points, but I’d like to comment on a couple that I had issues with.

Mann ignores the fact the fact that Cora’s part-black. I’m going to argue against this directly. The actress who plays Cora is half white half Costa Rican. Costa Rico is no where near Africa, but looking at Madeline Mora Stowe closely, she does not look all Caucasian. Lighter skin is more visually pleasing than darker skin in our society, so in order to guarantee a box office hit, Mann would want to please the widest range of audience and a light skinned female lead would make more money than a dark-skinned female lead. In order to make money and to not completely ignore Cora’s miniority status, Stowe is an ideal candidate. She is part minority but she is so light she could pass as white, thus satisfying the Hollywood formula for making money.

The militia are like Monty Python skits. Granted, the portrayal of the militia wasn’t done as well as Hollywood could, but to compare to Monty Python? That’s a little far fetched. The movie didn’t mean to “take the piss” out of the colonial militia as Monty Python does for numerous of topics. For example, when Nat was talking to the militiamen and they were discussing desertion,  they were being serious in their conversation. It doesn’t seem to me that Michael Mann intended to make them funny but they didn’t have as much time as Nat and Cora had for the camera and they had to keep the audience that weren’t asleep already, awake. Whereas Monty Python aims to make people laugh, the Last of the Mohicans’ purpose is to entertain and the militia are there to make Daniel-Day-Lewis look good.

To illustrate my point on McClurken’s comparison of Monty Python to the militia in the movie, here’s a short clip:

Bonnie and Clyde Project Bibliography

So we are doing individual projects on films. I chose Bonne and Clyde and here is the bibliography I have compiled so far…

“Barrow’s Killings Date from Parole.” New York Times, May 24, 1934,  http://www.proquest.com.ezproxy.umw.edu:… (accessed September 10, 2008).

Cawelti, John G. Focus on Bonnie and Clyde. NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1973.

Crowther, Bosley. “Bonnie and Clyde” The New York Times. April 14, 1967. http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review/ (accessed September 8, 2008).

Ebert, Roger. “Bonnie and Clyde” The Chicago Sun-Times. September 25, 1967. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs… (accessed September 8, 2008).

Friedman, Lester D. ed. Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Friedman, Lester D. Bonnie and Clyde. London: British Film Institute, 2000.

Henderson, Jordan. “Officers Picture Barrow’s Slaying.” New York Times, May 24, 1934,  http://www.proquest.com.ezproxy.umw.edu:… (accessed September 10, 2008).

MacNee, Marie J., and Jane Hoehner. Outlaws, Mobsters & Crooks: From the Old West to the Internet. Detroit: UXL, 1998.

Scott, A. O. “Two Outlaws, Blasting Holes in the Screen” The New York Times. August 12, 2007. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/12/movies… (accessed September 8, 2008).

“Separate Burials for Barrow Pair: Slain Bandits Will Go to Graves a Mile Apart Despite the Wishes of Woman.” New York Times, May 25, 1934,  http://www.proquest.com.ezproxy.umw.edu:… (accessed September 10, 2008).

Special to the New York Times. “Barrow and Woman Are Slain by Police in Louisiana Trap.” New York Times, May 24, 1934,  http://www.proquest.com.ezproxy.umw.edu:… (accessed September 10, 2008).

Wake, Sandra and Nicola Hayden ed. The Bonnie and Clyde Book. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972.

Webb, Walter Prescott. The Texas Rangers. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1965.




Test Blog

And Time Passes…

Every time the sun rises and sets, time passes.  We go on with our lives and the more humans live, the more history there is for us to study and pick apart.  As the sun sets on one great empire it rises for the next.  Wars, famine, joy, love, expansion, conflicts will come and go And Time Passes.


So the first movie we watched in this class was Disney’s Pocahontas. Before last Tuesday (Sept. 2nd) I had not seen this children’s classic since I was about 8 years-old. I know I don’t have the most accurate memory, but I think it is safe to say this film provided a different perspective about Native American life than when I was a grade-school kid trying to sing-along to the lyrics of the popular soundtrack. Furthermore, it would be an understatement if I said that in class, we just bifurcated the movie into what was accurate about it and what they got wrong. We actually focused more on the inaccuracies and pretty much denounced Disney for their attempts at making a film about the English settlement in America.

