American titles are responsible for a large part of the world’s cinematic and televised output, but they tend to have more universal themes—especially Hollywood’s high-profile all-star-cast blockbusters—appealing to audiences all around the world.
But there is one unique American theme that we call Americana on Jinni. Movies with this theme offer us a glimpse at a uniquely American way of life. And that’s how most of the world knows the U.S. So America—happy anniversary! This is you at age 234 (give or take forty years...):
Americana Coming of Age
The teen film was probably invented in the U.S., yet there are some films that try to tell a story that reaches beyond teenagers with raging hormones (e.g. the American Pie franchise). It looks like this happens especially when they’re about growing up in small, rural towns...
The Last Picture Show
Peter Bogdanovich’s 1971 movie is a bittersweet depiction of friendship, heartache, and lost innocence, set in 1950s small-town Texas. The town’s only movie theater is closing and most young people are desperate to flee and start living their lives in the big world. Starring the very young—and very American—Jeff Bridges and Cybil Shepherd, this atmospheric drama is highly acclaimed.
Dazed and Confused
More than twenty years later, another independent director took on the subject of young people in a small Texas town, only this time way more humorously.
Richard Linklater’s film captured the spirit of American youth in the 70s (the esteemed film critic Roger Ebert called it “art crossed with anthropology”). And so we have stoners, mindless bullies and plain social misfits, all trying to escape their dead-end small town life.
Documentaries about teenagers in small towns should capture the real American experience. Director’s Nanette Burstein film chronicles the last year of high school in a small town in Indiana. The time, location, and genre may have changed, but American Teen’s heroes still seem to be concerned by the same issues that bothered their Texans predecessors.
Americana Road Films
Being such a vast country, the United States is a perfect stage for long trips in which the heroes encounter a variety of interesting characters and discover some meaningful truths about themselves.
This classic screwball comedy depicts the attempt of a spoiled and successful comedy director to experience the “Real” America, in order to create a serious and “important” film. He hides his real identity, poses as a drifter, and starts roaming the land. But nothing goes right with this plan to reveal the true America.
O Brother, Where Art Thou?Bearing the name of the serious and “important” film the hero of Sullivan’s Travels intended to create, this Coen brothers film follows the offbeat escapades of three fugitives, set in 1930s Mississippi. Led by Everett (George Clooney—is there a more archetypic American star nowadays?) they meet all sorts of eccentric individuals and produce a hit record. “Only in America,” as the saying goes.
The Straight Story
The love of the road is probably ageless, as demonstrated in David Lynch’s least typical film. No dwarfs, delusions or any kind of surrealism in this one, just a sincere American tale about an elderly man who hops on his American John Deere lawnmower to go meet his estranged brother, and the good folks of America he meets on the way.
Americana: The Dark Side
Some directors like to focus on the bleaker aspects of human nature. When they handle the American dream, the results can be quite powerful and resemble sort of a nightmare.
“There’s no business like show-business” goes the classic American tune, but the late Ameircan Icon Robert Altman proved long ago that it is, after all, a business, and not such a glamorous one. Mixing a look at the hardships of showbiz and political commentary, this ensemble film is set to the sounds of one of the most American musical genres: country.
Years later, in his last film A Prairie Home Companion, Altman revisited the showbiz/American combination, this time with a much gentler tone.
There Will Be Blood
“There’s no business like oil business” could have been the tune of the classic American soap, Dallas (once again, Texas rules...). Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece depicts the dark side of it. Capitalism and America are almost synonyms. Ambitious entrepreneurs are usually regarded as heroes in American society and film. But when the capitalist tendency turns into a dangerous obsession, it can be devastating,
Apparently, you don’t have to be American to deal with Americana. As Lars Von Trier put it, “They never went to Casablanca when they made Casablanca.” He was defending his (yet another) controversial study of human nature, this time centered around the suffering of a mysterious woman in a small Colorado town in the 1930s.
Animated Everyday Life
King of the Hill
Not as extreme as Family Guy or South Park and less biting than The Simpsons, King of The Hill is probably the closest an animated comedy series has come to depicting real American life. It follows the life of the all-American Hill family, led by hard-working, good-hearted salesman Hank, who spends most of his time explaining the difference between right and wrong.