Films/Other Works that Represent an Era/Way of Life
March 1, 2017 3:29 PM   Subscribe

A friend and I were having a sort of thought-experiment session/contest, and she came up with this question. We decided we wanted to hear answers from people who know more films than we do (which is most people): You're a time-traveling alien...

Let's say you were a time-traveling, shape-shifting alien who did not understand anything of earth's cultures. You, for wibbly wobbly timey wimey reasons, need to travel to a specific (possibly iconic) period of space/time (and possibly subculture!) and blend in well enough to complete a perfectly mundane but moderately socially intricate task without being thought of as a weirdo. So you need to understand the culture. For the purposes of the question, assume that you are mysteriously fluent in the language.

In our original version of the question, we were saying for the purposes of the question you could only use film due to having a limited time (6 hours) to catch up. But if folks here have some exceptional book, music, etc to offer here on Metafilter, I'd be happy to hear that too. (While we're at it, if you've got any amazing representations of a rich fictional culture, feel fee to toss those out too.)
posted by Urban Winter to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I love "Days of Heaven". 1916. Lives of itinerant workers is one of the subcultures it shows.
posted by beccaj at 3:37 PM on March 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

The movie Hugo is set in 1930's Paris. I was completely immersed and didn't recover for days.
posted by MexicanYenta at 3:59 PM on March 1, 2017

this previous ask may be helpful to you. And I second Master and Commander.
posted by pintapicasso at 4:19 PM on March 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

Not being a historian, I can't vouch for it's actual accuracy, but a big deal was made about Gladiator when it came out, and its attention to period details.

I can however personally attest to the (harrowing) accuracy of Freaks and Geeks.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 5:05 PM on March 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Your alien would come out a real asshole, but Gangs of New York took pains to be accurate. I mean, it's Scorcese. Bonus Daniel Day Lewis delivering yet another all-time great performance from him as Bill the Butcher.

The Grapes of Wrath is very much exactly this for the Great Depression.

Dazed and Confused, about mid-70's high school.

Freaks and Geeks is a show, but is an excellent answer.
posted by cmoj at 5:29 PM on March 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Nineteenth century novels are known for their wide scope. War and Peace, Balzac's Human Comedy, much of Dickens. You'll get a detailed view of much of society from these novels. It will, uh, probably take a little longer than six hours to read one, though. Unless your alien has spied reading capabilities!

I made the point earlier today that Dazed and Confused is basically a nineteenth century novel. A bit of a stretch, maybe, but if your alien finds itself in 1970s Austin, it would give you a good idea of the social scene. (I posted this before seeing the above comment!)

And, of course, nothing has ever documented a subculture better than Heavy Metal Parking Lot.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:30 PM on March 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

The VVitch writer-director Robert Eggers famously spent 5 years or so reading everything he could about puritanism and witch hunting in New England. He was also previously a set designer and had really strict standards that everything be accurate, down to the window frames in the family's house. He was so obsessed with historical accuracy that he re-wrote the script after casting because the male lead had an accent from the wrong part of Britain that the character was supposed to originate from.

Good interview with him here.
posted by mannequito at 5:37 PM on March 1, 2017

Seconding Dazed and Confused.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:47 PM on March 1, 2017

I need more information. Can the "specific (possibly iconic) period of space/time (and possibly subculture!)" from your question be in the future?
posted by Rob Rockets at 7:46 PM on March 1, 2017

We were soldiers is based on a book written about real life events by someone who was actually there. Parts of it were filmed on location at Ft. Benning, GA. Sections of Ft. Benning are largely unchanged from the era in which the events occurred, which was not that long ago. I suspect that it is unusually historically accurate due to this confluence of events.
posted by Michele in California at 8:11 PM on March 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

All of these are about white peoples. How about Dear White People for some alternate context.
posted by dame at 8:40 PM on March 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Human Traffic, for 90s UK ravers.
posted by pompomtom at 8:47 PM on March 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Kiwi film 'Boy' portrays small/rural town New Zealand (specifically the North Island) in the 80s perfectly.
posted by BeeJiddy at 9:40 PM on March 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Stranger Things would push the six-hour limit, but it is a remarkable evocation of that time and that geeky subculture.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:11 PM on March 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Swingers really captures a specific time and subculture in LA.
posted by yankeefog at 2:00 AM on March 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hester Street (youtube link), as mentioned in the previous thread. Hester Street tells the story of Jewish immigrants who come to the Lower East side of New York City in 1896 from Europe and who live on Hester Street in Manhattan. "This film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. In making its selection, the Registry said that Hester Street was "a portrait of Eastern European Jewish life in America that historians have praised for its accuracy of detail and sensitivity to the challenges immigrants faced during their acculturation process.""

Mimi Pond's semiautobiographical graphic novel Over Easy really rings true to me for late 1970's California, and could easily come in under the 6 hour mark.

Daughters of the Dust

(And yes for Days of Heaven and Dazed and Confused).
posted by gudrun at 5:44 AM on March 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Crooklyn - 1970s Brooklyn.
posted by SisterHavana at 6:16 PM on March 2, 2017

A Brighter Summer Day, for the Chinese expat community in 1960s Taiwan. Drawn directly out of the director's life, so I'm pretty sure it's accurate, and ridiculously intricate- like, 100+ characters with speaking parts intricate.

(it's also my favorite movie but i'm not just mentioning it because it's my favorite movie and way more people need to watch it it totally applies to this question i swear)
posted by perplexion at 7:11 AM on March 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Swingers really captures a specific time and subculture in LA.

More like this: Boyz n the Hood, Fast Times, The Player, Clueless, Lebowski. There are many more. Maybe Chinatown?
posted by Room 641-A at 8:37 AM on March 3, 2017

Not sure how historically accurate it actually is, but The Revenant was probably the most historically immersive movie (other than The Witch) that I've seen in a long time.

Also Anne Rice's "The Feast of All Saints" is a VERY detailed look at New Orleans creole communities in the late 1800s. It's been awhile since I read it, but I remember really liking it. They made a mini-series or something out of it a few years back, but I didn't see it, so I'm not sure how closely it hewed to the book.
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:51 AM on March 3, 2017

Fwiw, much of the slang in Clueless was invented for the movie and adopted by young women after the fact. I wouldn't say it's an accurate representation of teenage life in 90s Los Angeles at all. Love the movie but I don't think it's a great answer to this question.

I felt John Dos Passos' U.S.A. trilogy achieved this for me. It can be a bit of a slog in parts but I came away from it feeling like I really could have been there. There's a big cast of characters with diverse need and attributes and narrative techniques that situate the novel in its historical context beautifully.
posted by potrzebie at 11:00 PM on March 4, 2017

Michael Lewis wrote several books that capture a specific era and subculture so well, I think they qualify as "exceptional." Liar's Poker perfectly captures Wall street in the 1980s. The Big Short gives you a fascinating look at the housing bubble in the 2010s. (To bring it back to movies, the recent adaptation of The Big Short did as good a job as you could possibly do of transferring the book to film.)
posted by yankeefog at 3:03 AM on March 14, 2017

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