In America on Film, first published in 2002, Sam Girgus examines a selection of films made in the last quarter of the twentieth century in an effort to trace how the notion of 'American' has changed drastically from that portrayed in American cinema up to the 1950s. In works such as Mississippi Masala, Lone Star, Malcolm X, Raging Bull, When We Were Kings, and Bugsy he finds a new and ethnically varied array of characters that embody American values, ideals, and conflicts; and a transformation in the relationship of American identity and culture to race and ethnicity, as well as to sexuality, gender, and the body. America on Film charts these changes through analysis of cinematic tensions between fiction, documentary, and modernism. An art form that combines fragments of reality with imagination, film, Girgus maintains, connects the documentary realism of the photographic image to the abstraction and non-representation of modernism.
Part I. Embodying a New Race for America: The Question of American Hope in Mississippi Masala and Lone Star: 1. Mississippi Masala: merging ethnic and racial images; 2. Lone Star: an archeology of American culture and the American psyche; Part II. Great Fights for the Century: 3. Raging Bull: revisioning the body, soul and cinema; 4. The black gladiator and the Spartacus syndrome: race, redemption, and the ring; Part III. The Image and the Word: Literature and Film: 5. 'Fresh starts': Bugsy, The Great Gatsby, and the American dream; 6. Imaging masochism and the politics of pain: 'facing' the word in the cinetext of Seize the Day; Part IV. Documentary and Fiction: 7. Documenting the body in Modern Times: Love, play, and repression in Chaplin's silent classic; 8. Spike Lee, Denzel Washington, and the rebirth of Malcolm X: cinetext for a black American dream.