This season we’re going to turn our established format on its head. Instead of looking at “How Hollywood uses history to talk about today” as you’ve heard us say at the beginning of every episode so far, we’re going to start with a historical era as our organizing principle – specifically, the Cold War – and look at how the anxieties, preoccupations, prejudices and hopes of people on both sides of the Iron Curtain were represented in films over those 40+ years. We’re discussing films you would expect us to include, like Dr. Strangelove, Red Dawn, and From Russia with Love, and ones that are a bit unexpected, like the science fiction classic – Invasion of the Body Snatchers. We’ll cover everything from nuclear war to James Bond this season.
He May Be A Communist!
With our organizing principle of the Cold War and Hollywood representation, we begin with the Red Scare. We discuss Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), and The Way We Were (1973). Together these films reveal how the Red Scare cast a wide and enduring shadow on our culture.
Who Can You Trust?
Can you imagine living in a society that is ostensibly a democracy but secret forces are working behind the scenes to manipulate events? The “paranoid thrillers” of the 1970s certainly resonate with us today. We’ll tell you why as we examine three great examples of the genre: The Parallax View (1974), The Three Days of the Condor (1975), and All The President’s Men (1976). Each features protagonists unraveling conspiracies at the heart of our national security state, but is exposing the truth enough?
A MAD, MAD World
Mutually Assured Destruction was no laughing matter, but Stanley Kubrick thought dark comedy was the only way to approach a topic as ridiculous as MAD. In this episode we compare and contrast Dr. Strangelove (1964) with Failsafe, a serious film about the same subject that came out the same year. We reveal just how spot on Dr. Strangelove was about MAD versus Failsafe’s unwarranted optimism that limited nuclear war was possible.
It’s The End Of the World As We Know It
Last episode we discussed films about how a nuclear war would start, particularly the insane logic of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). In this episode we explore how American, British, and Australian filmmakers imagined the unimaginable – Armageddon and the literal and figurative fallout. We look at On the Beach (1959), The Day After (1983), and Threads (1984).
Cold War Homefront
The Deer Hunter (1978), Coming Home (1978), and Da Five Bloods (2020) are reminders (or are they revelations?) that the Vietnam War deeply wounded American society from top to bottom. Whether it’s working class immigrants in rural Pennsylvania, severely wounded veterans and their caretakers, or Black and Brown soldiers contending with racism and shattered lives decades removed from the war, our three films depict the Cold War homefront in vivid detail.
Cold War Homefront
In the late 1980s, Hollywood reflected the real world thaw in the Cold War by depicting the idea of two Russias: the cold bureaucratic state on the one hand, and beautiful, little known country of real, everyday Russians who live rich and full lives despite it all. Our three films are about defections and showing Americans the two Russias. White Nights (1985), The Hunt for Red October (1990), and The Russia House (1990) depict Gorbachev’s Russia as a complicated space filled with fully drawn characters.
This episode looks back at films that came out in the 1980s, a decade when Hollywood seemed to cater to teenage audiences like never before. Could these post-Vietnam teenagers hack the reality of conflict like their dads and granddads had to? We break down two films about teenagers as soldiers – Taps, released in 1981, and Red Dawn, released in 1984.
Shall We Play A Game?
This episode examines films that can be taken as cautionary tales about the dangers of teenagers (or young adults) who don’t take the Cold War seriously. The focus is on the seemingly apolitical, irresponsible and anti-social nature of the modern, video game playing white, affluent American youth. Our more serious films are Wargames, from 1983, and The Falcon and the Snowman, from 1985. But we also throw in a little bit of The Last Starfighter (1984) and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) just to spice things up.
Shaken and Stirred
We’ve talked about nuclear warfare, espionage and intrigue, evil deep state corporations and corrupt national security institutions, and human stories of love and loss behind the Iron Curtain. Bond’s been through it all. Our films cover four Bonds – Sean Connery’s From Russia With Love (1963), Roger Moore’s For Your Eyes Only (1981), and Pierce Brosnan’s Goldeneye (1995). We end with a discussion of the post-9/11 Bond, Daniel Craig, especially 2012’s Skyfall.