"Mister Sandman" Sequence

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"Let's take a look back at the year 1928. A year when you might have seen Al Capone dancing the Charleston on top of a flagpole."

Kent BrockmanThe Simpsons

A scene in a period film or TV show that hits the viewer with as many period signifiers as possible. The scene exists to quickly establish the "feel" of the time period and will almost always feature a period song (typically one that is still popular in the present) playing on the film's soundtrack. More-or-less it's Popular History condensed into a sequence usually less than two minutes long.

A typical example appears in the second episode of Journeyman, where the lead character finds himself on an airplane in The Seventies. He sees, in the span of about thirty seconds, flirtatious stewardesses in orange uniforms, people smoking, a kid playing with a toy gun, the film Conquest of the Planet of the Apes being screened, and a newspaper that mentions the Ford administration, all while K.C. and the Sunshine Band's "Get Down Tonight" plays in the background.

Not surprisingly, this tends to instantly cause eyerolling in audience members old enough to have lived through the depicted time period and know from experience that it wasn't really like that. Gen-Y viewers are now getting a taste of this with 80's period flicks like Hot Tub Time Machine, as they vainly try to explain to disbelieving younger kids that no, everyone didn't wear red leather jackets and Flock of Seagulls-style hairdos back then. And then thirty years from now, those same kids will have to explain to their young how they didn't actually all have Bieberesque muffin-top dos and wear dresses made of meat when they see characters travel back to the 2010s.

The trope-namer is one of the best and most well-done examples, Back to The Future.

These are most commonly and generally best utilized by films and TV shows about Time Travel, especially when the characters frequently travel between different eras making quickly establishing the time period a necessity.

Compare Spinning Newspaper, Eiffel Tower Effect. See also Unintentional Period Piece.

Examples of "Mister Sandman" Sequence include:

Advertising[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In late 2008, Pepsi ran this ad set to The Who's "My Generation" and depicting young folks consuming their product through the decades, from the turn of the century to the present. Each decade is shown pretty much as you'd expect: flappers in the '20s, hippies in the '60s, and so on.
  • The recent Hovis bread advert does this, involving a kid running through recent British history with a loaf of bread. As above, each decade is represented by something iconic; suffragettes, both wars, the Coronation, the 66 World Cup squad, immigration, the miners' strike and the millennium celebrations. The kid's outfit also changes, at first subtly, with the cut of his jacket changing from Victorian to Edwardian, and then more obviously, such as the vividly striped jumper and wide collar he's sporting in the Seventies.
  • There was a Chevy Volt ad that did pretty much the same thing, but focusing on one plot of land.
  • Also a Mercedes-Benz commercial called "Timeless." Various model Benzes drive through the '50's, '60's, '70's, '80's and '90's to a version of "Unchained Melody" which seamlessly changes musical style for each decade.

Anime and Manga[edit | hide]

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Archie Comics did a few stories extolling the virtues of The Gay Nineties that where essentially this trope on the comics page (so no soundtrack).

Film[edit | hide]