One thing that gets me, though, is are we really justified in calling out Disney’s inaccuracies? What I mean is, was Disney’s original intention to tell the true story of Pocahontas, John Smith, Jamestown, etc.? Or did they just want to take two historically significant figures, develop a romance story between them in the context of a historical event, and make it animated so it’s targeted towards kids? If the former is true, then I think it is everyone’s duty as Americans to point out every minuscule flaw we see (even if it is outrageous as a talking tree). However, if the latter was the way Disney wanted to go, then we should think twice about our criticisms. After all, do kids really care about whether or not Ratcliffe was technically a captain of the ship and not a governor of London? I would think they were more concerned about Mikko being funny and cute enough and songs catchy enough to sing along to. I think it is great that we as movie-goers and history-buffs are keen and aware not to be fooled by a false story when we see one; but we should look at why a movie about specific historical event was made. Not everyone enjoys history, so movies are a great way to go about teaching it. Maybe the errors movies make were on purpose just so the film as a whole could be appreciated by a specific audience. Then it is up to the audience to delve deeper into history and find out its true story.

Pocahontas and the Modern Woman

On Thursday, we discussed “Pocahontas” and all of the aspects that Disney got wrong or right in the making of the film. While Prof McClurken very obviously is not a fan of Disney, I’ve always been firmly on its side. Growing up in the 1990s meant that Disney princesses and I grew up together — I even remember seeing “Pocahontas” in the theater with my mom. It is my roommate’s favorite Disney movie, and I bought it for her 20th birthday.

One of the biggest criticisms of Disney, and especially the princesses, is that it gives young women exactly the wrong ideas about themselves and how they should behave. I know a lot of girls my age who saw these movies and have grown up to be strong women. Are we still missing something? Is it enough of a risk that we should bar our daughters from seeing them? Of course, growing up to be a strong woman has as much to do with personality and upbringing – including our parent’s responses to these movies – regardless of the movies that we watch. How could we trace a subservient personality to watching these movies, any more than we could trace a love of flowy dresses or breaking into song?

One cannot argue that these movies can be simply for entertainment value when they are aimed at toddlers who haven’t been exposed to other entertainment, much less other people. But there is definitely a thin line between teaching mysogyny and giving little girls dreams of being princesses. It is our earliest exposure to escapism and dreaming of a better/different life, which.. let’s face it, we all have to accept that our real parents, the king and queen, aren’t coming to get us after all.

In this movie in particular, we are exposed to ideas about gender, but also race and revisionist history. Pocahontas is arguably quite white looking compared to the others in her tribe, with a more English accent, and a kickin’ Barbie body. When taking into consideration that she would have spent a lot of time outside, and that there would have been little to no racial mixing at this point, one would think she would be a lot darker. Darker like the other members of her tribe, for example. This small change serves tons of roles for Disney, but it can easily be summed up by saying that little white girls can’t identify with a Native American woman nearly as easily as they can to a white “teenager.”

On the issue of history, Disney is definitely reprehensible. It is important to remember that no matter how many consultants they bring in, the final decisions are up to them, and they can make all of the informed poor decisions that they want. The idea that the Jamestown settlers just packed up and happily left after being told that there was no gold is beyond laughable; it is an irresponsible portrayal. As we discussed, part of this portrayal is meant to assuage American guilt and to show an openness to other cultures (this was hardly the only movie of the mid-1990s to feature Native American main or supporting characters).

I can’t argue that Disney is an educational experience for little girls and boys. Unfortunately, this discussion lands in the gray area of entertainment vs. reality, and each person decides which they want more for themselves. People should be more cognizant of what their children are absorbing, but the ideas of female subservience cannot be blocked out just by a Disney boycott.

Pocahontas Music

For those that are interested, I’ve uploaded all of the musical numbers from Pocahontas.

The Virginia Company The Virginia Company

The Virginia Company (Reprise) The Virginia Company (Reprise)

Steady as the Beating Drum (Main Title) Steady as the Beating Drum (Main Title)

Steady as the Beating Drum (Reprise) Steady as the Beating Drum (Reprise)

Just Around the Riverbend Just Around the Riverbend

Listen with Your Heart I Listen with Your Heart I

Mine, Mine, Mine Mine, Mine, Mine

Listen with Your Heart II Listen with Your Heart II

Colors of the Wind Colors of the Wind

Savages (Part 1) Savages (Part 1)

Savages (Part 2) Savages (Part 2)


U.S. History in Film

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