Synopses & Reviews
How do perceptions of the past--not just of particular events, but of the trajectory of history as a whole--shape our experience of the world? To answer this (and other) questions, Jim Cullen looks closely at the work of what might be considered an unlikely source of historical insight--the work of six major Hollywood stars. Indeed, Cullen offers a fascinating portrait of pivotal movements that have shaped our history as reflected in the work of Clint Eastwood, Daniel Day-Lewis, Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, and Jodie Foster. By focusing on the career choices made by these powerful actors, all of whom have the rare ability to put their personal stamp on their work, Cullen reveals a discrete set of historical narratives, including a surprising strain of Jeffersonian communitarianism that runs through Eastwood's work, a sense of how the frontier shaped American character as reflected in the roles chosen by Day-Lewis, the Lincoln-styled belief in institutions and the power of ordinary people that runs through the films of Tom Hanks (like Jimmy Stewart before him), and the history of liberal feminism of the last century captured in the movies of Meryl Streep. That these historical patterns emerge in the work of these six artists--almost certainly unintentionally--sheds much light on the way that, for all of us, historical forces can shape our understanding of the world without our being aware of them.
"It's unlikely that many of us have thought to connect Dirty Harry to Thomas Jefferson or Bill the Butcher to Frederick Jackson Turner, but somehow Jim Cullen makes such improbable pairings work in this heartfelt, enlightening book. Writing as both a fervent fan and a serious scholar, he deftly reveals how some of our greatest contemporary movie stars have played an important role as public historians."--Steven Biel, author of American Gothic: A Life of America's Most Famous Painting
"A Hollywood star's oeuvre is also a map of the world and a theory of history. Jim Cullen, a clear-sighted cultural cartographer, uses that central insight to change the way we think about the movies that form the backdrop of our national life."--James T. Sparrow, author of Warfare State: World War II Americans and the Age of Big Government
"Sensing the Past will change the way readers think about movie stars and American history. Through a series of penetrating profiles, Jim Cullen examines how actors have embodied the central themes of our past and weds them to the present. Every page glistens with insights about actors we admire and movies we think we know."---Louis P. Masur, author of The Civil War: A Concise History
About the Author
teaches history at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in New York City. He is the author of The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea that Shaped a Nation
, Born in the U.S.A.: Bruce Springsteen and the American Tradition
, and other books. Cullen is also a book review editor at the History News Network. He lives in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.
Table of Contents
Chapter One Tending to the Flock: Clint Eastwood, Ambivalent Wanderer
Chapter Two Daniel Day-Lewis and the Frontier in American History
Chapter Three Equal Work: The Mystique of Meryl Streep
Chapter Four Denzel Washington, Affirmative Actor
Chapter Five Team Player: Tom Hanks, Company Man
Chapter Six The Brave One: Jodie Foster, American Loner