Some movies seem to be uncanny time capsules of an era or decade or even a day. I'm not referring to historical or period pieces, whether they be LINCOLN or the loopy MARIE ANTOINETTE. Time capsules are movies that were contemporary when made and now remind us (those of us who were alive then) of those times but also give a fair fix on the era for those who were not born yet (a growing majority).
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977) is a prime example. Nothing evokes the late '70's Disco era like John Travolta strutting his stuff and his Brooklyn accent. The soapy melodrama is hypercharged, the clothes are spot-on wonderful or ghastly, depending on your taste, and polyester with the Bee-Gees has never been groovier.
WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (1989) remains one of the most popular romantic comedies of the last fifty years. Its appeal comes from Nora Ephron's socially smart script that addresses the age-old question: "Can a man and a woman be friends without falling in love?" Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan take about 12 years to find out. This time our time capsule is based on clothing and hair styles and even Meg's make-up. As she goes from college to her thirties, she tries so many combinations that we wish she'd decide already. But Meg and the film, like WORKING GIRL (1988), are great reminders of how style can often determine attitudes and behavior in society.
PRIVATE BENJAMIN (1980) stars Goldie Hawn as a spoiled Jewish princess whose second husband dies of a heart attack on their wedding night. In the blankness of her grief and her naivete, she is persuaded to join the army. Laughing yet? You will. Judy Benjamin undergoes basic training under the impatient eyes of Captain Lewis, played to sadistic and hilarious effect by Eileen Brennan. The film takes this premise and gives many of us a time capsule of one of the most miserable times of our lives. Mine was in the summer of 1957, and I was Private Benjamin, just out of high school! Watching Goldie try to climb over those walls, get out of the gas house without breathing, or getting over a rough terrain with bullets whizzing above her head were vivid reminders of my basic training experience, except there were no laughs for Goldie or me, except on the screen.
But watching this comedy again brought up a new idea that hardly occurred to viewers back in 1980. Judy Benjamin suffers sexual harrassment from a superior officer who attempts to rape her when she won't jump from his plane. It seemed funny once; now it seems obscene, and fortunately, the attitudes towards this kind of action are changing.
Do you have any time capsule movies? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.