In Baz Luhrmann’s lavish adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the extravagance and glitz of the Jazz Age are once again brought to life, although this is far from the first film to do so. Here are ten of the most popular cocktails.
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With its publication in the heart of the Roaring Twenties, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby has come to embody both the spirit of the time and a crushing nostalgia. Not only are star-crossed adulterers Jay and Daisy dragged back into their own past, but the novel itself is purposely set a few years earlier than its publication, in 1922, assessing its own eraup-close.
Baz Luhrmann’s latest version of Fitzgerald’s work, with 3D trickery, hip-hop soundtrack, everything underscores the gap between our period and that of Fitzgerald. However, the film industry can’t forget that it was born in the 1920s, and that chaotic decade provided the backdrop for a slew of great films, including The Great Gatsby, The Great Gatsby, and The Great Gatsby Part II.
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The blazing ’20s may also be a long decade, depending on how you slice it. After the First World War, a period of economic uncertainty began, which lasted until the Wall Street Crash of October 1929. According to some historians, the Jazz Age wasn’t over until Prohibition was abolished in the United States in 1933. Until the Hays censorship rule began to bite in 1934, Hollywood cinephiles might argue that the decade of excess had ended.
We’ve tried to include as many 1920s-themed films as possible in our selection, so that we may get a double dose of Jazz Age style. All of these films are widely available in the UK if you’d want to host your own Roaring Twenties film festival at home.
1. The Idle Class (1921)
Two hilarious reels of rich people having a good time while flashing their underwear. Even though Chaplin plays both roles, Edna Purviance’s society woman mistakenly thinks the Little Tramp is her spouse while vacationing at a luxurious resort. Mistaken identity is treated as farce in The Idle Class, but Chaplin would use the same error to great effect in City Lights a decade later (1931). Rather than focusing on Chaplin’s satirical point that the lower classes are guilty of illicit drinking and parasitic idleness, the spectator is left to laugh at the slapstick set pieces instead. There is a brawl at a fancy dress party involving a malfunctioning suit of armour, and the billionaire appears in the hotel foyer without his pants and fate conspires, even more ingeniously, to disguise his blushes.
With Chaplin’s aristocratic attitude as both layabout and gadabout, the deadpan enjoyment is unquestionable. If you’re a fan of Roaring Twenties style, you’ll love Purviance’s outfit, which includes a pair of stockings with art deco embellishments.
2. L’Argent (1928)
Director: Marcel L’Herbier
A greedy entrepreneur tries to raise the value of his company’s stock by betting on a transatlantic flight in Marcel L’Herbier’s silent classic about rival financiers during the années folles. The director, who had previously been rebuffed by studio bean-counters, channeled his hate for money into this acerbic modernization of the Emile Zola classic. With Brigitte Helms glistening in golden satin at the center of lavish, gigantic sets recorded in deep-focus photography, L’Argent is known for its technical advances and jaw-dropping art deco splendor.
More than 1,500 extras were summoned to the Paris stock market on a bank holiday for the filming of a ‘plunge’ shot from the ceiling. L’Argent, which was released in 1928 shortly before the Wall Street Crash, is nonetheless savage, gorgeous, and uncannily predictive today.
3. Speedy (1928)
Even though the last horse-drawn tram rolled down Bleecker Street in 1917, the service continues in “an old-fashioned nook of New York City — an area that had never acquired the pace of the rest of New York” in Harold Lloyd’s late-20s comedy Speedy. Pop (played by Lloyd) is the only one who can keep the train going for one more time and beat the greedy railroad developers.
On site in New York City (and in a well-hidden Los Angeles), Speedy gives a fast-paced tour of flashy 1920s New York. Coney Island, drugstore sundaes, and even a ride to Yankee Stadium for Babe Ruth are just some of the things Lloyd does for his girl. A playground for the rich and a place of opportunity for the destitute may be found in this metropolis. If Pop and his tram are our heroes, then Lloyd is out to help his girlfriend’s grandfather earn a bigger payout so that they may buy a house together and stop worrying about the creaky old bus. Just as in Safety Last! (1923), the bespectacled boy-next-door takes on the perplexing great metropolis and prevails over it.
4. Pandora’s Box (1929)
At just 22 years of age, Louise Brooks exudes charm and sexual appeal as the doomed heroine of classic German tragedy that has lasted for more than a century. During the beginning of the film, Lulu appears to be a dancer and a kept lady in sleazy Weimar Berlin; by the end, she is a streetwalker in foggy London. Pabst’s version of Frank Wedekind’s plays startled and enraged audiences and censors alike when it was released, but Brooksie claims that the underbelly of Girlkultur as represented inPandora’s Boxdid not represent the roaring twenties in any meaningful way.
Her best friend was a lesbian (a rarity at the time when on-screen homosexuality was taboo), and her productions were funded by wealthy men who had their sights on the chorus line (like the character of Schön), Brooks said. “Sex was the business of the town” in Berlin, she said.
Pandora’s Box was a “truthful image of this realm of pleasure, which helped me play Lulunaturally” for this unflappable flapper, rather than sensationalism.
5. Piccadilly (1929)
In the roaring twenties, London also raged, and Arnold Bennett’s snappy script for E.A. Dupont’s stylish drama Piccadilly depicts the metropolis as a seductive but divided city. Affluent Londoners dine on lobster and dance the night away in the West End; in the East, immigrants from the working class scuffle for space in dingy taverns. Shosho (Anna May Wong), a pot-washer at a nightclub, gets a new job as a slinky dancer and a new lover when her employer notices her. As a result of going out with the wrong man in the wrong part of town, Shosho ends herself paying the price for her actions.
