It’s partly a matter of fashion: in 1917, the year of the movie The Long White Cloud, the fashionable “bohemian” decade saw everyone from women to men dressed in the latest fashions; in the film they’re dressed in short dresses or skirts and hats of various shades. But more often, it is a play on words. The 1920s were the decade in which the great boom of capitalism in the United States was still in full effect, and when the United States started to experience depression in the late 1920s. This is still the most popular movie-theatre slogan of the decade: “The Great Depression.”
So why is The Great Depression so popular? It’s a simple, obvious marketing story: if people are unhappy about money, they will demand something else to buy, which is always a good thing, so it is appropriate that when people buy a movie about the Depression, that movie is about the Depression. And, since the first version of the movie was written (as early as 1933 by Ernest Hemingway) in order that the audience understand how the Depression was real, it was made in order to appeal to people who had heard of the Depression. So it was designed to be as appealing to audiences as a movie about a new-to-town American boy in a strange country would be (and, by extension, as appealing as a movie about a teenage boy’s arrival in Europe).
As a marketing thing, the idea that a movie about the Depression is good for anyone or anything is not correct. It is certainly not true for those who lived through it or for anybody who cares about the history of the Depression. But it is true for anyone who cares about the history of the 1920s, and anyone who cares about people who have lived through that history.
The fact that it is so universally popular, combined with the fact that it tells us something important about the American past and its people (and not only the great ones like Hemingway or Winston Churchill), will never be sufficiently explained to us without some reference to that history, for it is impossible to imagine a movie about the Depression without a reference to the Depression.
To those who have lived through the Depression, it is important to know that people from different places in the American past have struggled to make their way through it. It is important to see that struggle through a kind of critical lens.
The story of people struggling to make their way in this time is one of the few things that can
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