Thursday, June 25, 2009

Escapism vs. Realism in 1930's Films

The Great Depression was a dark time for our country as well as for the rest of the world. Unemployment was at an all-time high and happiness was at an all-time low. It is a time that will hopefully never happen again.

During this time, movie theatres were flooded with a plethora of over-the-top musicals, screwball comedies, and romantic tales filmed in exotic locations…I mean exotic-looking Hollywood backlots. For about a quarter, the average joe could be taken away from the woes of the world and into a completely different world full of mystery and romance.

Films provided a cheap escape from the problems that plagued the nation. This is one of the reasons I love classic films so much. For just a few hours, I’m transported to different time when men still opened doors for ladies and cigarettes looked classy instead of deadly and unattractive (FYI: I’m against smoking, but they make it look so darn glamorous!) The escapism that classic films provide is one of the reasons I avoid so many newer films which seem to only depress.

Here is just of sampling of some of the best escapist films of the 1930’s

It Happened One Night (1934)
The Fred and Ginger Musicals
Gone With the Wind (1939)
42nd St. (1933)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Red Dust (1932)

I could honestly go on and on about the wonderful escapist films made in the 1930’s, but I’d also like to point out that some movies decided to tackle the Depression head on. Although there are much fewer of these somewhat realist films in existence, I think they help us remember that the 1930’s weren’t all sunshine and roses like the movies lead us to believe. They show what the Depression was like, but also provide hope. A hope that life will get better, somewhere over the rainbow.
Our Daily Bread (1934)
A group of down-on-their-luck people work together on a farm and create a thriving independent society.

Wild Boys of the Road (1933)
Feeling that they are burdens to their struggling families, two boys ride the rails in search of work. Along the way, they meet up with other poor youths and fight to make a dime.

The film that I believe combines elements of escapism and realism pretty well is Gold Diggers of 1933. The musical numbers choreographed by Busby Berkeley provide a fantastical spectacle to the eye while numbers like “Remember My Forgotten Man”, tug at the heartstrings. It shows all the stages that people went through during the Depression: trying to escape from and ignore problems, facing reality and learning how to deal, and hoping for a better future.

Escapism: Pettin’ in the Park

Realism: Remember My Forgotten Man

Hope: We’re In the Money

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a clip of this wonderful musical number, but you’ve probably seen it or at least heard of it.


Rupert Alistair said...

Your list of escapism films is super and I'd really like to see OUR DAILY BREAD. Great post!


Kate Gabrielle said...

Great post! I wish you had time to post more often, I love reading your blog! My favorite realism depression film is Heroes for Sale, have you seen that? I think it's in the new pre-code box set... really powerful.

btw, I tagged you for a "ten random facts about myself" tag :)

Lauren said...

Great post! I love posts about 30s movies!!

The We're in the money clip goes on and off YouTube a lot. But I love that number!


Genevieve said...

Rupert: Thanks. Definitely check out Our Daily Bread. It's a very interesting film.

Kate: I know, I wish I had more time to post as well. Stupid job. I haven't seen Heroes for Sale. I'll add it to my list of movies I need to see.

Thanks for the tag : )

Lauren: Thank you very much. I love 30's movies as well.

Yeah, I've seen the clip on there before, but it was gone when I wrote my post : (

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Unknown said...

Thanks for the 1930's realism film list...they are harder to come by and I need to find more examples. I'm not sure whether I'd put Gone with the Wind in with the escapism movies...seems pretty relevant to the 30's when she is digging vegetables like an animal right before intermission, proclaiming all she would do so she'll never go hungry again. I would also add Grapes of Wrath to list of realism movies. Even though it is not released till the early 40's, the U.S. is still in the depression.

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