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Hollywood Goes to Washington

American Politics on Screen

Fantasy and politics are familiar dancing partners that rarely separate, even in the face of post–Election Day realities. But Hollywood has a tradition of punching holes in the fairy tales of electoral promises with films that meditate on what could have been and should have been. With Hollywood Goes to Washington,Michael Coyne investigates how the American political film unravels the labyrinthine entanglements of politics and the psyche of the American electorate in order to reveal brutal truths about the state of our democracy.

            From conspiracy dramas such as The Manchurian Candidate to satires like Wag the DogHollywood Goes to Washington argues that political films in American cinema have long reflected the issues and tensions roiling within American society. Coyne elucidates the mythology, iconography, and ideology embedded in both classic and lesser-known films—including Gabriel Over the White House, Silver City, Advise and Consent, and The Siege—and examines the cinematic portrayals of presidents in the White House, the everyman American citizen, and the nebulous enemies who threaten American democracy. The author provocatively contends that whether addressing the threat of domestic fascism in Citizen Kane or the disillusionment of Vietnam and paranoia of the post-Watergate era in Executive Action, the American political film stands as an important cultural bellwether and democratic force—one that is more vital than ever in the face of decreasing civil liberties in the present-day United States.

            Compelling and wholly original, Hollywood Goes to Washington exposes the political power of the silver screen and its ramifications for contemporary American culture.

256 pages | 50 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2008

Film Studies

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“Michael Coyne briskly surveys the rich landscape of films about the American political system. With vivid and often witty analysis, he enables us to discern hitherto murky patterns in the genre’s constant interplay between idealism and pessimism about America’s future. Readers of all political persuasions will find much to argue with here, as I did with some of his contentions, but that’s part of the challenge Coyne offers in his provocative and pugnacious study.”
—Joseph McBride, author of Searching for John Ford: A Life and Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success

Joseph McBride

"Coyne presents a compelling case for America’s political cinema: that it has been pervasive and persistently on target--and often ahead of the game--with its critical engagements . . . Coyne’s thesis about American political cinema is likely to ring as true in the future as it does retrospectively."

Scotland on Sunday

"A wide-ranging survey of the American political film. . . . Coyne does an excellent job of linking actors with their archetypal roles, such as Henry Fonda and his serene, sagacious statesmen, and identifying the less conspicuous similarities between the films he discusses."

Times Literary Supplement

"By turns chatty and analytical, Coyne’s book is one of the first to identify and quantify the genre of the political film. . . . Coyne demonstrates a ready and, when necessary, encyclopedic grasp of the films and the analytical tools to place them in a historical, social and political continuum."


"Dissections of horror, noir and sci-fi are two-a-penny, but studies of the political movie are less so. Coyne stakes out a brisk claim on this rarely plotted terrain in his packed tome, tracing the genre’s history from the early ’30s to now. Coyne’s fuel is one part scholarly research to several parts rousing rage: his feelings about Bush prompt the contention that these films are needed ’now, more than ever.’" – Total Film

Total Film

"There are few things I find more satisfying than watching a bang-on Hollywood political thriller. Michael Coyne’s respectful, perceptive analysis of the genre, Hollywood Goes to Washington: American Politics on Screen, is a vital contribution to the surprisingly small body of criticism devoted to this often-great (and sometimes-appalling) genre . . . an entertaining overview of the complex interactions between politics and cinema."– Media-Culture


"A clear and engaging overview of a large number of films, even shining a spotlight on several lesser-known or forgotten gems . . . Coyne’s prose can be highly engaging . . . an enjoyable read and would be a useful text in introducing students to many of the major (and minor) films dealing with American politics." – Scope


Table of Contents

Introduction   Once Upon a Nation: The Ideology of American Political Films
Chapter 1       American Politics, American Movies: Movie America, Movie History
Chapter 2       Hail to the Chiefs: White House and Silver Screen
Chapter 3       Modern Presidential Parables: John Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Beyond
Chapter 4       Country Boys and City Slickers
Chapter 5       The ’Brief, Shining Moment’: Political Movies in the American ’Camelot’
Chapter 6       Enemies Within: White Hoods, Red Scares, Black Lists
Chapter 7       Conspiracy Central
Conclusion      Twilight’s Last Gleaming?
Select Bibliography
Photo Acknowledgements

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