Thursday 19 April 2018

Fourth of July: What these ten 'American' movies reveal about the US

<b>7. American Pie - Jason Biggs experiments with apple pie..</b></br>
7. American Pie - Jason Biggs experiments with apple pie..
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

Today is the Fourth of July, which is best-known, of course, for two reasons. As any fool knows, it’s the date on which Johann Georg Turmair, AKA Johannes Aventinus, the Bavarian Renaissance humanist, historian and philologist, was born in 1477. And it’s the title of one of the better songs on Side Two of Soundgarden’s epic 1994 grunge album Superunknown (forming the third point of a kick-ass triptych with Kickstand and Fresh Tendrils).

But the Fourth is also famous as American’s Independence Day. And America, in turn, is famous for making movies – including a surprising amount of movies whose title actually starts with the word “American”.

We’ve picked out ten and analysed them, in proper chin-stroking style, for What They Say About America:

American Beauty (1999)

American Beauty

What’s it about: Kevin Spacey has a mid-life crisis and begins hallucinating about a neighbouring girl floating on a bed of roses. Or something.

What does it Say About America: Suburban life is death to the soul, man. Channel your inner weirdo instead, by quitting your job or making stupid videos about plastic bags.

American Graffiti (1973)

American Graffiti

What’s it about: George Lucas’ sweet and nostalgic love-letter to the early 1960s rock ‘n’ roll heyday in a sunny Californian town.

What does it Say About America: Things were better in the past. Look at how cool their cars are! And their hairstyles! And you were allowed to smoke anywhere!

American History X (1999)

American History X

What’s it about: Edward Furlong learns some uncomfortable truths about race relations and the skinhead/Nazi/boot-boy brother (Edward Norton) he’d always looked up to.

What does it Say About America: People of different races often fear and dislike each other, and really it’s hard to see how this could be totally eradicated. Which can cause problems in a multiracial society.

American Gigolo (1980)

American Gigolo

What’s it about: Sleazy rent-boy Julian (Richard Gere) has sex for money with older women and gets embroiled in a murder case/conspiracy/imbroglio/thing.

What does it Say About America: Something vague and unprovable about the commodification of sex in post-War society being comparable to violent crime.

American Pie (1999)

American Pie

What’s it about: Young lads battle manfully to lose their individual virginities. One of them has intimate relations with a piece of pastry.

What does it Say About America: Young lads are idiots, basically. And young lads in American seem that bit more gung-ho about finding a solution to their viriginity-related problems.

American Ultra (2015)

American Ultra

What’s it about: Stoner Jesse Eisenberg is actually a Jason Bourne-esque unkillable assassin with amnesia. Except this one is a comedy. It’s not really that funny, but Kristen Stewart is brilliant, as per standard operating procedure.

What does it Say About America: Three constants of modern American life are: drugs, guns, and Kristen Stewart giving performances which are far too good for the movie she’s appearing in.

American Gangster (2007)

American Gangster

What’s it about: Denzil and Russell Crowe prove why they’re pretty much the gold standard for cinema – great acting in a great film about a riveting life-story, heroin kingpin Frank Lucas.

What does it Say About America: Drugs, crime, race – all the biggies. It’s like a Serious Theme full-house.

American Psycho (2000)

American Psycho

What’s it about: Wall Street trader Patrick Bateman tortures and dismembers women (and one homeless man) in a satire of the 1980s “Greed is Good” mentality.

What does it Say About America: Something vague and unprovable about the commodification of sex in post-War society being comparable to violent crime.

American Yakuza (1993)

American Yakuza

What’s it about: Cop Viggo Mortensen infiltrates a Japanese organised crime gang, but the situation becomes more morally ambiguous as he comes to appreciate their honour, code, traditions, cool tattoos etc. etc. etc.

What does it Say About America: Made at a time when the US rightly feared Japanese economic ascendancy, I guess it said, “We’re worried.” They needn’t have bothered: Japan has been in stagflationary recession for about 20 years.

American Kickboxer (1991)

American Kickboxer

What’s it about: Meatheads kick seven shades out of each other for the hollering, whooping approval of an audience mainly consisting of other meatheads. (Interesting side-note: this drek wasn’t even made in the States, it’s South African.)

What does it Say About America: Meatheads will always enjoy watching other meatheads kicking seven shades out of each other. And you know, there’s nothing wrong with that.

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