  • Named for the scene in Back to The Future when Marty McFly enters Hill Valley in 1955 to find that the town square is completely decked out to reflect The Fifties. The song "Mr. Sandman," as performed by the Four Aces, plays over this scene.
    • Similar sequences appear for 2015 Hill Valley, alternate 1985 Hill Valley and 1885 Hill Valley, in movies two, two, and three respectively. Alternate 1985 is set to "I Can't Drive 55" by Sammy Hagar, but the other two don't get songs. The 1885 sequence includes a small harmonica bit of the BTTF theme tune, when Marty is looking at the courthouse in construction.
    • The "Power of Love" scene in Part 1 also counts, although it doesn't use the same visual cues as the later examples.
    • "Mr Sandman" is played once again in BTTF part 2, when Marty tails young Biff to retrieve the Gray's Sports Almanach, though it's shorter than Marty's first walk into 1955 Hill Valley.
    • Used in Episode 1 and Episode 3 of the Telltale Games adaptation, for 1931 and alternate 1986 respectively. Both recreate the moment where Marty almost gets hit by a car while crossing the street to the town square.
  • Mae West's 1933 film She Done Him Wrong opens with one of these, demonstrating that it is Older Than Television.
  • The Departed has a strange use of one of these: In the opening scene, the Rolling Stones are on the soundtrack, all the cars look ancient, and Nicholson is doing a voice-over about Kennedy... for a scene that apparently takes place in 1989. You'd think that if they really wanted music to set the scene, they could've had Marky Mark call in a connection there.
  • Every scene in The Wedding Singer has enough '80s signifiers to be one of these, but only the opening scene fulfills the purpose of the trope.
  • The scene in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in which the Enterprise crew crosses a street in 1986 San Francisco and Kirk is called a "dumbass" by an angry taxi driver. The background music seems to be a standard '80s rock tune.
    • It was a jazz/fusion tune that was created for the movie by the group Yellowjackets which was accurate of music adults listened to in the '80's.
      • Similarly an unlucky hoodlum is shown jamming on a boombox with music that fit the style of 80's era punk. The song was written specifically for that scene.
  • Many, many movies set in The Fifties open with Elvis Presley's version of "Hound Dog" (never anyone else's). Back to The Future is an appropriate exception, as Presley only recorded his version in 1956.
  • Peter Jackson's 2005 version of King Kong opens with one of these.
  • The Watchmen movie starts with a montage of superhero history, to the sound of "The Times They Are a-Changin'" by Bob Dylan. Awesome incarnate, possibly the best scene in the movie. An example of how to do this kind of scene right.
  • A few of these can be found in the Austin Powers movies. Very much in the Affectionate Parody vein.
  • Inverted in The Brady Bunch Movie: the film opens with a series of snapshots of mid-'90s L.A. (grunge music, cell phones, burnt-out panhandlers, etc.), the better to establish how out of place the stuck-in-the-'70s Brady clan is. Of course, as the years pass, this montage is becoming more and more of a straight example.
  • In Field of Dreams, Ray is briefly transported back to 1972 so he can talk with Moonlight Graham. The first things he sees are a theater marquee for The Godfather and a Nixon re-election poster.
  • The entire movie Forrest Gump is (and aims to be) one big Mister Sandman Sequence, with the title character blundering his way into nearly every major event and prominent fad of the late 20th century.
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is set in 1957. To firmly estabilish it, the opening scene is set to Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog."
  • The mall montage in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, set to "We Got The Beat" by The Go-Gos are another presumably unintentional, then-present-day example.
  • The Animated Credits Opening to Grease includes flashes of numerous iconic '50s pop-culture images.
  • The film version of Same Time, Next Year accompanies each scene transition with black-and-white still photos of famous people and events from each decade, to depict the passage of time and subsequent changes in the characters' lives and in the postwar society they inhabit.
  • Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) features the camera lingering on a newspaper with a period-distinguishing headline, before panning out at the beginning of a scene. They do this not once but twice, although it's probably less to establish the period itself and more to show how much time James Cagney's character spends in prison.
  • An odd example comes in the Hammer Horror film Dracula A.D. 1972. The film opens with a prologue set in 1872 and then jumps into an opening title montage of scenery from 1972 London to demonstrate that this is indeed 1972 now. What's weird about it is that the movie was released in 1972, the audience should really know what it looks like. The probably explanation is that Hammer really wanted to hammer (sorry) it home hard that this Dracula movie was not a Period Piece.
    • Arguably counts, though in this case the point is not "hey, remember those wacky days of 1972?" but "look, here's a bunch of stuff you probably passed on the way to the theatre (assuming you're in London) to show you this is set in the present day."
  • Hot Tub Time Machine has one of these when the four protagonists reach the ski lodge and realize that it's The Eighties.

