22 October 2006

Movies that Made Americans the Way We Are

You could argue that movies are the real Great American Medium. More than television, we export our movies around he globe, dubbed and subtitled into a gazillion languages and spreading American idiom and values (or lack thereof) to the world.

American movies are so ubiquitous in Europe that it always surprises me when The Martian has not seen some movie that I consider a classic that helped shape Americans into what we are. Upon consideration, it probably shouldn't surprise me because most of those 'classics' were made before we were born, or before cable TV and the media octopus had extended its international reach to every corner of the Earth.

This subject returned last week when mom and a couple of gals came over to (finally) see the house and then go out for dinner (cook? Oh no, not me). At dinner, one of the gals was talking about Old Yeller, and we had a small discussion about whether it's an appropriate movie for children. One of the gals said it teaches a lot about Americans: We can overcome losses and get on with our lives, start over. Just put your pain behind you and move on.

And so I brought it up with The Martian -- who had not seen the movie but sort of vaguely knew it was about a dog, and something bad happens to the dog. Thus was born the need for a List of Movies That Made Americans the Way We Are

The list started a few trips ago, when we saw The Wizard of Oz. I had not seen it for some decades, and, to be perfectly honest, does not age well against modern movies and special effects. I remember it as being awe-inspiring and scary, followed by bad dreams about flyng monkeys for weeks. But Dorothy was so brave and honest and true, and ah, there *is* no place like home.

The Unnamed Male Relative introduced The Martian to his second great American classic, "It's a Wonderful Life." There isgood George, taking care of people without a smidgen of greed in his soul, and yet the nasty, mean banker prospers. But in the end, George shows him: It's all about people. There's no place like home, after all. (Ignore the fact that nowadays George would still go to jail or at least be pilloried in the media and right-wing blogs. Similarly, think about "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" in a modern context... Is the innocent "Happy Ending" extinct?)

Others on my list, which The Martian has already seen: Independence Day and its funny relative, Mars Attacks (American ingenuity always wins, yay us!); Citizen Kane (which neither of us particularly liked); and the original Psycho (don't want to think about the values we learned there...)

With The Martian heading here Dec. 15, it's time to start making a list of classics he should see in case of inclement weather. Old Yeller is on the list, as is a classic Daniel Boone film (a family thing because our ancestry charts go through Boone). He can't remember whether he's seen Miracle on 34th Street, so we'll probably catch that on TV.

As parameters for the list, let's aim for American movies -- e.g., Lord of the Rings could be considered a classic that teaches important values, but it's not very 'American.' Let's also aim for movies that are widely known: I'd argue that "Brother From Another Planet" *should* be a classic, but I don't know anybody else who has seen it, so it doesn't count. And finally, let's look for a variety of 'values' and time periods.

So... what does The Martian need to see to understand what makes us Americans??


Astaryth said...

Red Dawn is one of those 'American will triumph' movies you might want to think about. Oh, and what about Ferris Bueller's Day Off? Now THAT'S a classic {LOL}But I don't know if either of them "Made Americans the Way we Are", but G. says just get all of the John Wayne stuff {g}

Let us know which ones you finally decide on... The best part? Most of these can be had -on DVD- for less than $10

Lee said...

I remember seeing 'Old Yeller' when I was a child. I cried my heart out! I'm hopeless...even cry in happy movies!

"It's a Wonderful Life", I've seen often. It seems to be a regular 'Christmas'movie here in Australia.

'Gone With the Wind' would have to rank up there, wouldn't it?

I think 'The Fountain Head' would have to rate.

Even some of Charlie Chaplin's early movies...and the early silent movies.

How about "Imitation of Life"?

I think this list could become endless....but it sure has got me thinking...keep a look-out for further postings! ;)

The Food Lady said...

Folks around here would definitely vote for Bridges of Madison County or Field of Dreams. Maybe even the Straight Story. :)

Hope you have a netflix membership!

Wil said...

Steph, m'dear, how about "Harvey" with Jimmy Stewart, "Fantasia", Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas", anything that John Wayne ever starred in (except his really early stuff or that lame detective flick he did in London), "The Green Berets", many of the WWII classics, "Easy Rider", "The Graduate", and "Apocalypse Now" all came to mind as quintessential Yank flicks.

Glad to know you and Lakrids survived the floods.

Lee said...

Another movie I believe should be in the list is "Shenandoah"...James Stewart, Doug McClure, Rosemary Forsyth...wonderful movie.

"Mr Roberts"..."Grapes of Wrath"..."Inherit the Wind"..."12 Angry Men"..."On Golden Pond"..."The Godfather" (trilogy)...'The Deer Hunter"

I guess I should stop! ;)

Lee said...

Just one more..."Bambi"...

Robbie said...

I agree with everyone but am shocked no one mentioned Stepford Wives, the old or new version. Although, I prefer the original. I think it's quite apropro in light of our current administration. ;-)

Robbie said...

Oh American History X for its story of how we learn to be racists at an early age. Not saying I am, just saying. And, Primal Fear for the recent Catholic scandal slant, and Dead Man Walking for the death penalty. Okay, clearly I'm the pessimistic viewer. :-)

Lee said...

'American History X' was a powerful movie, that's for sure!

And how can we leave out "Breakfast at Tiffanys"....just to stroll through Tiffanys was a dream for me when I first saw the movie. I love it. Have it here on video amongst my collection. A nod to New York City! :)

Anonymous said...

A belated happy birthday and best wishes for many more filled with happiness. Enjoying your blogs from a distance.

Lee said...

I just have to add it here, too!

"To Kill a Mockingbird"!!!!!!!!!