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Film

"TORA TORA, TORA" was the code the Japanese pilots who bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, used to signal their mission’s success. Focusing on the attack on the U.S. Read more >>
The Civil War’s dramatic events have been at the core of American classics for the past century, beginning with D. W. Read more >>

Hollywood has had a long and rocky relationship with the American Indian.

Hollywood has had a long and rocky relationship with the American Indian. It has treated him with a fickle mix of sentimentality, sympathy, savagery, and superficiality. Read more >>

Free Passes to a Movie Milestone

One of the benefits of having a grandfather who was a former mayor of Boston, John F. (“Honey Fitz”) Fitzgerald, was that he had free passes to interesting events. Just by paying the tax on a baseball ticket, I could get into a Red Sox or a Braves game. Read more >>

Martin Scorsese has drawn on his own youth and his feelings about the past—and has rebuilt 1860s New York—to make a movie about the fight for American democracy. Here he tells why it is both so hard and so necessary to get history on film.

I spoke with Martin Scorsese in early September about his forthcoming movie Gangs of New York. The setting was the Park Avenue offices of his Cappa production company, where he was still hard at work, editing and finishing his film. Read more >>

WHY JANE FONDA IS A MIRROR OF THE NATION’S PAST FORTY YEARS

A critic looks at 10 movies that show how Americans work together.

JACKIE COOGAN REACHED THE PINNACLE OF SUCCESS AND STARDOM WHEN HE WAS FIVE. THEN HE SET THE HOLLYWOOD PATTERN OF PAYING THE PRICE FOR EARLY FAME.

One of America’s greatest documentary filmmakers takes on America’s greatest city: Ric Burns discusses his new PBS series, New York

Why World War II is so difficult to get right on the screen—and the movies that do it best

Twelve classic holiday movies worth seeing when you can’t sit through It’s a Wonderful Life one more time

It looks both backward to everything Hollywood had learned about Westerns and forward to things films hadn’t dared do

It is a phrase so high-concept it ought to be the title of a movie, or at least the slogan for a marketing campaign, the ultimate coming attraction. Read more >>

Why, with cigarette smoking under attack everywhere, does everyone still light up on the movie screen?

There was a “Nightline” a while back during which Jeff Greenfield delivered a puzzled examination of smoking in the movies. Read more >>

LOCKED IN A STRANGE, TESTY COLLABORATION lit by the fires of a burning world, George M. Cohan and James Cagney produced a masterpiece of popular history in which everything is true except the facts

Yankee Doodle Dandy was made because a Los Angeles grand jury in 1940 released testimony identifying James Cagney as among a group of “communist members, sympathizers or heavy contributors.” Read more >>

The author sent dozens of historians to the movies to find out how much—and how well—films could teach us about the past

I‘d long suspected that colleagues in the profession shared my illicit interest in historical movies; their detailed contempt, like mine, betokened intimate familiarity. Read more >>

The great democratic art form got off to a very rocky start. People simply didn’t want to crowd into a dark room to look at a flickering light, and it took nearly twenty years for Americans and motion pictures to embrace each other.

On July 5, 1896, the Los Angeles Times greeted the imminent arrival of Thomas Alva Edison’s moving-picture projector with enormous enthusiasm: “The vitascope is coming to town. Read more >>

BORN IN SLAVERY AND RAISED IN ITS PAINFUL AFTERMATH TO BECOME ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL AMERICAN ICONS, SHE HAS BEEN MADE TO ENCOMPASS LOVE AND GUILT AND RIDICULE AND WORSHIP —AND STILL SHE LIVES ON

On Highway 61, just outside of Natchez, Mississippi, stands Mammy’s Cupboard, a thirty-foot-high concrete figure of a black woman. Read more >>

Desperate improvisations in the face of imminent disaster saw us through the early years of the fight. They also gave us the war’s greatest movie.

America’s favorite World War II movie has led a charmed life. While it was being filmed, each looming disaster turned out to be a cleverly disguised blessing, and after its completion everything that could go right did go right. Read more >>

In 1932 the Communist International paid to send a cast of American blacks to Moscow to make a movie about American racial injustice. The scheme backfired.

In 1932, while Scarface, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Read more >>

The maker of a fine new documentary on the Civil War tells how the medium of film can evoke the emotional reality of history

Ken Burns is no stranger to me. We first met in 1983 at a party that the historian David McCullough gave at the Yale Club to wish a happy hundredth birthday to the Brooklyn Bridge. Read more >>

No less a fan than President Wilson said “The Birth of a Nation” was “like writing history with Lightning.” Movies have taught everybody else history too.

When the 1935 Mutiny on the Bounty failed to enchant local audiences, a distributor begged MGM to make “no more pictures where they write with feathers.” Read more >>

Hard Looks at Hidden History

One of the more unlikely results of the American Revolution was Australia. Most American colonists came here voluntarily, of course, but until 1776 we meekly accepted boatloads of His Majesty’s convicts as indentured servants. Read more >>
About a year and a half ago, I wrote a column lamenting the very small number of video cassettes available to those of us who like historical documentaries. Read more >>

Robert Benchley, a woebegone chronicler of his own inadequacies, was the humorist’s humorist, a man beloved by practically everyone but himself

Early in 1939 Robert Charles Benchley—Phillips Exeter Academy, 1908; Harvard, 1912—put on a paper hat and hoisted himself up onto a set of phony telephone wires strung between mock utility poles on a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer sound stage in Hollywood. Read more >>

The men and women who labored in the ghostly light of the great screen to make the music that accompanied silent movies were as much a part of the show as Lillian Gish or Douglas Fairbanks

If I ever kill anyone,” D. W. Griffith once exclaimed, “it won’t be an actor but a musician.” He had been arguing with Joseph Carl Breil, his collaborator on the score for The Birth of a Nation. Read more >>

A little-known ancestor of the nightly news comes to light

The Colorado farmer opened the barn door for me. There, hanging from a nail on the back wall, was an empty 35-mm reel. With that excitement peculiar to collectors, I asked if there were any films left. “I reckon so. Read more >>

With the Depression pushing the studio toward bankruptcy, Warner Brothers had to resort to crime—and crime paid so well that the company was able to recruit the toughest guys that ever shot up a sound stage.

JACK WARNER RAN HIS organization the same way Al Capone ran his: ruthlessly. The problem was that, unlike Capone, he couldn’t simply wipe out the competition. Read more >>

Some of the best moments in hundreds of movies took place at Christmastime. And the author may have seen every one of them.

Christmas hasn’t been all that merry on the screen in the past couple of decades. Read more >>

It was a great life being a contract writer for a major studio during the high noon of the American movie industry—but it could also be a nightmare. A survivor recalls the pleasures and ardors of working at 20th Century-Fox forty years ago.

“COME ON OUT, DAD. SWANIE.” These homely words unlocked the gates of paradise, opened the road to fortune and easy living. They were from my West Coast agent, H. N. Read more >>

George Eastman didn’t think the posters the movie companies supplied were good enough for his theater. So he commissioned a local artist to paint better ones.

IN 1922 GEORGE EASTMAN, the great photographic industrialist, built an elaborate movie house in his hometown of Rochester, New York. Read more >>