Through an examination of film’s within a country, or a moment in time, one can truly come to understand what the public values in terms of a certain ideology. In the United States, popular entertainment has long been a method of romanticizing the stories of so-called self-made men. It has been seen as the most effective way to portray the American Dream, individualism, and the unique past of the United States for audiences living within modern society. These stories are often quite heroic, and show the value of hard work in a distinctly “American” tone. Although individualism itself as a tenant can be quite harmful, when it is used as a theme in entertainment, it can be effective in creating sentiment, and pride. So, individualism has contributed significantly to this history of American entertainment, and has been crucial in creating a vast sentimentality for a past where hard work was shown to be the greatest virtue.
The history of film in America is far too rich, and far too expansive to fully look towards every film with themes of individualism. So, two films (Citizen Kane, and Giant) have been selected to discuss. The famed writer, director, and actor Orson Welles created his first film “Citizen Kane” in 1941. Citizen Kane directly displayed the ability of an American man to take control of his own destiny, and create and empire. Kane is an incredible work of American art, but its general popularity also displays how the American public reacts to (and embraces) stories such as the one presented in the film. At the time it was released, the country was on the tail end of the Great Depression, and Citizen Kane presented them with a great (and flawed) character that was meant to inspire. The touch of individualism can be seen as one of the defining features of the film, and one that makes it distinctly American. Kane must be mentioned in this conversation due to the fact that it is one of the most well regarded films in the history of American cinema. It possesses dominant themes regarding what it is seen to “be an American,” and the attitude/determination of the character Charles Foster Kane is still treasured 75 years later.
“Giant,” which was released 15 years after Citizen Kane, featured a much different set of characters, and a much different setting. The setting of the film is crucial, as it took place in Texas, because it adds a greater sentiment for the American virtue of individualism. It displays true grit among many characters in order to persevere in the harsh climate of Texas. While the plot is not explicitly regarding individualism (and, really, followed many issues regarding race), it is frequently cited as one of the most prominent films depicting the rugged individualism of the western United States, and shows the prominence of the American Dream. This type of film truly shows the importance of individualism and the American Dream in Hollywood during the 20th century. The film possessed a mighty budget, gigantic stars (including James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor), and incredible reception from the American public (and the Academy). The ways audiences react to film is a great indicator as to what the dominant sentiment is among them. It shows through why they love stories regarding the western frontier, and latch on to certain characters within those stories. It is because of this ideal that has been so distinctly taught to generations of Americans, and truly is a facet of everyday life.
All in all, there are many examples throughout the history of American film that display the importance of individualism upon the popular entertainment of the United States (I would love to hear any other examples you can think of). But, Citizen Kane and Giant, more so than others, captured the true unique value of individualism in the United States (in two very distinct regions).