History-in-images/images in history : American cultural memory and film representations of the Vietnam War.
This thesis charts points of convergence between the fields of historical studies and
film studies that generate a line of inquiry which questions how the development and
dissemination of film and television have significantly shaped historical
conscIOusness. Taking this line of inquiry as a starting point, this thesis identifies the
ways in which film (and television) representations have informed American cultural
memory of the Vietnam War.
The thesis describes how the reporting of the war in newspapers and on television
results in the production of a number of vivid and powerful 'nodal images'; these
images enable their viewers to locate themselves in relation to the larger event and
offer guidance regarding how other representations produced in response to the war
might be understood. The thesis goes on to explore how these images play a
significant. role in secondary film and television representations, including
Hollywood feature films, whereby the initial connotations of the image are
recirculated, reenacted and re-scripted. The thesis also indicates how other film
representation of the war - such as the film records produced by the American
military for tactical and strategic purposes and amateur film produced by American
military personnel- are side-lined by the dominance of these nodal images.
This study closes by proposing a taxonomy of the key features of these film (and
television) representations and profiles the ways in which these features determi~e
American cultural memory of the war and mediate historical experience more
generally. The conclusion arrived at is that the historical consciousness engendered
by these representations encourages the meaning of the Vietnam War to be located in
relation to individual phenomenological experience and that the priVileging of this
experience above all others marginalises the wider frames of reference - politics,
history, economics and so on - which might make that experience meaningful.