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Seeing More: Hollywood Inventions

Poets and novelists aren't the only ones who have reinvented the history of New England for their own purposes. Movie-makers have often turned to New England a source of mythic power from which to build a compelling drama.

Below is a list of movies (in addition to the five films we chosen to screen during the semester) that use New England as an important character in their stories. You may find that some of these movies provoke ideas that will be useful in helping you determine a final project.

Descriptions in quotation marks are taken from Amazon.com

Mouse on the Mayflower
"The Indian characters are presented in no more buffoonish a manner than their European counterparts. In fact, great trouble is made to demonstrate that there are scoundrels on BOTH sides of the pond, and to show the nobility and desire for friendship in the native peoples of the area. It is no use hiding children from racism; it is far more constructive to allow them to confront it and recognize it for what it is--the discarded relic of those who lived 400 years ago."

Mayflower: the Pilgrims' Adventure (1979)
"This 1979 made-for-television feature is one of the rare attempts to dramatize a chapter of America's formation. Set in 1620, the story concerns the religious persecution of the Puritans in England and their decision to emigrate to Plymouth Colony in America. Most of the action is set aboard the Mayflower and focuses on relations between the Puritans and the ship's crew, whose Captain Jones is played by Anthony Hopkins. This is a fairly sturdy and enjoyable piece of historical drama, with the most important details about who, what, where, and why informatively answered. Richard Crenna is fine as the Reverend William Brewster, one of the Pilgrim Fathers and a veteran of relocating religious minorities to more hospitable places. David Dukes is effective as Miles Standish, giving us some insight into how this military man came to be an essential part of the Plymouth community. Jenny Agutter, Trish Van Devere, and Michael Beck are also in the cast. Veteran television director George Schaefer (The Last of Mrs. Lincoln) helmed the production."

This is America, Charlie Brown - The Mayflower Voyages (1988)
"Volume 4 of This Is America, Charlie Brown: The Mayflower Voyages takes us back to 1620. The Peanuts gang witnesses 1st hand the long and dreary ride from England to the New Land on the Mayflower. Charlie Brown gets seasick and Linus tells him to have faith. Lucy quips "A bath and a change of clothes would help too!" When they finally land on Plymouth Rock, they endure their 1st winter. Lucy feels the need to be in charge ("Miles Standish put me in charge because of my pretty face!"), much to Peppermint Patty's resentment. Later, the pilgrims make friends with Samoset and Squanto, who give them agricultural advice and help them get settled into the New Land. Ed Bogas, who composed the music for Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown, provides this volume's film score."

Plymouth Adventure (1952)
On Reserve at Lamont Library

Here they are...the Pilgrims as you always imagined them to be. Plymouth Adventure stars Spencer Tracy as the jaded (but cute and spunky) Mayflower Captain, carrying those pioneers for religious liberty through stormy seas and scurvy outbreaks. Add in a forbidden romance and a despairing suicide and you have colonial Massachusetts as it was meant to be. The film also features a wonderfully stylized portrayal of the signing of the Mayflower Compact (one of our founding documents? you decide) and a first Thanksgiving that outdoes anything Sarah Josepha Hale might have imagined. If you’ve been intrigued by
our recent readings about the mythology and reality of our Thanksgiving holiday, this movie provides us with a look at how Americans in the post-War era imagined colonial New England to be, using one of our collective memory’s most famous and beloved tales. You can read more here

Squanto: A Warrior's Tale (1994)
"A good movie, great for kids, enjoyable for adults, though not Academy material. Gives new insights into Squanto's life that are not usually known by the general populace and helps enflesh the legend. One of only a handful of Hollywood, general box-office, movies that paints Christians in a good light- worth seeing for that historical note alone. The monks and Squanto are the hero[e]s in the movie, and Christians are committed, imperfect, and redeemed."

The Scarlet Letter (1995)
"In yet another example of Demi Moore's astonishing narcissism, this appalling adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Great American Novel becomes a teary, talk-show-worthy story of a woman rediscovering the erotic, of interrupted love, of a brave-but-beleaguered heroine's personal struggle against male stupidity. Never mind that this has little to do with Hawthorne's magnificent, protofeminist book, which is a million times more relevant today than this film could ever be. Director Roland Joffé (The Killing Fields) deserves to be horsewhipped for colluding with Moore's self-fascination, while Gary Oldman should be kicked in the pants for allowing the novel's main character to come off as an inconsequential ninny. Making matters worse, Robert Duvall can be seen ridiculously dancing with a deerskin on his head. If this film were a joke, it would be a very bad joke. But it's not, and that's worse."

