What We Can Learn From Film

         We can learn a lot about history, and culture from movies. There are a lot of movies that are about true events or based on true events. Also, movies are made to depict a certain period of time and different parts of the world.

         History is actually plays a very large role in movie made in the past and today. Watching a movie made near the beginning of the movie era, even if it is not a historical film, can give an idea of what was going on in those years. Just studying the clothing that was being worn and the different technologies that can be seen, either in the film or the way the film was made, can tell you a lot about the history of that time period.

         If viewers are watching an older movie, say one with Cary Grant, and they are trying to study the history and culture during the time the movie was made, they would come to many conclusions. This person would see how upper-class people, as Grant usually played, would live: business, or rich, men dressing in suits, women usually wearing skirts or dresses, people being polite to each other (most of the time). They would see what kinds of cars were being driven, how people talked (slang), and the way houses and cities looked. But appearances in movies can be deceiving. Sometimes the way characters dress in a film reflects nothing about the way things are in the real world during that time. In the movie Down with Love, directed in 2003 by Peyton Reed, the costumes and backgrounds reflect the 60s, based on other movies like ones starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson. Someone studying this movie could get a false sense of what culture is really like when Down with Love was made.

         Besides just watching and studying movies in the time you want to know about of course, you can watch movies that are set in other times and places to learn about them. Movies have only been around for just over one hundred years so to learn about other histories you cannot do that. Historical movies have been made on just about every culture that has existed: Rome, Egypt, Troy, Early America/Indians, Africa, etc… The trouble with watching historical movies is that a lot of the information may not be entirely true. Things may have been changed to make the movie flow better and make it more interesting for the audience to watch. But even if not all the facts are actually fact, we can still get a good sense of culture. When watching movies set during the early days of the United States, viewers must realize that they might not all be based on true events, but people probably did dress like that and live in towns like the ones in the movies.

         In addition to culture and history, watching movies can give you an idea of what politics were like during the time you are studying. I know there are a lot of movies that are based or loosely based on metaphors that deal with some form of politics. One movie we watched in class, Don Siegel’s 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, is said to have something to do with Communism and the invasion of the country. I have also heard about Victor Fleming’s 1939 The Wizard of Oz having in it some sort of metaphor about politics or the government although I cannot remember what.

         The point is, many movies have some kind of hidden meaning to them that has to do with the writer or director trying to share their point of view or complain about whatever topic they deicide. Someone who is studying film could probably decode these metaphors and learn something about current news and/or politics of that time.

Randi Gilstrap

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