Nick: What color is Michael Jackson?
Girl: Black?
Nick: <runs screaming>

  • Speaking about The Time Machine, the (otherwise forgettable) 2002 film version had a scene playing with this motif as a kind of Time Compression Montage to show how time passes outside the titular machine, in which dresses on a shop's exhibition get shorter and shorter.
    • This is copied from the 1960 version. (It wasn't in the novel, of course, since H. G. Wells obviously didn't know how the world would change after his time.)
      • The story does talk about things around him changing suddenly, though the narrator is vague on the details and mainly talks about buildings appearing and disappearing suddenly, and the landscape visibly changing.
  • Mr. Holland's Opus follows the eponymous music teacher's life through three decades. After each time skip, a montage and song play out to characterize the cultural climate of the time.
  • The trailer for The Artist (2011) establishes the period with peppy dance number.
  • Paper Moon. The film is even shot in black and white (on what is obviously not 1930's film stock). Of course, the slow pace and the dark overtones are very much in line with the decade in which it was produced.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Used too many times to list in Doctor Who—often with the added twist that the Doctor and his companion have judged the time period of his destination incorrectly, and disembark the TARDIS dressed inappropriately (disco attire in 1870s Scotland, or leather jackets and jeans at QEII's coronation.)
    • On the other hand, such a long runner has artifacts of its various production time periods that sometimes seem to have walked straight out of this trope. Watch the 6th and 7th Doctor episodes, cringe at the overabuse of Eighties Hair and dreadful paleosynth music. Part of it can be blamed on a Totally Radical attempt to make the show "hip" and appeal to the youth of various periods.
  • The entire hook of Cold Case, combined with the Lyrical Dissonance musical outros.
  • Journeyman seemed to have been especially fond of these.
  • Naturally, the pilot episodes of Life On Mars and Ashes to Ashes both featured these, although the music in both cases was organic to the scene (from Sam's car's 8-track player and the sound system at Alex's boat party, respectively). Hell, even the titles are in on it.
  • Both played straight and subverted by Lost:
    • Played straight: The beginning of "Cabin Fever" contains a number of signifiers that the flashback is to the 1950s. "Every Day" by Buddy Holly plays as a girl in a classic 50s outfit dances and applies bright-red lipstick. Then she gets hit by a distinctly 50s-style car.
    • Subverted: "Man of Science, Man of Faith" begins with a man with long hair playing Mama Cass music on a vinyl record and using an old monochrome computer. The audience tries to figure out which character is flashing back to the 1970s, only to find out it is happening in the present.
  • Used frequently in Quantum Leap.
  • Seen in Charmed when the sisters travel through time (although it's arguably justified that they should end up around a bunch of hippies when going back to the 1960s, the setting being San Francisco) and when, in another episode, flashbacks display scenes from The Roaring Twenties.
  • Parodied in the Stella short "Birthday," when Michael and David flash back to when they met Michael Showalter in the 80s; the first shot is of a calendar that says "FINAL EXAMS," "SYNTHPOP," and "RONALD REAGAN."
  • In Breaking Bad, a flashback to the Cousins' childhood features an early closeup of an '80s "brick" portable phone.

Music[edit | hide]

  • Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" is basically a laundry list of late-20th-century cultural markers rattled off one after the other.
    • He stays in chronological order (at least approximately) until he reaches 1963, after which he starts throwing them out more or less at random... 80s, 60s, 80s again...
    • And oddly, quite a few of the milestones he mentions refer to the deaths of famous figures - and when you're dying, you are almost by definition not exemplifying the time in which you live!
      • Actually, for those left behind it can certainly mark the close of the era.
  • American Pie.
  • Evelyn Evelyn: "The Tragic Events of September."

Theatre[edit | hide]

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • The opening loading screen and title sequence in Grand Theft Auto Vice City helps establish that it's The Eighties. The loading screen simulates a Commodore 64 loading screen, then the title sequence plays The Jimmy Hart Version of the Miami Vice theme while showing scenes of life in 1980s Miami—big hair, boxy cars, etc.
    • So well done you can almost smell the Drakkar Noir.
  • Subverted in the Fallout games. The games always start with music and imagery of 1950's americana, before panning out to show that the games actually occur in a post-apocalyptic future.

Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • Casey and Andy: When Jenn accidentally ends up in The Eighties, stores and signs show off various fads and icons of the decade, such as Betamax players and thin ties.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • The Classic Disney Short The Nifty Nineties (set in The Gay Nineties, so no "Smells Like Teen Spirit") is basically a protracted Mister Sandman Sequence.
  • Parodied in Clerks the Animated Series. When Randall has a flashback back to when they met in the eighties, not only is everyone in the store they work at (except, notably, Randall and Dante themselves) decked out in eighties fashions, but almost everyone is a notable person from that decade—including Ronald Reagan. Then, when Dante remembers that they actually met in the seventies, the flashback includes a whole load of seventies icons, including Jimmy Carter and John Travolta a la Saturday Night Fever.
  • The Simpsons: The Kent Brockman quote at the top of the page is from "Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie."
    • The show's flashback episodes tend to employ these. In "Lisa's First Word," for instance, the flashback to 1983 begins with Marge and a neighbor woman discussing the last episode of M*A*S*H, followed immediately by Homer walking down the street singing "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun."
    • Slightly subverted when the scene is set with "a young Joe Piscopo was teaching us how to laugh."
    • Lampshaded in "My Mother the Carjacker." Channel 6 news anchor Kent Brockman shows a montage specifically to show viewers what the 60's were like, set to "All Along the Watchtower." Brockman then calls it a "shrill, pointless decade."
      • Although that was partly his own fault, since his montage included such ludicrous images as Batman dancing the Batusi and John Wayne saying "You bet your sweet bippy."
    • Dr. Hibbert's hairstyle is constantly reflecting the fashion of the time.

Real Life[edit | hide]

General[edit | hide]

  • Any establishing shot of the Vietnam War is bound to use CCR's "Fortunate Son."