The Roaring Twenties

For all you youngsters out there, The ‘Roaring Twenties’ is a term used to describe the period of economic prosperity that occurred in Western civilisation during the second decade of the Twentieth Century. I don’t know about you, but I am hoping that the Twenty twenties are just as dynamic. The good old nineteen twenties saw most major cities blossom culturally. Places such as London, Berlin, New York and Paris all broke from tradition and embraced modernity and all things new. This thrilling decade saw the USA lead in world finance, and all of this money led to rapid advances in technology. As you can imagine, the part that interests me about the ‘Roaring Twenties’ is the explosion of the film industry, with talkies and soundtracks replacing silent films with a pianist. ‘Picture Palaces’ started emerging in this decade too. Huge cinemas with the capacity to seat over one thousand people. As a ‘wee nipper’ growing up in London, my local cinema was indeed one of these beauties and I still remember the first film I ever saw there. No, not telling. It will give my age away. And that is not about to happen any time soon. 

Swiftly moving on, I thought I’d pop together a shortlist of my favourite films either from or about the nineteen twenties for anyone who may be remotely interested. I do hope one or two of them catch your eye:

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic had to be number one. Published in the middle of the ‘crazy years’, it gets up close and personal with the excess and the elegance of the era. The hedonistic endeavours of multi-millionaire playboy Jay Gatsby and his attempts to win back old flame Daisy Buchanan have been put to celluloid several times since the book’s publication. But, embracing modernity as I know the protagonists would love, my favourite is the most recent by Baz Luhrmann. Leonardo Di Caprio in a dazzling whirlwind of opulence and intrigue. A must-watch for anyone unfamiliar with the decade. 

Bugsy Malone – English director Alan Parker made an instant classic in nineteen seventy-six with this wonderful tale of New York gangsters during prohibition. It is a gangster comedy musical. Rare thing. Jodie Foster gives an incredible performance as Tallulah the jaded nightclub singer. If you have never seen this film and you have children, I urge you to sit down with them and have a family viewing. What I forgot to mention was that it is cast with children playing adults, and machine guns that fire custard. See. Now you want to watch it.

Speedy – Harald Lloyd is up there with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton as one of the greatest silent film actors of all time. I was lucky enough to see this only recently in the oldest music hall in the world, with a live pianist. This hilarious film stands the test of time as it follows the mishaps of a tram worker who takes his girlfriend to the fun fair ‘Coney Island’. Lloyd was famous for his live-action stunts, and this film is full of them. I was amazed at how advanced the film making techniques were. Superbly done and well worth a lazy Sunday afternoon’s viewing. 

Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen’s films are not for everyone. Of that much I am aware. But ‘Midnight In Paris’ is a must-see. Owen Wilson is superb as a writer living in Paris, who one night steps into a nineteen twenties cab at midnight and is taken to a party where he goes back in time and meets such luminaries as F Scott Fitzgerald and Cole Porter. Great fun. And an interesting take on nostalgia. Wilson meets a woman who hates the era she is living in and wishes she was born years ago when things were better. Nostalgia, it ain’t what it used to be. 

Some Like it Hot – My all-time favourite Marilyn Monroe film. Two musicians on the run from the Mafia in Chicago go into hiding as women in this black and white comedy from the nineteen fifties. A little side note here for all you film buffs. It was only filmed in black and white after seeing how ‘ghoulish’ Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis looked in makeup. Using black and white film lessened the horror, apparently. I think they both look lovely. Consistently voted as one of the greatest films of all time, In 1989, the Library of Congress selected it as one of the first 25 films for preservation in the United States National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. How’s that for an accolade? 

Whatever your taste in films, whatever genre you love the most, the nineteen twenties provide an ongoing source of inspiration for filmmakers. Sound editing, production techniques, even entire genres such as horror, all have their birthplace in a time that was most definitely roaring. Now, I believe it is up to us to make the twenty twenties just as loud and fun. Who is with me? See you at the bar, mine’s a Champagne cocktail. I thank you.

Benjamin Milton
Benjamin Milton

Benjamin is a writer and actor who spends his time pirouetting between London and Malta. He was inexplicably drawn to the silver screen at a young age, and has seen more films than have been made. He will talk of nothing else given half a chance, so be prepared if you bump into him at Geo F Trumper in St. James having his moustache trimmed. His biggest indulgence is his fine collection of New & Lingwood silk dressing gowns, which is growing at an alarming rate. He looks fabulous in them

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