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We'll always have Paris.
By Aracely Jimenes-Hendricks
When it comes to film, it is wonderful how certain movies set across various periods of time can recreate history for the viewer and simultaneously tell a story that is meant to be enjoyed. These phenomenal classic films offer unique ways of seeing history and continue to impact society even now, years after they were first released. Out of this vast category, I have chosen five of my favorite classic films:
1. Gone with the Wind (1939)
This film, based on Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize novel, documents the Civil War and the resulting effects of reconstruction as seen through the eyes of a series of characters deeply attached to the Old South. Director Victor Flemming was determined to make the visual aspect of the film as accurate as possible; says F. Scott Fitzgerald of his work: “in the morning [he] could direct the action of two thousand extras, and in the afternoon decide on the colors of the buttons on Clark Gable’s coat.” Flemming’s determination to make an impressive and accurate period film made Gone With the Wind the most expensive production in Hollywood up to that the time. In addition to historical detail, the dialogue of the film is also gripping, telling the love story of Scarlet O’Hara beautifully enough to win the Oscar for best Adapted Screenplay. The film won seven other Academy Awards the year of its release, including Best Supporting Actress for Hattie McDaniel, making her the first African-American actress to win an Oscar. Its love story and grand historical backdrop make this a must-see!
2. Casablanca (1942)
This film is set against the backdrop of the city of Casablanca in World War II. It is one of the first films that drew me to watching black and white films. Though it was filmed during the war, the movie itself does not actually have any battle scenes. The film does accurately portray the German occupation of France, though, something that resonated with many former citizens of France who the U.S. helped free from Nazi rule. The acting in general adds to the film, though Humphrey Bogart’s portrayal of Rick Blaine stands out; his performance was nominated for an Oscar. Casablanca also has some of the more timeless movie phrases (“Here’s looking at you, kid.” Casablanca was wonderful to see visually, even without the sound playing.
3. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
This musical is set in the 1920s and covers the film industry’s transition from silent movies to “talking” movies as marked by the first full length “talkie”, The Jazz Singer (1927). Though Singin’ in the Rain is fictional, many of the incidents in the movie were based on actual events, told with just enough comedy and dancing to be the perfect match of catchy music and a wonderful plot. Not only did this film showcase the changes within a production company, it also showed changes within characters, creating a beautiful love story amidst all the music. It has become one of the most well-known movie musicals and a true classic.
4. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Based on Harper Lee’s famously controversial novel, this film brought up many taboo subjects when it was filmed and continues to echo the conflicts of the era for viewers today. A black and white film, the movie certainly didn’t need color to produce the drama that seeped from the screen and impacted how people viewed relevant events during and after its release. This film, in a more visual and apparent way than the novel, showcased the disgusting results of racism and ignorance within a population.
5. The Crucible (1996)
Adapted for the screen years after Arthur Miller’s publication of the original play, The Crucible portrays the fictional events of the historical Salem Witch trials. The visual aspects of the film are a bit darker than expected, but it is worth it to see how well the 16th century is depicted in a 1990s film. The movie brilliantly highlights the hysteria that surrounded the infamous trials as well as the colonial dislike of superstition and witchcraft. I still shudder to think that there was ever such a dark point in history that was able to destroy the foundation of several towns based on illusion and religion. The movie focuses on those faults of pride and ignorance, as well as the dark contrast in what is means to be guilty and innocent. Though dark, it is intelligent and worth watching.