Jazz babies in Piccadilly are still having a good time, despite Limehouse’s dramatic conclusion. Watch for future Powell & Pressburger partner Alfred Junge’s set designs, and keep an eye out for Charles Laughton’s appearance as the piggy.
6. À propos de Nice (1930)
During the Jazz Age, if you were American, wealthy, and a free spirit, it’s safe to say that you’d want to be in Paris. These high-living Prohibition exiles also traveled south to the French Riviera when they needed a break from New York City. Take in the scene by reading or watching Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald or propos de Nice by Jean Vigo.
He arrives at the French resort with a goal. Using a 360-degree perspective, he captures both the public and private sides of the city, where the rich play in the sun and the laborers clean up after them. As stodgy types rummage through old issues of the Daily Telegraph, beachgoers toast their towels, carnival dancers stomp their feet, and fur-wrapped ladies totter along the pier’s edge, life goes on. Using a hidden camera, Boris Kaufman documented the “social documentary,” but the film also captures some heady Vigo magic: a shoeshine boy removes a patron’s shoe to reveal the foot beneath. Vigo wants you to feel sickened by what you see in propos de Nice, which was shot off-season in early 1930 and depicts the dying embers of a decaying society. Vigo says the film “sickens you and makes you sympathetic to a revolutionary solution”
7. The Roaring Twenties (1939)
When it comes to organized crime, prohibition was like paraffin to a smoldering ember: Jimmy Cagney and Humphrey Bogart feature in Raoul Walsh’s gritty gangster epic about a decade of unemployment, corruption, and violence, in which the good citizen becomes a bootlegger. They initially come face-to-face in a shellhole as soldiers, and then as liquor smugglers in the Hudson River. I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang (1932) was inspired by the reporting of New York reporter Mark Hellinger for this social concern film.
To put it bluntly, “It may come to happen that, at some distant moment, we may be presented with another time comparable to the one depicted in this photoplay,” the film explicitly blames the First World War for the ills of the 1920s. My prayer is that the events depicted here will be remembered if that should happen. Death on the church steps, in the snow, as played by Cagney’s anti-hero, is guaranteed to chill the blood. Instead, I recall him chatting to Priscilla Lane with all the vigor and bombast of the time: “You want the Brooklyn Bridge, all you have to do is ask for it. You know what? If I can’t afford it, I’m going to steal it. “
8. Some Like It Hot (1959)
“Underlying the flapper’s joy and exuberance is a sense of sadness. People can see she’s sad and disillusioned. Clara Bow said it in the 1920s, and Marilyn Monroe, as Sugar Kane, blazing as a downhearted jazz cat, was the only person who could truly understand how it felt. In Billy Wilder’s cross-dressing farce, the Prohibition era backdrop is used “as an almost expressionistic setting for all that’s harsh and frantic in Americanlife,” according to critic Raymond Durgnat.
As musicians on the run from Chicago mobsters, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon disguise themselves as ladies in order to mix with Marilyn Monroe’s band. If it weren’t for the temptations of romance, sex, and luxury yachts, everything would go according to plan. With their newfound understanding of what it’s like to be a woman in her 20s, Curtis and Lemmon have a better understanding of Bow’s unhappiness, including her experiences with heartbreak, harassment, and high heels.
9. Bugsy Malone (1976)
Hollywood’s attempts to depict the sensuality and violence of the Roaring Twenties were severely hampered by the Motion Picture Production Code, which was implemented in the mid-1930s. Gangster flicks and backstage musicals of this era required the heavies and chorus girls to behave so impeccably, it was as if they were children.
This is why Alan Parker’s Bugsy Malone, a tweenage mobster musical that should have been so terrible, feels perfect. Maybe that’s why we have such fond memories of the 1920s, and why we imagine them to be a more innocent period. Just as she did in Martin Scorsese’s merciless Taxi Driver (1976), Jodie Foster portrays tired nightclub singer Tallulah with the same jaded, brittle quality she brought to her adolescent prostitute portrayal. She was only 13 years old at the time.
After entering a New York school and asking for “the naughtiest boy in class,” Parker famously cast the villain of the piece, Fat Sam. At the risk of breaking innocent childhood dreams, the prop guns actually fired ping-pong balls and not custard. It’s all in the movies.
10. Midnight in Paris (2011)
There is a pervasive impression of the splendor of idealized life or imagination vs the harshness of reality in all of Woody Allen’s films. To be expected, his depiction of the Jazz Age in Midnight in Paris is a sweet confection of artistic wish-fulfillment. Every night, Owen Wilson’s Hollywood screenwriter Gil is whisked away to the Paris of F. Scott Fitzgerald in an enchanted Peugeot. After drinking with Ernest Hemingway night after night, Gertrude Stein gives him writing tips, and he saves F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda from jumping into the Seine, all the while falling hopelessly in love with the past that he can never quite attain.
When Paul tells him “nostalgia is denial of the painful present,” Gil gets distracted by Paul’s fiancée, a smarty-pants named Paul. Aside from Marion Cotillard, Adriana is Gil’s nightly companion of choice, but it turns out that nostalgia is an itch you just can’t satisfy. Adriana, like him, despises the present and yearns to be “carried back ceaselessly into the past.” It turns out that Gil’s 1920s vision has all the ingredients for a fantastic movie, even if he can’t make a living from it.