In this unique film history, Lee Lourdeaux traces the impact of Irish and Italian cultures on four major American directors and their work. Defining the core values and tensions within each culture, and especially focusing on the influence of American Catholicism, he presents John Ford, Frank Capra, Francis Coppola, and Martin Scorsese as ethnic Americans and film artists. Lourdeaux shows each filmmaker on set with writers and actors, learning to bypass stereotypes in order to develop a shrewd reciprocal assimilation between his ethnic background and Anglo America. Beginning with D. W. Griffith's depiction of Irish and Italian immigrants, the author discusses Hollywood's stereotypical portrayals of ethnic priests, cops, politicians, and gangsters, as well as their surface acculturation in the movies of the 1920s. By the decade's end, John Ford was using all-American stories to embody the basic myths and tensions of Irish-American life. In his later westerns and foreign films, he tried to understand both Irish political strife and the key figures of Irish liturgy.
Frank Capra pitted Italian family values against the Anglo success ethic, turning out social comedies about oppressed little people. Several decades later, Martin Scorsese and Francis Coppola were highly critical of their religio-ethnic heritage, though they gradually discovered that to outline its weaknesses, like the blind pursuit of success, was to fashion a critical mirror of mainstream America. Lourdeaux discusses a number of recent films by Coppola and by Scorsese that have not yet been analyzed in any book. And, in the chapter on Scorsese, a personal interview with the director reveals how his ethnic childhood shaped his work in film. Examining the conflicts within American culture, Lourdeaux shows how the filmmakers themselves had to confront the self-destructive aspects of their ethnic background, not only to accommodate WASP audiences but to better understand their own heritage. He also observes that ethnicity is a strong draw at the box office, as in The Godfather, because it creates a sense of the Other who can both be admired and at the same time ridiculed.
Illustrated with scenes of the movies discussed, this fascinating film history tells how four of America's most famous filmmakers assimilated their ethnic backgrounds on set and on screen. Lee Lourdeaux, a journalist who specializes in the arts, writes for numerous national publications and holds a doctorate from the University of Chicago.