- Barry Levinson's Yesterday's Tomorrows
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 30, Number 1, March, 2000
- pp. 71-72
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Regular Feature | Film Reviews the perspectives of a Polish and a Chinese immigrant. The Chinese Exclusion Act of the 1880s tried to limit the flow of Asian immigrants, while European newcomers were concurrently received with open arms. Both Asians and Europeans were tempted by the myth of personal success, the idea that in America it was possible to break the boundaries of social classes, to find freedom and prosperity. An interesting approach would be to analyze more closely the myth of success outside America: what kind of mental images were attached to America in Europe or Asia? These images influenced how those immigrants reacted to their experiences once having landed in the new world. America as a mental construct has undoubtedly been of great significance—and it still is, as we can well understand in the end of the film when Nava presents an agonized Mexican mother trying to get over the border in order to be able to better educate her children. The American Dream has certainly meant different things for different people. Its cornerstone has been the myth of personal success, or the Self-Made Man, influentially promoted by Horatio Alger Jr. (1832-99) in his novels. Although Alger himself described how a ragged street boy could attain a respected place in the community, his ideas were later interpreted as if he had spoken only for "fame" and "fortune." The American Dream was seen as a desire for economic prominence, as a rise from rags to riches. In fact, Alger's heroes usually got a secure position in society, but did not yearn for riches. Gregory Nava's documentary does not offer Utopian images of abundance (except the statement "to become rich and never have to work again") but instead images of security and reasonable well-being. After the testimonies of a Polish and a Chinese immigrant, Nava juxtaposes the experiences ofa white bourgeois family whose dream has been realized in California with those of a black worker who moved to Chicago only to encounter the collapse of the Dream. Although Nava's own voice is not present in the film, the juxtaposition of European, Asian, White, and Black experiences stresses the idea that there are strikingly oppositional conceptions ofwhat the American Dream means. The myth of personal success was, without doubt, a much-needed instrument in a country that had to reassure newcomers about the possibilities of their future. It claimed that those who worked hard and were honest and punctual would inevitably find their place on the social ladder. But those immigrants who were unwelcome were pushed aside. Initially, they perhaps had a version of the Dream in their minds, but they did not get an equal opportunity to try to reach it. Gregory Nava ends his documentary by showing a Mexican woman on the other side of the border. Her heart-breaking misery is something that cannot be ignored. To be sure, this conclusion assures the spectator of the fact that the history of the American Dream is not over. Still today, America is something to be dreamed of, not only within the borders of the country but beyond them as well. Gregory Nava's film might well be criticized because ofits dialectic approach, but the outcome is not at all black-and-white: it shows the complexity of the issue, acknowledges the meaning oforal tradition and, above all, provokes us to think. T.V. Reed Washington State University firstname.lastname@example.org Barry Levinson's Yesterday's Tomorrows. Yesterday's Tomorrows is a made-for-television documentary by Hollywood feature film director Barry Levinson. Levinson is known for such well-received movies as Diner, Rain Man, Disclosure, Wag the Dog, and most recently, Liberty Heights. As New Yorker critic Anthony Lane has remarked, Levinson has "the most schizoid CV" in Hollywood, and some of the strengths, but more of the weaknesses, of the director's vision are apparent in this documentary. The film is a look back at various American futures imagined during the last sixty years. It is shot in unimaginative talking head format, interspersed with short archival clips of futuristic visions Vol. 30.1 (March, 2000) | 71 Various | In the 20th Century: A...