Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Best Years of Our Lives & Contemporary Period Piece

The Best Years of Our Lives

The Best Years of Ours Lives came out in 1946 and at the time of it's release was a contemporary film.

Yet it plays out like a period piece, by that I mean, it seems like director William Wyler took special care to make this film capture not only the stories of different men who return from war but to also capture 1946.

The camera seems to linger at times in a way period pieces sometimes do, creating a sense of time and place, paying attention to details of the time not just the characters and the story.

An example of this was a scene in the film where you watch the characters squeeze orange juice and later get it from the refrigerator. Pretty normal scene, but the way these extra details are included seems to make this film a study in 1946.

We also hear about the changes to general stores, feelings about the local pub, and a strong idea about the cost of goods, and post-war wages in America.


I tried to think if there was any film from last year that captured 2009 in this way. I think the closest think this would be Jason Reitman's Up in the Air. This film captures attitudes about unemployment and the corporate experience while also lingering on details of elite status travel programs from companies like Hertz and Marriott.

I think there is something to be said about not just telling a modern story but filling it with modern details that can be appreciated down the road. A film like The Best Years of Our Lives really demonstrates that idea.