Seeing is Believing

Seeing is Believing : How Hollywood Taught Us to Stop Worrying and Love

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Seeing is Believing is a provocative, shrewd and witty look at the Hollywood fifties movies we all love - or love to hate - and the thousand subtle ways they reflect the political tensions of the decade. Peter Biskind concentrates on the films everybody saw but nobody really looked at, classics such as Giant, Rebel Without a Cause, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and shows us how movies that appear politically innocent in fact bear an ideological burden. As we see organization men and rugged individualists, housewives, and career women, cops and docs, teen angels and teenage werewolves fight it out across the screen, from suburbia to the farthest reaches of the cosmos, we understand that we have been watching one long dispute about how to be a man, a woman, an American - the conflicts of the time in more

Product details

  • Paperback | 384 pages
  • 129 x 198 x 23mm | 310g
  • Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • New edition
  • New edition
  • portraits
  • 0747556903
  • 9780747556909
  • 461,719

Review Text

The good news here is that Biskind (chief editor, American Film) sees the films of the 1950s as reflecting "an era of conflict and contradiction" - in contrast to the more monolithic view ("an era of political and cultural uniformity. . . a nightmare of repression") on display in such studies as Nora Sayre's Running Time (1982). The not-so-good news is that Biskind's film-analyses, emphasizing "the decade's warring ideologies," are often unconvincing and only occasionally illuminating - since they rely on arbitrary, jargon-y pigeonholing, lean toward exaggeration, and take such a narrowly political approach. In each of several areas (war movies, westerns, sci-fi, gangster/delinquency films, battles-of-the-sexes), Biskind finds that 1950s films are right-wing, left-wing, or "centrist"/"pluralist" - which can take both "corporate liberal" and "conservative" forms. Thus, the corporate-liberal 12 Angry Men "is more interested in consensus than in justice," while the left-wing High Noon denounces consensus. And, in some of the genres, this comparative-ideology approach - touching on attitudes toward conformity, individualism, elitism, populism, etc., with reference to 1950s sociologists - works well enough on its own terms. Frequently, however, the elaborate labeling - which also includes such buzz-phrases as "therapeutic imperialism" - becomes strained and murky: in sci-fi, for instance, "conservative films fell in line behind their corporate-liberal allies for the final fade-out. In The Thing, this means that although the blood-sucking carrot from another world was a head-over-heart veggie robot Red monster from the superego one minute, it is an extremist heart-over-mind monster from the id the next." Throughout, with a few inevitable exceptions, there's virtually no reference to esthetic, commercial, or personal elements in the filmmaking. (Like Sayre, Biskind sees On the Waterfront as "a weapon of the witch hunt" - with allusions to Elia Kazan's HUAC past.) And Biskind merely posits, never explores, the influential impact of all these films ("They told us what was right and what was wrong"), sometimes giving the impression of a purely academic exercise. Still, if pedantic and itself implicitly ideological, this selective survey offers a welcome antidote to simplistic generalizations - especially in Biskind's complex view of sex-roles (Giant, All That Heaven Allows) and in the groundwork he provides for the polarization to come in the Sixties. And, though the text tosses cliches and cutesy sarcasm in with the dialectical jargon, it's lively enough to reward browsing by film buffs as well as students of cultural politics. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Review quote

"Nothing escapes Peter Biskind and he is very funny. His book is indispensable reading for anyone interested in American cinema or recent American history."--Michael Wood, author of "America in the Movies" "A brilliant and imaginative analysis of the political and sexual crosscurrents of the fifties in the movies."--Barbara Ehrenreich, author of "Blood Rites"show more

About Peter Biskind

Peter Biskind, former executive editor of Premiere, is the author of The Godfather Companion and Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. A contributing editor at Vanity Fair, he has written for amongst others The New York Times, The Washington Post and Rolling more

Rating details

145 ratings
3.51 out of 5 stars
5 14% (21)
4 37% (53)
3 35% (51)
2 13% (19)
1 1% (1)
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