Sunday, 27 January 2013

American History via Movies and TV

I'm really looking forward to the new Lincoln movie. In the hope that I can enthuse you into history the way I was enthused, and perhaps help put some classic tv/films on a timeline that would help place them in the minds of those younger than myself, here is a personal attempt at a chronological list.

History is boring right? It was for me a long time ago, then my history teacher, Mr Colin Elstone (at Broadway School in Cheadle Cheshire - ENGLAND!)  threw away our suggested text of British History and got us studying U.S. history after the Civil War. When I could place a few historical events next to movies I knew suddenly the whole subject (including previously boring British history) opened up, and before long each new movie and history book was another link in the web of historical events. if you have a little friend asking questions about a particular era or are interested yourself I hope this is useful ...but don't let them watch Deadwood obviously :-)

So here we go.. even when fictional I find them at least representative of the era, and usually pretty entertaining

PATHFINDER (Vikings slave raiding Native American tribes in the Dark Ages)

THE CRUCIBLE (Puritan America in the 17thc)

LAST OF THE MOHICANS (French And Indian War)

JOHN ADAMS (TV SERIES,Revolution until War of 1812)

AMISTAD (Slavery before Civil War)

DJANGO UNCHAINED (Slavery before Civil War)

LINCOLN (Civil War)


GANGS OF NEW YORK (Civil War and politics in the North, 1860s New York, gang culture)

DANCES WITH WOLVES (Native Americans, the West)

DEADWOOD (TV SERIES, Reconstruction era, Old West)

HEAVEN'S GATE (Range wars, the Old West)

THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Gilded Age of Robber Barons)

DAYS OF HEAVEN (Rural poverty in the Gilded Age)

BOARDWALK EMPIRE (TV SERIES, Prohibition, origin of War on Drugs)

THE COTTON CLUB (Prohibition, race, music)

INHERIT THE WIND (the Monkey Trial, Darwin vs Bible)

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (Race in the south)

BONNIE AND CLYDE (Great Depression, crime, midwest)

PUBLIC ENEMIES  (Great Depression, crime, midwest)

THE UNTOUCHABLES (Great Depression, crime, Chicago)

GRAPES OF WRATH (Great Depression California)

CHINATOWN (pre WW2 California)


1941 (WW2 in California... sorry .. I love this movie)

THE AVIATOR (post WW2 boom)


GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK (1950s media vs McCarthysim)

ED WOOD (50s Hollywood)

MATINEE (60s Hollywood, Cuban Missile Crisis)

THIRTEEN DAYS (JFK, Cuban Missile Crisis)

THE RIGHT STUFF (Nasa and the space race)


JFK (Assassinations of JFK and RFK)

BUGSY (founding of Las Vegas)

AMERICAN GRAFFITI (Americana pre Vietnam)

ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE (1960s Counter reaction)

BIG WEDNESDAY (1970s Counter culture)



DICK (Watergate)

WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM (1970s counter culture politics)

NETWORK (1970s media and radical left)


THE WARRIORS (1970s New York, gang culture)

ARGO  (1979 Iranian hostage seige)

TIMES SQUARE (1980s New York culture)

DO THE RIGHT THING (New York 1980s race, culture)

FERRIS BUELLERS DAY OFF (1980s Chicago culture)

BOB ROBERTS (1980s Reagan era politics)

WALL STREET (prequel to the Crash of 2008 !)

PRIMARY COLORS (1990s Clinton era politics)

WAG THE DOG  (manufacturing consent, political spin)

GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (1990s economy, culture)

THE SOPRANOS (TV SERIES 1990s Crime to Patriot act)

CASINO (development of Las Vegas)

AMERICAN BEAUTY (culture 2000)

FIGHT CLUB  (counter-culture 2000)

8 MILE (counter-culture 2000)

THE WIRE (TV SERIES 1990s War on Drugs)

THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS (Military unreality)

BURN AFTER READING (Intelligence failure)

RECOUNT (George W. Bush wins disputed election)

UNITED 93 (9/11 attacks)

TOO BIG TO FAIL (2008 financial collapse)

MARGIN CALL  (2008 financial collapse)

GAME CHANGE (Sarah Palin and Obama's election win)

BREAKING BAD (TV SERIES 2000's War on Drugs)


The rules of selection

Fictional stuff is at least true to its era no West Wing, which I love, but has about as much historical relevance as Space 1999.

No documentaries, no out and out fantasy, no Cohen Brothers (well, except one, which even though it isn't my favourite is incredibly appropriate for the time)

Predominantly set in the mainland of the US, so no Apocalypse Now

Personal favorites win out; so there is no Gone With The Wind or Top Gun, Citizen Cane or Magnificent Ambersons, and Electra Glide in Blue instead of Easy Rider, Broadway Danny Rose instead of Annie Hall, obscure Times Square (which I admit I've not seen for twenty years) instead of Desperately Seeking Susan and it includes tv because.. suddenly not including something like The Wire in a list like this would be beyond ridiculous.

Feel free to add your suggestions to the comments below, this list is not set in stone and I will be adding and changing things as I go

I apologise to Americans for my personal political choices coloring the depiction of your country, particularly early on - there doesn't seem to be a Civil War equivalent of Ferris Bueller's Day Off (Hucklberry Finn?) I promise I will do the same for my own country in due course (but it will be a lot more boring)

Near misses :
Mississippi Burning, Easy Rider, Roots (tv series), Broken Trail (tv series) Sweet Smell of Success, Platinum Blonde, White Heat, virtually everything by Orson Welles & Cohen Brothers, Birth of A Nation (in that it explains a mindset), The General,  True Grit, Days of Thunder, Any Given Sunday, Apollo 13, The Conversation, Three Days of The Condor, Parallax View, The Godfather, American Psycho, Rumblefish, Sleepy Hollow, Kiss Me Deadly, The Long Riders, Repo Man, Hackers, Moby Dick, Band of Brothers (tv series), The Pacific (tv series), The Two Jakes, Quest For Fire...
When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth...
"start at the begining.."
"well first there were the dinosaurs..."

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