Through Hollywood’s Eyes Essay Examples
Hollywood reflected and reshaped society before 1940, by providing an interactive entertainment experience to which society and studios fostered a reactive relationship displayed through the reception of films. Hollywood has influenced American history since it began. It boosted and shaped the morale of a nation for almost a century. Hollywood has not only been influencing the American society, it has been influenced by American society as well. Hollywood seemed to be the driving force that allowed American people to escape their everyday lives and partake in something that was not of the norm. As the film industry began to grow, so did America; global issues had begun to surface and Hollywood was a higher stage for America to view these current events. The film industry has brought forth a source of mass entertainment that would impact and shape American values, beliefs, and behaviors. Hollywood served a role in shaping the way American people viewed the world. It also played a crucial role in modernizing American values and helped centralized beliefs about masculinity, femininity, race, ethnicity, and sexuality.
On close examination, 42nd Street, Gold Diggers, and, Footlight Parade obliquely address broad political and economic issues and anxieties raised by the Great Depression. Their upbeat plots – in which talented newcomers rise to stardom and wealthy blueblood marry common chorus girls- helped Depression-era Americans sustain faith that class differences could be overcome and that, despite many obstacles, happiness and success would eventually prevail. (Mintz et al. 142).
People would not only go to theaters as a way to escape their normal life, they would go there in order to find hope, in order to attain some piece of mind by watching the characters they could relate to triumph over their obstacles. Such is the case found in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). In this film the main character finds himself depressed, with suicidal thoughts and wondering if life without him would be better for others but as we go through flashbacks of his life we come to realize just how important this character is for others although he is rarely appreciated or recognized for the sacrifices he is constantly making in order to help others. He would classify as the “typical American”, the way he looks and the way he talks are a perfect portrayal of the image of ‘standard American’, therefore allowing people to identify themselves with the character. He is the hero who saved his younger brother when they were younger, and he is constantly putting others before himself, he is demonstrating physically the way America intercedes in other countries affaires without ever expecting anything in return. This character also is the kind of character people would want to root for he is the kind of character that becomes the champion of the people. Other film in which we are able to appreciate that very same behavior is in For Whom the Bell Tolls. American soldier, Robert (Gary Cooper), gets involved in the Spanish Civil War. Once again America comes to the rescue but this time is not against Nazi Germany, it is against fascist forces of Franco. In this film politic propaganda not only attempts to heighten America’s reputation, it also speaks badly of fascism as something that has divided a country so mercilessly that the country finds itself submerged in a Civil War. In these kinds of films we manage to understand not only the perception America as a country would have of other countries but the perception Americans would come to have about the rest of the world and the way our country would relate to others.
These three films are not only masterpieces in the technical way, they are also masterpieces of propaganda since all of it is skillfully hidden under a very tender and heart-breaking stories, most of the dialogues, as innocent as they may seem, carry a note of the greatness of America and capitalism, and also every word goes against the fascist regimes. Even when in some of the films it is more obvious than others. As explained by Mintz and Roberts in their book Hollywood’s America, “From the standpoint of the war information program, CASABLANCA is a very good picture about the enemy, those whose lives the enemy has wrecked and those underground agents who fight him unremittingly on his own ground. The war content id dramatically effective.” (Mintz et al. 142). Even in the way this statement is written in the book, they use words such as ‘enemy’ and ‘wrecked’ in order to better portray the image the overall image the film portrays fascism versus capitalism. Same thing happens in It’s a Wonderful Life, in which the lead character, George (James Stewart) is depressed and has suicidal thoughts, but as we go through flashbacks of his life we come to realize just how important this character is for others although he is rarely appreciated or recognized for the sacrifices he is constantly making in order to help others. He would classify as the “typical American”, the way he looks and the way he talks are a perfect portrayal of the image of ‘standard American’. He is the hero who saved his younger brother when they were younger, and he is constantly putting others before himself, he is demonstrating physically the way America intercedes in other countries affaires without ever expecting anything in return. Other film where we are able to appreciate that very same behavior is in For Whom the Bell Tolls. American soldier, Robert (Gary Cooper), gets involved in the Spanish Civil War. Once again America comes to the rescue but this time is not against Nazi Germany, it is against fascist forces of Franco. In this film politic propaganda not only attempts to heighten America’s reputation, it also speaks badly of fascism as something that has divided a country so mercilessly that the country finds itself submerged in a Civil War.
The portrayal of America is once again brought up. However, when it comes to said portrayal of America we come to a certain disruptive, given that at the beginning it is painted as a perfect idea but Rick (Humphrey Boggart), the American lead of the movie, is the complete opposite to that very thought. The character could almost be described as the closest thing to an antagonist the ideas of the free America. He is dry, cynical and very bitter. His loyalties lie nowhere in particular, the character is constantly stating how he is an apolitical character: “I stick my neck out for nobody” is this character’s motto, and he often reminds other characters of this fact. Nevertheless as the film goes on, we are told that Rick had fought for the loyalists in the Spanish Civil War almost ten years before. “Points like these aid audiences in understanding that our war did not commence in Pearl Harbor, but that the roots of aggression reach far back.” (Mintz et al. 143). So we can say without shadow of doubt that this character is also a portrayal of America, but maybe one that is more down to earth than the one we had witnessed before.
