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Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies

3.54  ·  Rating Details  ·  139 Ratings  ·  14 Reviews
In this widely-acclaimed volume, some of our greatest historians address the facts--and fiction--as seen in Hollywood's often epic recreations of historical events. Distinghuished historians such as Stephen Ambrose, Antonia Fraser, James McPherson, Gerda Lerner, Dee Brown, Frances FitzGerald, David Levering Lewis, and Simon Schama explore the relationship between film and ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published November 15th 1996 by Holt McDougal (first published 1995)
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Alt.Film Journal! How I Made A Low-Budget Indie Film for $32,000 by Eric BickernicksSunset Boulevard by Billy WilderThe Great Movies by Roger EbertThe Satanic Screen by Nikolas SchreckMemo from David O. Selznick by David O. Selznick
The Silver Screen
9th out of 105 books — 27 voters
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75th out of 407 books — 163 voters

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Jul 26, 2009 Jake rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: film buffs
Shelves: history, non-fiction
This is a enjoyable read. It is light enough that one can make a case for calling it a coffee table book. The chapters/articles are short and palatable. It also piqued my interest and got me trying out movies I hadn't before.

Try the following quote. Historian Richard White is talking about why The Last of the Mohicans is far from accurate.

"It is not that all the details are all wrong; it is that they never were combined in this fashion. It's like having George Washington, properly costumed, thr
Adam Watson
Jul 16, 2012 Adam Watson rated it really liked it
I'm working on creating a high school film class, and when I saw this on the shelf of a used books store, I knew I had to have it.

First of all, I love this sentence from the Introduction's opening paragraph: "All of its three score authors gleefully leapt past chasms of committments, raced to their VCRs, crafted their essays, and returned them by next-day mail." Has there ever been a passage that so quickly dates a nonfiction book?

That aside, this book (published in 1996) is a gem. It's both edu
Aug 31, 2013 Graceann rated it liked it
Shelves: history, film-history
This is a wildly variable book, which is to be expected given the vast number of contributors that took part in its creation. The concept is this: A historian watches a well-known film that tells a story based in his or her area of expertise, and then discusses the accuracy (or, more often, inaccuracy) of the production.

Some of the entries are utterly humorless and the historians clearly don't get the larger picture. Jurassic Park features dinosaurs from the Cretaceous period? That's your bigge
Sep 18, 2010 Matthew rated it really liked it
Shelves: film-studies
Although the authors can sometimes be a bit nitpicky, this is a well-informed and interesting book of splendid essays arranged in chronological order of subject.

Vastly superior to George MacDonald Fraser's grotesquely overrated The Hollywood History of the World, this book does not appear to have an agenda or feature authors who want to make their facts fit their theories. However, sometimes assumptions are made based on conventional wisdom even though we do not know for sure certain historical
Jun 08, 2015 Sue rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you're a history AND film buff, like me, this book is for you. Each chapter--and the film or films depicting people or events in history--is written by a different author, and offers up both actual historical facts and how accurately the films portray them. In particular I loved the little tidbits on how--and why!--directors chose to deviate from reality. Some of the films I've never heard of and will probably never see, but some of them are practically household fare and it's both stunning a ...more
Apr 24, 2010 John rated it it was amazing
This is a collection of 62 mini-essays by historians on movies based on historical figures or events. The books works very well as an informative guide to both history and the movies, and should appeal to fans of both areas. A few essays are a bit too subjective (for example, the review of Mississippi Burning by William H. Chafe) but many are excellent (for example, William Manchester's review of Young Winston). The only annoying thing in the book was an interview with Oliver Stone. Once you fin ...more
Sep 30, 2008 Eric rated it really liked it
Interesting group of essays by historians evaluating the historical fidelity of many popular films. A couple of the essays kind of miss the mark ("All the President's Men" in particular) and the imaginary interview with Napoleon is just plain weird, but overall the good collection. However, this most recent edition is over a dozen years old now. It is seriously screaming out for a new edition. Seriously, if they thought "Tora! Tora! Tora!" was bad, what would they think of "Pearl Harbor"?
Jan 22, 2010 Kiwi rated it liked it
Interesting collection of published essays that examines how historic films actually relate to history. These essays include facts about the time period, the economic situation (if relevant), and even includes pictures to compare the real character with the one who portrays them in the movies.
Very cool book to skim though after watching a film to see what is and isn't fact, what the film maker chose to leave out or create, and how the film was received by historians and critics.
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
May 18, 2008 Susanna - Censored by GoodReads rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, movies
This set of essays is a ton of fun, from Stephen J. Gould on Jurassic Park to a summary of The Last of the Mohicans in the form of a Soap Opera Update digest.

I especially like the suggestion that Oliver Stone is an appropriately paranoid director for a movie about the equally-paranoid Nixon.
Apr 24, 2014 Larry rated it it was amazing
Good essays about films based on history. The best chapter is John Mack Farragher's piece on Wyatt Earp and the films that have depicted the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
Jun 22, 2013 Andrew rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting series of short essays about important historical films. Informative both on film history and history itself.
May 29, 2013 Wendy rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, zombie, movie
Some interesting essays, but overall a bit on the dry side. I thought it would be more entertaining.
Oct 02, 2012 Tracey marked it as to-read
Shelves: khcpl-not-tcpl
Ginnie & SDMB CalMeacham recco
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