Monday, January 23, 2006

Defining America in Ten Films

The challenge, as mentioned by John Rogers at Kung Fu Monkey, is to explain America to a non-American by giving them 10 movies to watch. The idea is to give the viewer of sense of who we are, not to give them the history of America. This should be your own take on America's dreams, our attitudes, our idioms, what we think we are, what we are afraid we are, what we really might be.

For me, this has been a daunting, but worthwhile exercise.

Lean on Me
Lean on Me is based on a true story and it's a powerful film that explores how racial bias, lack of funding, and defeatist attitudes affect the achievements, self esteem, and ultimate success of students in less affluent and mostly black schools. I once met Joe Clark at a Texas Municipal League Conference and have to say he's one of the most extraordinary human beings I've ever had the pleasure to meet.

The Secret of My Success
Pretty much sums up the professional world for me. We're all trying to make our way to the top. We either use the devil's own tools against him or content ourselves sorting mail. We could also fill this slot with Working Girl which pokes at female professional stereotypes. My favorite line in the film is when Harrison Ford's character says to Melanie Griffth that it's nice to see a woman dress like a woman, not like a woman thinks a man would dress if he was a woman.

A League of Their Own
Don't scratch your head at me! I like the way this film portrays each woman as complex and uniquely different. Some are weak. Some are masculine. Some are sluts. Some are goody-goodies. Some are walking in the shadow of somebody else. Some are bright. Some apparently wear their curlers way too tight. All are good. All are bad.

Okay, I'm not trying to give a history lesson here, but this film, based on true events, takes an honest look at one of the many seeds that sprouted racial bias in our country. Were the slaves on the Amistad human beings? Were they property? Whose property were they? If we don't understand the mentality of our predecessors, how will we know we aren't perpetuating that mentality?

All the President's Men
We have to address political corruption somewhere on this list. This is it.

I Am Sam
Yeah, I'll get some flack over this one, but some of the biggest arguments taking place in American courts today are over the upbringing of children. Who is a fit parent anyway? Is the home of drug addicted parents better than a parent with a mental handicap? Gay parents? A single parent? Who gets to decide whether you're qualified to raise your own children? And, what if you aren't?

I don't like this film at all. But a lot of people do and I think it's because it takes a positive look at blended families and the impact of divorce and remarriage on each adult and child affected.

Erin Brokovich
The most profound part of this based on truth story is that blatant corporate disregard for human health and welfare really does take place and it really can be this hard to call it to somebody's attention and be taken seriously.

You've Got Mail
Ahem. Yes. You read that one correctly, but we could easily substitute it with Sleepless in Seattle, While You Were Sleeping, or one of a dozen Rom Coms. Americans are romantic dreamers. That's why we read so many Danielle Steele books.

Because I needed one that touches on Hollywood, that's why, and because each of us aspiring writers has done business with a Bowfinger at one time or another.

So there ya have it. By my ten films, we can deduce that the logline for America would be something like, "Strong willed, status seeking country ever addresses new and changing political, social, and racial challenges while maintaining joy in life, an idealistic sense of romance and spirited sense of humor."

Yeah, I'm an idealist.


oneslackmartian said...

This is a very interesting meme. It says more about the contributer than our country, though, but very interesting nevertheless.

Ahh, A League of Their Own. My wife was in that movie. She was the centerfielder for the Racine Bells.

This is the perfect meme for a poly-sci/flim person like yourself.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Yeah, it was written like a political science thesis. I yam what I yam. But I don't see too many other bloggers having a go with this one. It's certainly more difficult than I thought. Why? Because, with the possible exception of documentaries, films aren't about reality.

cinefille said...

And even documentaries can be slanted. Good picks. These 10 films do give a unique view of America.

Slain said...

Nooooooooooooooooo!!!! LOL

MaryAn, an idealist??? Heh.
I have vendetta against romance movies each their own, you idealist you. ;)

methinks race issue is a subject that has yet to be explored in depth without leading to name-calling or i hear a second?

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Two of my screenplays deal with bigotry related to race. Guess this list really does say more about me than our country.

One.Day.Past.Dead said...

You've got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, et al, don't replace Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life -- optimism is definitely this screenwriter's credo.