“I don’t want realism—I want magic! Yes, yes, magic. I try to give that to people. I do misrepresent things. I don’t tell truths; I tell what ought to be truth.”
When I think of the 50s, I often think of the picture-perfect, Leave it to Beaver life put forth in popular entertainment. And of course it wasn’t really like that. They were still recovering from World War II, and there were a lot of not-so-great things happening. The popular response was to sweep all that under the rug and focus on the positive, and that shaped much of the entertainment to come out of the 50s. But there was a strong counterculture movement dedicated to realism, no matter how harsh it may be.
In the 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield railed against “phonies,” and that cognitive dissonance eventually landed him in a mental institution. Also in 1951, A Streetcar Named Desire showed us two worldviews coming to clash: one of romanticized ideals that ignored the horrible things that were going on, and one of brutal realism that was authentic to a fault, becoming an embedded part of everything wrong with the world. Directed by Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront, East of Eden) and starring Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando, this is a brutal look at the two mindsets inevitably coming head to head. It admittedly got off to a somewhat slow start, but very quickly in, I was hooked. Few films do drama as well as this one, and the tension builds throughout the film into an explosion near the end.