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Alternative Worlds in Hollywood Cinema
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ISBN 9781841502021
Paperback 232 pages
Published July 2008
Imprint: Intellect
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Chapter Titles     |      Reviews     |      Comments

Alternative worlds in films such as The Wizard of Oz, It’s a Wonderful Life, Donnie Darko and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind offer similarities and resonances to our world, but provide a way for filmmakers to address the human condition by forming a sincere and serious connection with everyday life.

This illuminating new book explores the history, background and meaning of films that feature alternative worlds – films in which characters cross back and forth between another world and our own, which bring out correspondences and resonances between the worlds they depict. The popularity of such films suggests a need to engage with important themes during troubling times, as well as to be entertained and transported, says author James Walters – rather than merely constituting part of the wider trend of adults finding comfort in books and films ostensibly for children.

The films discussed in the book use the fantasy of an alternative world to debate a series of universal conditions associated with human experience: insecurity, ambition, loneliness, apprehension, bravery, vanity, inarticulateness, anxiety, ambiguity, introversion, love, and so on. Because these films are often viewed as Hollywood ‘product’ they don’t always have the intellectual cachet of European films dealing with similar themes, but Walters suggests that there is complexity and depth behind these superficially light films. Traditionally, Realist cinema has dealt with weighty issues, but increasingly films featuring alternative worlds offer an engaging way of dealing with ‘serious’ content and issues.

In each of the films discussed the flight from the real world results in characters having to face reality again, equipped with new knowledge and experience, enabling them to find a way of living there from that day on. 

Chapter titles
Chapter 1: 'Establishing Contexts' - Page 15
James Walters
Chapter 2: 'Imagined Worlds' - Page 43
James Walters
Chapter 3: 'Making it Home: The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939) & The Woman in the Window (Fritz Lang, 1944)' - Page 55
James Walters
Chapter 4: 'Return to Innocence: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michael Gondry, 2004)' - Page 81
James Walters
Chapter 5: 'Potential Worlds' - Page 107
James Walters
Chapter 6: 'Reclaiming the Real: It's a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)' - Page 115
James Walters
Chapter 7: 'The Search for Tomorrow: Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993)' - Page 135
James Walters
Chapter 8: 'Other Worlds' - Page 157
James Walters
Chapter 9: 'Life Beyond Reason: Brigadoon (Vincente Minnelli, 1954)' - Page 169
James Walters
Chapter 10: 'Rehearsal Space: Pleasantvile (Gary Ross, 1998)' - Page 191
James Walters
'The book is very readable... an important area of film study. The most original aspects of the book are the close readings of the films discussed and how these readings cohere across a single thesis.' – Dr Pat Brereton, Dublin City University, author of Hollywood Utopia

'Whether they are film buffs or film scholars, readers prepared to engage with the ideas developed by James Walters will come away with some interesting and original insights into the different imagined cinematic worlds constructed by each of the seven films selected for analysis.' – Peter Schembri, M/C Reviews

'Walters has written a valuable book that traverses a broad temporal span in cinematic history. Ultimately he offers a unique perspective on the relationships between fantasy and reality as promulgated by some of Hollywood’s most popular films' – D. Harlan Wilson, SCIENCE FICTION STUDIES, VOLUME 37 (2010)

'As a whole, Walters’s book is a refreshing examination of the use of alternative worlds within both classic and contemporary Hollywood films. The book provides an innovative and lucid framework for classifying these works and suggests the need to carefully examine the narrative complexity of films that utilize these modes. Although Walters focuses upon older, well-known films like The Wizard of Oz, his insights into these works are just as fresh as interpretations of more contemporary movies like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. While Walters’s text is primarily concerned with Hollywood cinema, the work is just as relevant to other modes and styles of filmmaking. Alternative Worlds in Hollywood Cinema is useful to scholars and students wishing to gain insight into the use of alternative worlds and new ways of reading the seven key films discussed.' – Thomas Salek, Screening the Past

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