There was a time when cinema was the most popular form of entertainment. A true way for the working class to escape the drag of their everyday life. This is where the term escapism, in relation to cinema, originated. The studios were quick to understand the potential of cinema, and capitalized on this very fact by producing films that allowed an even greater escape from reality. Thus, the rise in popularity of musicals during the Golden Age of Hollywood. In Bollywood, the commercial hits still make a wide use of music and spectacular dance sequences; elements that of course have given it its very own distinctive identity.
Nevertheless, it is undeniable that the working class has not only been entertained by cinema. It has also been represented by it in bleak, realistic, satirical, comedic and other various creative ways. The first cinematic movement that comes to mind in relation to such representations is Italian neo-realism. This was a movement where the filmmakers rebelled against the commercial features produced in Italy at the time, in favour of a more social realist portrayal of the realities of the “real world.”
While neo-realism was deeply influential, indeed arguably the most influential cinematic movement ever, it wasn’t necessarily as successful with the audiences. Furthermore, cinema had previously found ways to bring themes of blue collar frustration and unhappiness in works before the thirties, in it silent era. One would, of course, expect it from Soviet cinema, driven by its political agenda. But Chaplin’s films were acclaimed in part due to their empathy with the struggles of the audiences who praised him. He became beloved not only for his genius and pioneering artistry, but also because of his impersonation of the lives of the people who would rush to see his latest flick. Despite his popularity, this empathy is something he would have to deal with, when the U.S. went crazy in its witch hunt and blacklisting of artists who may have appeared to have been involved with Communist ideals.
A list of films remarkably taking working class stories to the screen is near impossible to compile. Having compiled it, it’s as impossible to deem it truly complete. In order to really feel it well rounded, thematically if not geographically, this list – composed only of fictional works – looks at the films that have dealt with the working class in really significantly differing ways. This is also the reason behind some more notable omissions. The following films are all titles that should be discovered, or perhaps re-discovered, not only as worthy representations of the working class throughout the ages, but also as wonderfully impactful films in general.
NOTE: The list is neither in order of preference, nor in chronological order.