The nineteen-fifties were one of the most eventful decades of the twentieth century. It was the period when the most powerful states attempted to collaborate in order to maintain the hard-won peace. Seeking to overcome the post-war crisis, the USA entered a new era of innovations and rapid scientific and technological development. However, the nineteen-fifties are considered to be the beginning of the so-called Cold War – a conflict that was mainly ideological by nature and involved the two most powerful countries of that time, the United States of America and the Soviet Union. The dangerous competition between America and the USSR caused certain sociological phenomena in the USA, namely the Red Scare, nuclear paranoia, arms, and space race. The aforementioned aspects were distinctly reflected in the cinematography of the United States. The American cinematography tried to show the most significant issues that society was challenged by at that time. Destination Moon, Rocket Ship X-M, and The Big Lift can be viewed as the examples of the films that deal with the most topical problems and ideas that prevailed at that time. These movies, all three of them, were made during the 1950s. Even though cinematography is one of the art forms, films made during the nineteen-fifties can be viewed as the sources making a better understanding of some significant historical events possible.
Destination Moon (1950) is a sensational science fiction movie portraying the emergence of a space race as one of the primary outcomes of the Cold War. The film shows the early stages of the exploration of space and, more importantly, the rivalry between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in this field. Apart from that, the filmmakers attempted to create an artistic reflection of some significant historical processes such as, for instance, the primary scientific research in the USA at that time in general and the space race in particular. The moment when the astronaut sets foot on the Moon and claims: “In the Grace of God and the name of the USA, I take the position of this planet for the benefit of all mankind” demonstrates the importance of the event. (“Destination Moon”). All the commentaries in the film that contain some social implications manifest themselves mainly through a string of dialogs and monologs. The commentaries are designed to make the atmosphere of the space race easier for the audience to comprehend. Some episodes may seem rather simplistic, irrelevant, and erroneous from the scientific point of view. Many commentaries show which mistakes were made in the space exploration and why a mission to reach the Moon was important. It is possible to assume that the filmmakers aimed to create something absolutely new in the field of cinematography, which is why the film abounds with the commentaries, scientific and national ideas advocating the space discovery. All in all, the filmmakers managed to explore the relevance of the most topical scientific and socio-political questions and recreate the spirit of the 1950s. The film sheds light on the atmosphere within the American society of that time. Space was underexplored, which is why a large number of scientists and ordinary people felt excited when the exploration of space began. In addition to that, the movie gives insight into how the Moon was conceived by the previous generations and how it is conceived now. All in all, Destination Moon is a film of an enormous historical value. It depicts the state of things in the USA during the Cold War. The space race was an extremely important mission for America to accomplish; therefore, the authorities were ready to send rockets to the Moon incapable of bringing a crew back. The American authorities were obsessed with the idea of Soviet spying on the scientific secrets of the U.S. Thus, some elements of the Red Scare are also presented in the film. The main characters express worry and fear because of the possibility of sabotage. Fear has, basically, been one of the most powerful emotions that determine people’s activities. This movie could be used as the primary source for studying the Cold War period and space race as one of its probable, anticipated, and logical outcomes. However, there was one more film released in the same year showing the topical social, political, and scientific problems of the 1950s.
Rocketship X-M is a unique motion picture that reveals several essential problems and historical themes of the Cold War period. It depicts the planned journey of the team of selected scientists to the Moon, but instead of the Moon they travel to Mars (“Rocketship X-M”). The researchers observe the amazing landscapes of the planet (“Rocketship X-M”). Based on those observations, the scientists assume that the powerful civilization once inhabited the planet (“Rocketship X-M”). However, after a careful examination of all the evidence, they arrived at a conclusion that the ancient civilization could have been destroyed by the nuclear war (“Rocketship X-M”). The picture illustrates the concepts of the space race, gender role, and nuclear paranoia. Moreover, it reflects a slightly transformed understanding of the idea of the Manifest Destiny. Americans strived to prove their superiority by all means, even in space. The commentary, expressed in the dialogs between the main characters, reveals all essential problems and historical themes in the movie. For example, it is illustrated in the conversation between two astronauts, one of whom is a woman. She proves that any woman can be not only a housewife but also an excellent scientist exploring space (“Rocketship X-M”). The beginning of the story shows the strong desire of the American nation to win the space race. It is illustrated through the character’s speech at a press conference, emphasizing that space for America is a strategic position to control the world (“Rocketship X-M”). The film is designed to help the contemporaries to better understand the atmosphere of the 1950s. The motion picture depicts some topical issues, the nuclear paranoia being, perhaps, the most crucial among the others. It seems as if the filmmakers attempted to argue an idea that any powerful civilization could be destroyed by nuclear weapons. The historical books and documents can represent the chronology of the events, but they do not introduce the audience to the atmosphere of that time. All in all, to a certain extent, the film can be viewed as a historical document. There is a huge possibility that the filmmakers did not intend to create a historical documentary that depicted their reality allegorically. However, nowadays the movies like Rocketship X-M can help to better understand the peculiarities of life in the USA in the 1950s. It is an important source even for the scientists themselves because it helps to understand the image of the epoch more fully, analyze the events and thus, find the answers to some questions that have been haunting mankind for years.
The Big Lift is the full-length feature film showing the issues of the outcomes of World War II directly. The film portrays the city of Berlin turned to ruin. The main characters of the movie are the former airmen who have served in the military, done their duty, and become involved in the events associated with the blockade of Berlin by the Soviet Union (“The Big Lift”). Specifically, the film shows the two sergeants of the American aviation departing from the air-base in Honolulu (“The Big Lift”). The pilots arrive to another air-base at Frankfurt am Main, after which they shuttle to Berlin (“The Big Lift”). The men get attracted to two different women (“The Big Lift”). In both cases, the romantic relationships come to an end (“The Big Lift”). The final episode of the film argues that what people have learned from war, among other things, is that the duty is above sentiments. The film shows how the countries that once were allies turn into rivals because of each other’s desire to dominate. The peace after World War II was hard won. Restoring peace and maintaining it in the late nineteen-forties was a challenging task as well. The Soviet occupation of Berlin was fierce. After all, the Soviet Union managed to turn East Germany into its own sphere of influence for no less than three decades. Therefore, the rivalry between the USA and the Soviet Union grew. The alliance between the USA and the USSR broke down. It is a rather alarming and sad thing to admit that history repeats itself these days. The movies like The Big Lift were made to show how the worst case scenario could be avoided. In addition to that, the process of making the film involved some new technologies. Most importantly, the value of the pictures like The Big Lift is increasing today as it is necessary to prevent the irreversible changes and respond to threats of war, decay, demolition, and corruption through finding the effective mechanisms of dealing with them.
The late nineteen-forties and the late nineteen-fifties can be considered one of the most intense periods of the twentieth century. At that time, the art of cinematography served to admonish mankind, no matter what kind of reality the filmmakers depicted in pictures – the fictional or actual one. The art of cinematography incorporated the achievements of the development of science and technology. A question of whether Historians may use arts in general and cinematography in particular as the primary sources for better understanding of societies is debatable in itself. With regard to this, one of the major limitations using the films noted above for attempting to better understand the culture, political, social, and economic background of the respective period in the history of the United States is that the films themselves are that works of art. Art is involved with actuality as much as with the fiction. Hence, one cannot fully rely on the works of art when attempting to objectively evaluate some specific historical events. By and large, the cinematography in the early nineteen-fifties referred to nearly all spheres of human activity. All things considered, cinematography has played and continues to play a significant role in the development of culture and arts.