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ERIC Number: EJ765193
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2005-May
Pages: 26
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: N/A
ISSN: ISSN-0018-2745
The French Revolution on Film: American and French Perspectives
Harison, Casey
History Teacher, v38 n3 p299-324 May 2005
It is not hard to locate negative or condescending images of the French Revolution in aspects of popular American culture, including film. Despite a handful of instances where nuanced or ambiguous "messages" may be identified, the number of American film interpretations of the French Revolution that might be judged historically "valid" is miniscule. Over the years, directors and producers in the movie industry have shown little inclination to explore in much depth the complex historical issues posed by the Revolution or to offer a genuinely balanced "take" on the events. Instead the work of film-makers, like most popular American assessments of the events of 1789-1794, has tended to conflate the entirety of the Revolution with the Terror of 1793-1794. Scholars from Europe and North America have long been fascinated by the intellectual and research vistas opened up by the events of the French Revolution, but the approach of American movie makers to this period, with one or two exceptions, has been mostly one-dimensional. The discomfort with which Americans have viewed the French Revolution will not come as a surprise to historians. Yet in a number of ways this attitude is difficult to explain, since from an historical perspective the American and French Revolutions and the republics that emerged from them were, in the opinion of many scholars, "sister" events. The affinities, one might think, would lead to sympathetic popular portrayals of the other nation's revolution. This paper considers one manner in which popular impressions of the French Revolution have taken shape in the United States by examining interpretations found in four American films, and then comparing these depictions with other, mostly French, movies. The question of why it has proved such a challenge for American movie makers to offer a historically balanced approach to France's revolution may also offer some insight into the difficulties into which Franco-American relations periodically seem to slip.
Society for History Education. California State University, Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Blvd, Long Beach, CA 90840-1601. Tel: 562-985-2573; Fax: 562-985-5431; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: France; United States