What I Learned from the Movies

         There are many films that attempt to portray different aspects of life to the audience. Many film makers use film to express a viewpoint or to shed light on an important aspect of the human experience.  Therefore, it comes as no surprise that an avid watcher of films can often discover much about history, culture, and politics from the cinema.  Using film as a medium to communicate about such topics is not new and will undoubtedly continue into the future.

          Many films are made to show historical events. One of the most striking movies to represent this use of film is The Birth of a Nation, directed in 1915 by D. W. Griffith. This film is Griffith's depiction of the Civil War and Reconstruction era. One can obviously learn much about the Civil War by watching the film. Yet, this film seems to reinforce stereotypes of African Americans and "white supremacy."  Therefore, the truthfulness of the movie is somewhat flawed for the viewer who does not know the real history of the Civil War. It is sometimes hard for directors to open up to more than one narrow point of view, and this is certainly evident in The Birth of a Nation.

         People can also discover much about a country's culture from studying film. There are many movies, which serve to give a certain view of American culture. Films such as Orson Welles' 1941 Citizen Kane and Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack's 1933 King Kong seem to depict the American way of life as materialistic and domineering. These movies are very focused on what success is and what one must do to achieve it.  Therefore, American culture is portrayed as being a very specific way. The American culture depicted in these movies is typical of the values of many Americans, yet it also portrays America in a very negative light at times.  Sometimes films show a narrow view, which only leads to further emphasis on certain values and often gives the wrong impression to the world of a certain country.

         There is also much to be learned about politics from the careful study of the cinema. Many film makers throughout the history of cinema either willingly or unwillingly participated in the production of propaganda for governments.  This is true of countries all around the world, from the United States "Why We Fight" series of Frank Capra, to the slew of Nazi films. Therefore, political ideas have been spread throughout the world using the medium of the cinema.  This propaganda was used to influence people, and it was very successful. Yet, propaganda does not reflect the views of everyone in a country or area.  Therefore, the propaganda films often present a skewed view of life in order to persuade people about policy.

           It is also interesting how movies are often used as a masked way to comment on many different political issues throughout the world. Films, such as High Noon (directed in 1952 by Fred Zimmerman) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (directed in 1956 by Don Siegel), offer a look on the possible negative effects of Communism. These American films mimic the way of American foreign policy during the Cold War. The pod people of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers represent the way in which Communists were depicted as "evil" people who would take all individuality and life away from people. Movies, such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, often serve to reinforce the common political thought of the day.

         Movies are an important way to communicate ideas across the world. It is interesting to note how one can learn so many different things about history, culture, and politics from many different countries.  Movies will continue to be influential in these areas throughout time because of their important way of commenting on life in general.

Michelle Maden

Table of Contents