Movies have the capability to transport their viewer to whatever setting they want. It is incredibly easy to be engrossed into a time and place that seems so interesting and different from the world we live in today, especially if that setting is something that is so interesting. While movies like Avatar and The Guardians of the Galaxy can show you how a foreign, fictional setting can make millions at the box office, movies set in different periods of time have always had a soft spot in the hearts of the people.
It seems that the best stories we can tell are usually from the personal experiences of the human race. Most often than not, the winner of “Best Picture” at The Academy Awards goes to some film that is about a famous period in time that you hear from your history classes. But I have found that some of the greatest stories one can find were etched in some of history’s most unknown, and mysterious eras. Let’s take a break from all the World War 2 films and Victorian era films that currently flood the market and appreciate these five films that shine a light on the eras that your high school history class forgot to cover.
Let’s start this list of with a little bit of controversy. If you haven’t heard of the British comedy sketch troupe, “Monty Python”, you are sorely missing out. The gang’s comedic genius is in full force in this 1979 masterpiece of a film about the travels of a Jewish man named Brian who, get this, is born in next door and on the same exact day as Jesus Christ. The film is filled with religious satire, poking fun at all things religious from the intense conservatism of the Jews of old, to the fanaticism and craziness usually found in devoted Catholics. The film was condemned as soon as it was released, getting banned in such countries as Ireland and Norway. In addition to the film’s gut busting humor and religious officials’ claims of it being “blasphemy”, the film stands out because it is one of the few films to show a lighter side of the late B.C.’s and early A.D.’s. Suddenly Jesus’ time seems more to the public than just death, war and all around sin. The Life of Brian adds a more colorful and lighter shade to the dark and desolate era in time that we have come to fear. This era in time leaves a message to the world with the film’s most famous quote, “Always look on the brighter side of life.
When someone says that a film set in the Dark Ages is an incredible portrayal of its time, you’d expect the thing to be about either starvation, plagues or religious intolerance. The Dark Ages is not a time where one would find much inspiration and wonder, but the legendary tale of Tristan and Isolde is an endearing reminder that there was light to be found under all that darkness. A tragic love story that predates the more famous Shakespeare play, “Tristan and Isolde” is the tale of an English orphan who falls in love with an Irish princess. Of course the princess, who loves him back, is engaged to a powerful lord. This romance is doomed from the beginning, even if the two lovers cannot see it. The tale was adapted in 2006 to a charming film starring James Franco. The movie encapsulates the themes and message of the original legend, effectively showing that even under all the darkness, love will always be worth fighting for.
Okay so I might be cheating with this one, seeing as how it’s technically set in present day Paris, but the film so elegantly encapsulates the charms, beauty and extravagance of the 1920’s that I had to put it on the list. The film is about a struggling writer who believes he was born at the wrong time. Gil, played by Owen Wilson, dreams of living in “The Roaring Twenties” Paris, a time he believes is much better than today. The film follows the magical trips he makes whenever the clock strikes twelve, and Gil is magically sent to the 1920’s. There he gets to meet some of the most famous figures of that era, and experience first-hand the beauty of a world long gone. The film is a tribute to the beautiful decade of the 20’s and is the perfect movie to watch if you’re in the mood for a rom-com with a historical twist.
This film does away with the stereotypical medieval plot of great wars and giant battles with its plot about fancy tourneys and romance. William Thatcher, a peasant doomed to live a simple life of farming, decides to take up his dead master’s jousting lance and become a tourney knight. With a little help from his friends, he rises up the ranks of lords and true knights to become a real contender, and to be the desire of a certain hard to please lady. The film shows his attempt to best the knights that surround him, and to win the heart of a woman born into a class much higher than his. The film is incredibly charming and uses a regular, “non-Shakespeare” dialect, along with a rock-filled soundtrack, to connect to its modern audience. Despite this, the film is a great insight into the medieval life, where most people’s goals and aspirations were limited by their titles and land. Heath Ledger brings us an inspiring tale of peasants and underdogs in his best performance not in joker make-up.
KUNG-FU HUSTLE (2004)
What better way to encapsulate 1930’s China than with Kung-Fu, gangsters and a whole lot of slapstick comedy. Stephen Chow brings us his best story to date in this incredible film filled with revolutionary action scenes and side-splitting comedy. The film show chronicles the struggle of a tiny village in Shanghai against the fearsome Axe gang that constantly terrorizes them. The film is filled with an incredible amount of homages to 1930’s lifestyle, and the development of the martial arts it shows. This is one of the films that engrosses you into a culture that you knew nothing about, and keeps you wanting for more. A true gem of cinema in both the action and comedy genre, Kung-Fu Hustle is a film you definitely need to watch.
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