Patrick Adamson (University of St Andrews), "Transnationalism and the Transcontinental Railroad: Exporting the Silent Epic Western”

Réalisation : 15 novembre 2018 Mise en ligne : 15 novembre 2018
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The Covered Wagon (1923) haslong been regarded as a landmark in the development of both the western genre andthe historical film. Paramount’s epic, along with the cycle of large-formwesterns which followed it, garnered unprecedented acclaim from filmmakers,film critics, and social commentators alike for being first ‘authentic’visualization of the Frontier heritage by which many contemporary thinkers definedAmerican identity.

Existingscholarship attributes this resonance almost entirely to Hollywood studios’successful ‘exploitation’ of contemporary nationalistic sentiment. However, asthis paper contends, the motion picture’s historical West was not wholly built forany one nation: studios also openly cultivated this cycle as a testament tocinema’s universalizing, if culturally imperialistic, potential as the ‘Esperantoof the eye’.

Examined here are the adaptive strategies whichsupported these universalizing pretensions, how export versions of The Covered Wagon and successfulfollowers – specifically John Ford’s TheIron Horse (1924) – were ‘put across’ abroad as at once ‘American’ and alsopolyglot and transnational: context specific re-editing; elaborate‘exploitation’ campaigns contiguous with those of the emergent documentary; andstaged ‘educational’ prologues. Enriched by reworking and reframing withinglobalized historical trajectories these national epics came to be regardedalso as global films, enjoying newlives and afterlives transcendent of sovereign and generic boundaries.


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