, Salem, MA


July 5, 2013

Montserrat professor puts films back in context

Gordon Arnold wants us to see movies as if for the first time.

“What I’m trying to do is give people a way to look at films, by restoring some of the original context,” said Arnold, who teaches liberal arts at Montserrat College of Art. “We look at films and tend to forget that they are a product of that moment.”

Arnold pursues this understanding in his new book, “Projecting the End of the American Dream: Hollywood’s Visions of U.S. Decline,” which looks at around 100 films from the 1930s to today.

He reminds people, for example, that the film “Wall Street” was made at a time when stockbroker Ivan Boesky was convicted of insider trading and justified his actions in ways that are mirrored by the film’s main character.

“You can enjoy it as a movie,” Arnold said. “But it makes more sense if you look at it in terms of the 1980s.”

While exploring these connections, Arnold also discovers a theme that dominates films in the periods he covers.

“Especially after World War ll, this weird thing happens,” he said. “America was head of the world stage, but there was also an anxious undercurrent from that point forward: a fear of outside threat, but also a fear of moral decay, an inside threat.”

These tensions define “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” the science fiction film from the ’50s, which was made during Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s hearings into communist infiltration.

They also inform “Taxi Driver,” from the 1970s, which reflected the impact of the Vietnam War and a fear of urban decay.

“The ‘Dirty Harry’ films of the ’70s were all about this fear of American cities falling apart and moral ruin,” Arnold said. “That’s really the way they make sense.

“I’m interested in popular films for that reason, because if it’s popular, it means it got a lot of people’s attention, even if they didn’t agree with it.”

Arnold describes how this fear of moral decay centered on Hollywood itself, as politicians worried about the ability of films to influence a mass audience.

That led the industry to regulate its content, first through the production code, then the ratings system, both of which he examines.

“The interesting thing about film is, it reflects the culture,” Arnold said. “But especially in the 20th century, because of mass culture, it helps shape the culture.”

Text Only | Photo Reprints
  • Wednesday's Best Bets Best Bets for Wednesday, Aug. 20

    Looking for something to do this afternoon? Check out The Salem News' Best Bets.

    August 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Dear Abby: Husband who relives past should focus on present Dear Abby: I'm married to the love of my life. I can't imagine loving a man more than I love "Wayne," and I know he feels the same about me. The problem is, he's always telling stories about things he has done, including past relationships, in graphi

    August 20, 2014

  • Dear Abby: Young man with heart scar has options for covering it up Dear Abby: You printed a letter from "Self-Conscious in Georgia" (May 15), a young man who is insecure about the scar from his heart surgery. I have had three surgeries for congenital defects, my first at 2 years old. Because many women's fashions ex

    August 19, 2014

  • Dear Abby: Angry wife resents husband for hiding news of his health Dear Abby: When my husband is sick or needs to have surgery, he refuses to tell his family and doesn't want me to. This puts me in a very awkward position. I'm damned if I do tell them because he will be upset with me, and damned if I don't because h

    August 18, 2014

  • Dear Abby: Romantics should come back to earth Dear Abby: I have been single for a couple of years. I have always been levelheaded when it comes to romance, but I'm finding myself unable to control my feelings about the new man I'm seeing. "Brent" is smart, intelligent, sweet and loving. We have

    August 16, 2014

  • North Shore religion calendar Saturday, Aug. 16 Church Yard Sale, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Our Lady of Fatima Church, 50 Walsh Ave., Peabody. Church-sponsored yard sale features home furnishings, clothing, children's items, furniture and more. Portuguese food will also be available. All

    August 16, 2014

  • North Shore religion news in brief The Church of the Holy Name is seeking artists and crafters to participate in the Fall Arts and Craft Fair on Saturday, Sept. 20, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the church, located at the corner of Monument Avenue and Thomas Road in Swampscott. A limited a

    August 16, 2014

  • This weekend's Best Bets Best Bets for Saturday, Aug. 16 and Sunday, Aug. 17

    Looking for something to do this weekend? Check out The Salem News' Best Bets.

    August 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • North Shore Gardener: Toad in your garden? That’s a good thing Q: There are several large toads -- some as big as a fist -- that live around the hosta on the shady side of my garden. They seem to especially like to be near the faucet, which sometimes leaks! Are they doing any harm? My small dog got one in his mo

    August 15, 2014

  • Dr. Kate's Parent Rap: Mission statement can help with co-parenting troubles More often than not, when I speak with parents today, they describe struggles with their children that originate in parenting conflicts. Parents often disagree when making daily decisions, and yet, they are steadfast in their beliefs that they share

    August 15, 2014

NDN Video
Comments Tracker