cover image Screening History

Screening History

Gore Vidal. Harvard University Press, $14.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-674-79586-0

Vidal's loose theme in this short, witty volume is that American movies manipulate us: on a personal level by inventing fictions that replace our own experience, on a political one by shaping our national self-image. Part memoir, part film commentary, his digressive narrative (based on a lecture series) reveals that his major formative influences included Boris Karloff in The Mummy , Errol Flynn in The Prince and the Pauper and Henry Fonda in Young Mr. Lin coln. He derides U.S. presidential elections as ``fast-moving fictions . . . empty of content.'' For George Bush, he laments, ``it is always 1939, the year of The Wizard of Oz . . . .'' Illustrated with film clips and family photographs, Vidal's reminiscences include candid vignettes of his entrepreneurial father, who was Franklin Roosevelt's director of air commerce, and his hard-drinking mother, a thrice-married flapper. His scattershot broadside ranges from a vitriolic profile of FDR to an analysis of TV coverage of the Persian Gulf war. (Sept.)