U.S. History in Film

Prof. McClurken’s HIST 329 — Fall 2008

Best Years of Our Lives

I wanted to start my post on “Best Years” before the discussion, partially to have time to round out my thoughts and partly because I wanted to write my initial thoughts before hearing the thoughts of the class. Not that I think that my thoughts are really different than anyone else’s, it is just easier to identify mine at this point.

I have to say that I think the movie being made in the time of its subject was very effective. It is harder to judge it as representing ‘history’, as it wasn’t exactly considered history at the time. However, it seemed more realistically emotionally affecting and honest than a good deal of the movies that we’ve watched this semester. Of course, a lot of this could be the fact that we have grown up with many of the recurring faces in the movies that we’ve seen, whereas there is a further distance between us and the stars of this movie and even the subject matter of the movie itself.

Unfortunately, as representative as it seems of a general feeling of the time, it is restricted to a general white, relatively well-off feeling of the time. Its small town setting is not uncommon in movies from any period and is a handy way to represent the entire country by example (is it synecdoche? one of those fancy English major words describes this, I believe). However, it is also a handy way to leave out African-Americans, Japanese-Americans and Mexican-Americans. This, I believe, is where the movie and subject matter suffer the most from coming out of its own time period.

I’ll write more about this after class tomorrow.

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