Seven-Plus Films to Watch For the Vintage

By scotrace · May 30, 2018 · ·
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  1. scotrace
    By Scott Daniels


    The film industry doesn't always get vintage right—and this doesn’t just apply to twentieth century set pieces. If you’ve seen the 1963 Cleopatra, which star Elizabeth Taylor found particularly embarrassing, you’ve seen some of the worst damage Hollywood can do, with 1960s hairdos and clothing styles all the rage in ancient Egypt.

    When a film misses the mark completely, coming up with costumes, settings and hairstyles which in no way reflect the period they are attempting to portray, it can overtake an otherwise interesting picture. At times, this is intentional, as with Baz Luhrmann's Great Gatsby (2013), in which some of the music, costumes, etc., were moved into the 21st century to achieve a specific effect. At other times, it’s just a charging bull of a mess. In staying with the Fitzgerald novel, the 1974 Great Gatsby comes to mind. Or away from Fitzgerald, see 1967's Bonnie and Clyde.

    But when they get it right, it’s a magnificent thing to see. There’s always a small mistake to be spotted, but here are some good examples of movies or streaming series showing off vintage fashions in an authentic way, whether using originals or well-curated new work.

    Peaky Blinders (BBC 2013-) / Boardwalk Empire (HBO, 2010-2014)

    We lump these two together because they are similar in style and general storyline, Set in 1920s Birmingham, England and 1920s Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA, respectively, they follow the stories of crime families staking out territory and grabbing power in the post World War One era. Both expensively lavish, they are worth catching for the stylish and reasonably accurate costumes, sets, and great storytelling.

    The Cotton Club (1984)

    Starring Richard Gere, Diane Lane and Nicholas Cage, The Cotton Club was filmed when there were still racks upon racks of late 20s-early 30s clothing available at the local Goodwill, and the movie’s costume designers make full use of excellent, original pieces. Though a little dated to watch now, it’s still one of the best examples of proper use of vintage styles on the screen.

    Mad Men (AMC 2007-2015)

    Following the story of the rise and inglorious dissemination of second-tier Madison Avenue ad agency Sterling-Cooper, Mad Men begins on the eve of the 1960 U.S. presidential election and takes us through the many social upheavals of the 1960s and 70s. The series nails the vibe of the time, not just in clothes, but every tiny set detail from office equipment to social norms. Stay with it to get past early blatant sexism and it’s worth binging from Don Draper’s early musings on cigarette smoking through Peggy Olson’s… trust us, just watch it.

    Dunkirk (2017)

    There are several excellent movies and series set on and off the battlefields of World War Two which get things mostly right, including Saving Private Ryan (1998), Band of Brothers (HBO 2001), and Hacksaw Ridge (2016) to name a very few. Dunkirk, one of the most recent, has been widely acclaimed for accuracy across the board.

    The Artist (2011)

    The Artist proved so much to vintage watchers. Hollywood can, when it wants to, do things with remarkable style and accuracy. It also proved that silent films can still tell a story more than 80 years after their demise with the coming of sound.

    Babylon Berlin (Netflix, 2017)

    You can almost smell the unbathed bodies while watching Babylon Berlin. The film is set in 1930's Berlin, Germany, as Communism, the NSDAP and others struggle to take control of the Weimar Republic. Drugs, sex, music and debauchery are all on hand, in a well presented and researched Netflix series.

    Jeeves and Wooster (BBC 1990)

    Starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, fans of Television's House will hardly believe the latter is the same fellow. The series is based on the stories by P.G. Wodehouse, and the sets, costumes, and notably, hats, are pretty much all to die for. See Bertie Wooster's apartment for serious art deco furnishings and accessories. See Jeeves for everything else.

    Feel free to leave other suggestions--or films with glaring flaws--in the comments.

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    About Author

    Aside from helping manage things around The Fedora Lounge, I'm a freelance writer and award winning food columnist. The foodie Insta is @weatewellandcheaply.


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  1. Philipe
    sick movies, boardwalk , blinders ,cotton club, definetly
    my favorites
  2. Kenneth Lawson
    You're Right. Getting a period piece right is a challenge.
    I find some of the best are from the BBC.
    Pick any of the Mysteries. be it Poirot, my favorite, Miss Marple, or Mariaget or Sherlock Holmes. All well-done period pieces.
    And the stories are great too.
    Of course, nothing beats watching the original period piece, such as any Bogart film of the 1940s The entire Thin Man series, to just name a couple.
    A well-done period piece is a pleasure to watch.
      Rfagan likes this.
  3. MitchellFW
    I always liked "Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries" for the late twenties.
      OldGreyBird likes this.
    1. Kenneth Lawson
      Yes its good, I've seen the series at least twice.
  4. sola fide
    I have Direct TV for now so I record most movies from the 20s-early 40s. Not good if your on a budget. Its like feeding an addiction looking at everyone wearing beautiful suits, tuxes and sport clothing. I've been watching Clark Gable, Cary Grant, William Powell etc... These fellow could dress as well as Buster Keaton.
  5. Brian Sheridan
    I am so irritated that "The Cotton Club" isn't in Blu-Ray so we can really see detail in the costumes. It should be a release in the Criterion Collection with 4K remastering and a ton of extras.
  6. Inkstainedwretch
    "Dillinger" (1973) featured a pitch-perfect vision of the Depression. Clothing, furnishings and hairstyles were fabulous.
  7. Talbot
    Greatly enjoyed 'Hail Ceasar', but cannot vouch for the accuracy of the wardrobe.
  8. Talbot
    No mention of Downton Abbey?
      Dr. PM Atterberry likes this.
  9. sola fide
    I really like the wardrobes in Boardwalk Empire, but too offensive to watch
    1. LandoCalrissian
      It's offensive in more ways than one, esp. with the revisionist history.
  10. DeaconKC
    The Wild Bunch is also an excellent example, and to a firearm's afficianado, is especially welcome for that accuracy as well.
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