Robert Pells


On his book Modernist America: Art, Music, Movies, and the Globalization of American Culture

Cover Interview of May 29, 2011

A close-up

Chapter One, “Modernism in Europe and America,” outlines the book’s major arguments.  It also focuses on the urban aspects of modernism, the cultural importance of cities like Vienna, Berlin, Paris, and New York.  The chapter deals as well with the devastating carnage of World War I, and the ways that modernist artists and intellectuals—from Picasso to Hemingway—felt that they had to invent new ways of seeing, talking, and hearing to express the upheavals of the modern world.

Chapter Eleven, “The New Wave at Home,” explores the renaissance in American filmmaking from the late 1960s to the beginning of the 1980s.  It is in this chapter that I trace the impact of French and Italian filmmaking on a new generation of American directors: Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Altman, Woody Allen, Sam Peckinpah, Martin Scorsese, Bob Fosse, Steven Spielberg.  These were the years when American movies—from The Godfather to Annie Hall to Nashville to The Deer Hunter—captured the imagination of audiences throughout the world, and made American films the center of world cinema.

Chapter Twelve, “A Method They Couldn’t Refuse,” analyzes the emergence and techniques of a new generation of American actors who have dominated the theater and movies for the past 60 years: Marlon Brando,  Montgomery Clift, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson.  The entire second half of the book deals with the history of Hollywood—as an immigrant industry, as a business, as global entertainment, and above all as the most important form of art in the 20th century.  In sum, any reader who loves movies will find this book a treasure of analysis, stories, and interpretations, spanning from Citizen Kane and Casablanca to Bonnie and Clyde and Titanic.