Invented Lives, Imagined Communities: The Biopic and American National Identity Invented lives(SUNY series, Horizons of Cinema)

How Hollywood biopics both showcase and modify various notions of what it means to be an American.

Biopics—films that chronicle the lives of famous and notorious figures from our national history—have long been one of Hollywood’s most popular and important genres, offering viewers various understandings of American national identity. Invented Lives, Imagined Communities provides the first full-length examination of US biopics, focusing on key releases in American cinema while treating recent developments in three fields: cinema studies, particularly the history of Hollywood; national identity studies dealing with the American experience; and scholarship devoted to modernity and postmodernity. Films discussed include Houdini, Patton, The Great White Hope, Bound for Glory, Ed Wood, Basquiat,Pollock, Sylvia, Kinsey, Fur, Milk, J. Edgar, and Lincoln, and the book pays special attention to the crucial generic plot along which biopics traverse and showcase American lives, even as they modify the various notions of the national character.

William H. Epstein is Professor of English at the University of Arizona. His previous books includeRecognizing Biography and Contesting the Subject: Essays in the Postmodern Theory and Practice of Biographical Criticism.

R. Barton Palmer is Calhoun Lemon Professor of Literature and Director of Film Studies at Clemson University. His previous books include Shot on Location: Postwar American Cinema and the Exploration of Real Place and (with William Robert Bray) Hollywood’s Tennessee: The Williams Films and Postwar America.