Jonathan Kirshner on Hollywood

A bit of a departure from our usual fare – Cornell IPE scholar Jonathan Kirshner has a new book out on Hollywood movies of the 1970s, Hollywood’s Last Golden Age: Politics, Society, and the Seventies Film in America. His main interest is in exploring the relationship between movies such as Point Blank and Chinatown and social and political change at a moment when Hollywood movies were more prepared to explore complex issues than they are today. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the best parts of the book are those that look at the intersection between movies and politics – it is particularly good on the ways in which movies intersected with Nixon’s final years -in Kirshner’s words, “Richard Nixon haunts the seventies film.” Nixon’s decision to invade Cambodia was reportedly fortified by several viewings of the movie Patton, but more important, and explored in different ways in multiple chapters, is the contribution he made to a general feeling of paranoia in Hollywood movies. Kirshner argues that Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II can be seen as aversion of Nixon – “ruthless, tactically brilliant, but increasingly isolated within an ever smaller circle of intimate advisers.” Obviously, All the President’s Men is Nixonian, but so too The Conversation, which Kirshner sees as in a certain sense “not about Nixon at all, but what the age of Nixon had taken away.” The other themes of the book – sexual politics, changing personal relations and so on are well handled, but it’s the specific political linkages which make the book stand out, integrating detailed discussion of political change with the ways in which these changes were reflected and refracted in the movies. The book is a good companion to e.g. Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland. Recommended.

3 Responses to Jonathan Kirshner on Hollywood

  1. Andrew Gelman May 3, 2013 at 5:40 pm #


    I’m confused. “Point Blank” is from the 60s, not the 70s, right?

  2. Adam Hughes May 3, 2013 at 6:01 pm #

    Thanks for the recommendation. I’m hoping there’s some discussion of Alan J. Pakula’s other films, especially The Parallax View. I think this sequence: is one of the best examples of American political montage ever committed to celluloid. Klute is also a paranoid classic.

    I’m also curious whether Kirschner makes any arguments about the political effects of films – in terms of partisanship, voting behavior, or attitudes. Those would be a lot more interesting to me than instances where narrative films emulate or parallel political events. The really important question might be what films do that journalism does not… I guess I’ll pick up a copy of the book to find out his answer.

  3. Chris Mealy May 3, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

    That’s funny, a few years ago I swore off 1970s movies because they’re all too grim. Even the comedies are depressing. Vietnam and Nixon really were soaked into everything.

    Yes, Jaws and Star Wars were from the 1970s, but they’re really early 1980s movies.