“America is shown as the haven of the oppressed and the homeless.  The love and esteem with which this country is regarded by oppressed peoples should make audiences aware of their responsibilities as Americans to uphold this reputation and fight fascism with all that is in them”. (Mintz et al. 143). As described on our textbook, one of the most important things to note about these films is the fact that it portrays America in the most utopic way possible, it is an almost dream-like situation where all of the things that were wrong in Europe at the time seemed to have been righted in America. America is the land of the free in this film. Even though there appears people from very different nationalities, they all seem to have put America in a sort of ivory tower which becomes even more obvious when compared to Europe at the time. The films focus mainly on people whose nationality belonged to those highly involved in the World War II. For example, in Casablanca we have Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) to portray the Germans. He stands for everything Nazi Germany stood for at the time: “ with his contempt for anything not German, his disregard for human life and dignity, his determination that all people shall bow to the Third Reich.” (Mintz et al. 143). We should mention that this view of Germany should be applied only to those who openly have Nazi beliefs, since we are not sure that Germany as an entire country had the same ideas as those mentioned previously.
Ilsa is no common female heroine. She is a character who has very strong political opinions, characteristic which is often frowned upon in women and that commonly is the kind of thing that would be more likely to be found in male characters, especially during the time this film was made. Although she is not the first strong female character that appeared con the big screen, she is one of the many interesting characters that Hollywood had just started creating, as we can see in For Whom the Bell Tolls with the character of Maria. In Ilsa’s case, nevertheless, it is necessary to state that her characteristics are those needed to represent the other side of France. The side of France that remained a victim of the events that lead to the German army taking possession of it. Both of the heroines we are presented with are strong female characters but have experienced a great amount of loss. We had mentioned before that Renault was portraying France, but we had also revised the fact that in America had the chance of being portrayed in two very different ways. This same case is applied when it comes to France, while it is being represented by shady Renault, there is also the other side of the coin. The side represented by Ilsa, although she was not born French, she is one way to depict France in a way that is unexpected. She is beautiful but there is a certain sadness to her, a little bit like nostalgia. She has strong opinions while also needing to be helped by Rick in the same way that France was aided by the US during World War II. She does need help but this does not mean she is completely helpless. During her conversation with Rick and the others she comes to mention that she used to wear a blue dress. This color is not only making a direct reference to the French flag, it is also the color of the flag that represents Equality. She being a woman and wearing this color is important due to the fact that, despite the fact that she is the only woman that plays a relevant role, she is being recognized as an equal to her male counter parts. Even when she is not the main opponent of the Nazi Germans, she is indeed against them and is also of great help to her husband. The females portrayed in these films were not at all the archetype of women people were used to observe. The characters were strong and they were not just the plain damsels in distress that would need the hero’s help. They created a new kind of female character that was allowed to have opinions and be strong. They established the new norm for women, something that would go more accordingly to the ideas of independent women that came after World War II and the female suffrage movement.
The film Casablanca, just as For Whom the Bell Tolls and, It’s a Wonderful Life, was used as political propaganda against fascism. Although the main story focused on the love triangle between the lead characters and the tragic story behind the star-crossed lovers Rick and Ilsa, there is an undeniable rejection towards the Nazi Germany. Most of the lead characters are never openly capitalist they do happen to have a knack for justice and all good things. The lead characters often sacrifice themselves in order to get others’ happiness. “The love and esteem with which this country is regarded by oppressed people should make audiences aware of their responsibilities as Americans to uphold this reputation and fight fascism with all that is in them” (Mintz et al. 143). Not only is America constantly portrayed as perfect, the fact that the lead ends up murdering the Nazi German or the fascists and, to some point, saving everyone even when it would mean sacrificing his very own happiness clearly attempts to speak of America as a selfless an unrecognized hero. It also had a great influence on the audience’s understanding of America’s relationship with other countries. At the time, the audience in America and in most of the World often found themselves trapped in the war between fascism and capitalism. One of the ways they would fight was through constant propaganda, although we should admit that American propaganda happen to be more produced and frequently better hidden than other countries’. Films, being as popular as they were, were probably one of the best places to put political propaganda in, they would have a high influence on people’s perception of day-to-day life. It was a way in which government could reach masses without them being aware of it and therefore being more convincing. Not only this, films would give people hope. After the war, the situation for people was not easy at all. People would be depressed and out of jobs or probably would not be making enough money to sustain themselves. The Hollywood glamour was contagious through the films they made. Hollywood would help people reminisce about better days while also having a great influence on their ideas as a society. By warming up to the story itself, we have to admit that it becomes really hard not to warm towards the protagonists’ own beliefs. The leads in the stories we love tend to become “what we would like to be” and in this case, how could we not fall in love with Rick, or with Robert, or with George? The tough guys who happened to have a soft spot for lost causes, the guys who are indeed true heroes while also being pure at heart and allowing others to wallow in their glory. They all start out as the standard American, as someone very typical that could have been just about anyone. It would have been impossible not to have related to the characters. And even when things did not go well for the characters all the time, they would have the chance of becoming “a better person”. The lines that close Casablanca only reinforce the subject that has been discussed throughout this whole essay “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” They are said by Rick to Renault. Before, with Ilsa and Rick the relationship established between them was tormented and also meant for failure despite the existence of love and an undeniable passion between the characters. America is letting go of the France of the past and embracing the new France that would be born from the ashes of the old one. It is marking the beginning, a beginning of every kind of possibility by stating that phrase at the end. It is as if he was implying that their adventures were far from over and their relationship would without a doubt become transcendental. These three characters of the three films become the incarnation of America the freedom speaker, America de martyr, and America the hero.
Casablanca. Directed by Michael Curtiz. 1942. Burbank, CA: Warner Bros Home Video, 2002. DVD.
For Whom the Bell Tolls. Directed by Sam Wood. 1943. United States: Paramount Pictures, 2008. DVD.
It’s a Wonderful Life. Directed by Frank Capra. 1946. United States: RKO Radio Pictures, 2007. DVD.
Mintz, Steven, and Randy Roberts. Hollywood's America. London: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
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