Best Films for WWI history, Jazz Age, Prohibition, Roaring 20s

Veterans Day remembers military worldwide who gave the last full measure in World War One. It's been said that WWI very nearly obliterated an entire generation. WWI, though relatively short for America, certainly took its toll on Americans in a succession of problems. Here are literature based movies to teach post WWI American history lessons. Use these book based films to explore the interconnected events that created one of brightest but also darkest periods in American history: the 1920s Jazz Age.
What were those problems? Prohibition (banning liquor sales and consumption) led to speakeasies and organized crime and the Jazz Age. Post WWI money struggles caused the Stock Market crash. The Dust Bowl (giant sandstorms that destroyed farms, and arguably brought on by the powerful weapons of WWI) pushed massive migration from farm to city. Post WWI unemployment drove the Great Depression and World War Two. Post WWI disillusionment was expressed in literature, social justice, music, art, education, theater, financial and political upheavals felt round the world.
The post WWI 1920s were called the Jazz Age for the new musical fever sweeping America. But the Jazz Age represented total upheaval in conventions. 1920s art progressives espoused startling new ideas: surrealism, Dadaism, Fauvism, Cubism, Modernism. Writers left post WWI America for the Left Bank Paris where they wrote wildly different prose and poetry. Drugs and absinthe ruled passions and plagued souls. Bright Young Things flouted Victorian prudishness in weird fashion. Women cut their hair, hemlines and apron strings. Reformers sought justice for socially oppressed. Even in medicine, Freudian psychoanalysis sought to exorcise demons of Victorian repression. Here are literature-based movies to explore the agony and ecstasy of the 1920s Jazz Age and post WWI American history lessons.
"Georgia O'Keefe" (2009) Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons share the 1920s love story of artist Georgia (Virginia) O'Keefe and Alfred Stieglitz photographer and owner of the renown Stieglitz Gallery. It helps students understand how artists were casting off old norms in post WWI American history. "A Marriage: Georgia O'Keefe and Alfred Stieglitz" (1991) is another good version.

"Johnny Got His Gun" (1971) should be required reading in all high school American history lessons or American Lit classes. Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted and banned from Hollywood for writing this story of a young soldier shot on the last day of World War One. The soldier muses on the bleakness of war after losing both arms, legs, eyes, ears and nose. This is one of the most haunting books you'll ever read or literature based movies you'll ever watch.
"Stormy Weather" and "Ain't Misbehavin" challenge racial stereotypes of the 1920s being movies with mostly or all-black casts. Both feature musicians from the Cotton Club--Cab Calloway, Lena Horne, the Nicholas Brothers, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller and other jazz greats. "The Josephine Baker Story" explores the "Bronze Venus" a 1920s black dancer and singer who set the white world on fire.
"Chicago" Either the 2008 or 1979 versions are the best Jazz Age literature based movies you can see. The story line is tepid but it introduces students to the music of the era very well. Other good Jazz Age literature based movies are "The Jazz Singer" The 1927 Al Jolson versions and the 1980 Neil Diamond version tell of a Jewish cantor who defies his strict father to become a jazz artist. "Funny Girl" (1968) and "Funny Lady" (1975) explore Ziegfeld Follies singer Fanny Brice and her rise to stardom from Manhattan's lower east Jewish section.
"The Great Gatsby" literature based movies are psychodramas about high society party life of the Bright Young Things. F. Scott Fitzgerald looks at the repression in a rigid class structure. Show the 1974, 2000 or 2013 versions of The Great Gatsby. Baz Luhrman's 2013 has an excellent musical score.
"The Sting (1972) is a Dickensian story of organized rebellion against organized crime. The Scott Joplin's score "The Entertainer" sets the Jazz Age 1920s to music. "Public Enemy" is a classic Jimmy Cagney gangster film takes an honest look at life behind a gun. "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967 Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty) is surprisingly beautiful story of two wild, foolish kids in post WWI American who turn to crime for money and laughs.
"Reds" (1981, Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton) looks at the underground communist movement that followed Left Bank Paris Americans back to post WWI United States. A nice comparison film for "Reds" is "Midnight in Paris" which sets famous 1920s names--Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Eugene O'Neil, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Gertrude Stein, Man Ray, Salvador Dali, Josephine Baker, Cole Porter--in their native Left Bank Paris.
"Ragtime" by E.L.Doctorow looks at a post WWI 1920s American microcosm which encompasses Prohibition, social conventions and breaking them. Use this film for American history lessons.

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