Nowhere is the rivalry more apparent than in the context of film versus reality. Audiences demand that the two feel the same but look completely different. Consequently, it's a nice change of pace when you catch Life and Art accidentally working together in cinema. I've collected five movies that, alone, are mediocre at best, but coupled with the real life circumstances surrounding each film they are catapulted into greatness. It's like seeing a child stand on the shoulders of his handicapped brother in order to reach new heights, or two siblings working together in a brilliant column to beat a dead horse of a metaphor across two paragraphs.
Reunion in France
In the early 1940s, studios hadn't figured out yet that movies could be more visually aesthetic than a filmed high school play. Without believable special effects or a mastery of cinematography, the best movies relied on outstanding dialogue, acting and plot to carry the story. Reunion in France was unique to the era in that it had none of these. The film was such a colossal failure that when the female lead, Joan Crawford was interviewed years later she said, "Oh God. If there is an afterlife and I am to be punished for my sins, this is one of the pictures they'll make me see over and over again."
"Stop it, please!"
The film stars John Wayne as a downed American pilot in occupied France who stays hidden from Nazis with the help of Joan Crawford. Also, they start to fall in love. The movie was made in 1942 and apparently by that point in the war, our country was so used to building weapons they forgot how to make anything that didn't inflict pain.
How Reality Intervened:
John Wayne seemed like a perfect fit for the role of a WWII soldier, fighting alongside the French Resistance behind enemy lines. He was cast partially because he embodied the patriotism and masculinity America yearned for in a hero, and partially because all the other actors were busy fighting in the war. Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable all enlisted during a time when the entire world was threatened by a legitimately evil dictatorship that would have changed the course of human civilization had it succeeded. John Wayne, however, stuck around to make movies. To his credit, he had a few long standing injuries and Washington D.C. also allowed Hollywood actors some lenience in regard to the draft, presumably because America needed the morale boost of movies during one of the worst times in human history. John Wayne was able to defer twice and insisted that he would join up after he made a few more movies but that day never came. A man whose name was synonymous with American heroism for an entire generation managed to avoid the messy business of being a hero.
Why would a democracy need a Duke anyway?
So, watching Reunion in France, knowing that it was made during the Second World War and seeing one of the only actors without any context for the role stumble and sweat his way through it makes it a little more enjoyable to sit through.
In 1979, United Artists released a comedy that took place 20 years in the future. A powerful conglomerate of Native Americans threatens to foreclose on the federal government unless it can raise enough money to stay afloat. The solution is a telethon for America. The movie didn't do very well and quickly disappeared. It bombed because it relied on the absurdly prophesied state of America in the future for most of its laughs. One of the kindest critics of the film in 1979 said, "The premise of Americathon is strong enough to sustain a 15-minute skit, but the movie has the ill fortune to drag on for an hour and a half."
How Reality Intervened:
Over 30 years later, it turns out the movie is better at predicting the future than the Mayan calendar. The ludicrous ideas of what the world could become are eerily true today even though the predictions were written with implausibility in mind. Americathon opens on a United States that's depleted of oil and falling into bankruptcy to foreign lenders; apparently in 1979 there was nothing funnier than the prospect of a devalued U.S. dollar. Also in the movie, one of the biggest corporations in America is NIKE which doesn't seem like much of a prediction except that in '79, NIKE was just a small shoe company in the northwest that hadn't gone public and hadn't aired a single national commercial. On a global level, the film predicts the collapse of the USSR as well as China's rise to a world superpower after embracing capitalism.
Hang on a second, that Chinese girl is freakishly tall.
It's certainly more interesting to watch today if for no other reason than its bizarre accuracy. Still for a movie that's designed to be hilarious, it feels like a cruel mockery of the most significant events of the last few decades. It's like watching a romantic comedy that takes place entirely on a 9/11 flight.