The Crucible (1996)
"The Salem witch hunts are given a new and nasty perspective when a vengeful teenage girl uses superstition and repression to her advantage, creating a killing machine that becomes a force unto itself. Pulsating with seductive energy, this provocative drama is as visually arresting as it is intellectually engrossing. Arthur Miller based his classic 1953 play on the actual Salem witch trials of 1692, creating what has since become a durable fixture of school drama courses. It may look like a historical drama, but Miller also meant the work as a parable for the misery created by the McCarthy anti-Communist hearings of the 1950s. This searing version of his drama delves into matters of conscience with concise accuracy and emotional honesty. Three passionate cheers for Miller, director Nicholas Hytner, and costars Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder."

Three Sovereigns for Sarah (1985)
"This dramatization of a true story deals with one of the most troubling episodes in early American history, the "witch hysteria" that convulsed the village of Salem, Massachusetts, in the 1690s. Noted actress Vanessa Redgrave plays Sarah Cloyce, who years later, is seeking to clear the names of her sisters who were executed as witches. The historical basis for this drama is the fact that early in the 1700s the colonial government offered to pay reparations to the survivors of those who had been killed, but only if their relatives could somehow prove that the deceased were not in fact witches. Redgrave's character, in telling the story of her sisters' tragedy, shows the difficulties face by the accused, who really had no way to defend themselves against accusations that were, by definition, supernatural. Using actual transcripts of some of the trials as the basis for the dialogue, the production sacrifices some dramatic flair while striving to remain historically accurate, yet seeing how the peculiar madness of the witch hunt developed over time remains fascinating. Redgrave's performance, as might be expected, stands out, and she does a fine job of portraying how literally earthly concerns--paltry disputes over land ownership--eventually snowballed into a frenzy that saw 20 people executed and scores of others jailed on suspicion of witchcraft."

Moby Dick (1956)
"There are so many things right about this 1956 production of Moby Dick, it's a shame it is remembered for the one (debatable) thing wrong with it. As Captain Ahab, the bearded, one-legged, insanely obsessed whaler, Gregory Peck has often been called miscast. The mild, level-headed Peck had many talents, but the volcanic eruptions of Ahab seemed beyond him--even Peck himself felt he was a bad fit for the part after he finished playing it. (Pauline Kael opined that Peck looked like "a stock-company Lincoln.") Yet Peck's quiet brooding works an intriguing variation on the fiery character. John Huston, a director with a taste for location shooting, had his hands full with the difficult open-water filming in Ireland and the Canary Islands ("The catalogue of misadventures was unbelievable," he later wrote). Since Ahab is chasing the rare white whale, three false whales had to be constructed, two of which were lost at sea. For all the miscues, the film is amazingly controlled, and especially beautiful to look at: Huston and cinematographer Oswald Morris developed an unusual color process meant to suggest old whaling engravings. The director wrote the script with the science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, an inspired choice to adapt Herman Melville's epic novel. Richard Basehart plays the narrator, Ishmael, and Orson Welles provides a wonderful single-scene role as Father Mapple, declaiming the mysteries of the sailor's life in a thundering sermon."

The Cider House Rules (1999)
"Central to the story (set during World War II) is Homer (Tobey Maguire), a young man raised in a Maine orphanage, where the ether-sniffing Dr. Larch (Michael Caine) rules with benevolent grace while performing safe but illegal abortions. To expand his horizons, Homer follows a young couple (Charlize Theron, Paul Rudd) to do fieldwork on an apple farm, where his innocent eyes are opened to the good and evil of the world--and to the realization that not all rules are steadfast in all situations. By the time Homer returns to the orphanage, The Cider House Rules--which features one of Caine's finest performances--is memorable more for its many charming and insightful moments than for any lasting dramatic impact. Is Homer fated to come full circle in his kindhearted journey? It's left to the viewer to decide."


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