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Assassin nation : theorizing the conspiracy film in the early 21st century Tait, R. Colin


Assassin Nation: Theorizing the Conspiracy Film in the Early Twenty-First Century argues that the conspiracy films of the 1970s - which depicted or alluded to the highly politicized events of Watergate, the world oil crisis, and the devaluing of the US currency can be used as a template for understanding and addressing the political events and the films of the last twenty years. I argue that similar narrative, iconographic and syntactical tropes may be found in two subsequent cycles of films in the 1990s and in the post-9/11 period. In order to establish my claim of the conspiracy film as a genre with at least three cycles, I call upon the work of Fredric Jameson, Rick Altman, Richard Hofstadter and Peter Knight. Chapter One outlines the historical phenomenon of the conspiracy film over the past three decades and formulates a methodology for coping with the genre's cyclical reappearances. Chapter Two argues that the conspiracy film's inaugural appearance is not only inherently linked to the crisis of leadership that the Nixon administration presented. Furthermore, the genre reflects the rise of postmodernism in popular American Cinema and the last gasp of the American political film embodied by works such as Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974), The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974) and The Parallax View (Alan J. Pakula, 1974). Chapter Three presents the genre's ongoing commodification, considering its transformation from a highly-politicized form to a commercial product by way of its intersection with the Hollywood Blockbuster system in the 1990s. Oliver Stone's JFK (1991) is taken as the zero-moment of this phenomenon, which ranges through The X-Files (1993-2001), to Zoolander (Ben Stiller, 2001). Chapter Four highlights the conspiracy genre's continuing evolution by juxtaposing the narrative form of the nineties with the documentary films of that era and by elaborating the narrative, iconographic and syntactical changes which occur from this fusion of "fictional" and "nonfictional" elements. Michael Moore's oeuvre - Roger and Me (1989) to Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) - provides template for this movement. Finally, Chapter Five considers the eruption of seemingly political films in the post-9/11 era by synthesizing all this material - postmodern and genre theory, historical overviews, textual analysis of films in addition to industrial overviews of the Hollywood system - and by considering the political films that emerged in this highly turbulent time. Here, I measure the cycle's contemporary trajectory beginning with Jonathan Demme's The Manchurian Candidate (2004), through to Syriana (Fernando Mereilles, 2005) to the genre's mainstream influence in films such as Shooter (Antoine Fuqua, 2007) and The Transformers (Michael Bay, 2007).

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