Friday, July 4

Movie-Making in the 1960s

Do movies reflect a sign of the times or are the times reflected in the movies?  I'll go for both.  Each decade has something different to say about the movies.  Talking films were still in their infancy in the early 1930s, which is likely why I didn't much care for them.  That same period is when the production code (the overseer of movie morals) was established.  The 1940s were troubling times, about war and loss, longing and romance.  The 1950s provided escapism; the war was over and sweetness and sunshine were the order of the day.  And then came the 60s.

This was the decade of cynicism, social unrest, questioning authority, political assassinations, youth protests, marches and demonstrations, anti-Vietnam War attitudes, drugs, permissive sexuality and nudity.  And since we're speaking of films, major changes that came to the motion picture industry. 

A serious change came in the area of film censorship.   In 1966, the Production Code Administration (and its Motion Picture Production Code) was curtailed. And what occurred as a result was a new freedom of language, subject matter and permissiveness, particularly in treatment of sex and violence. Those raised in the 1940s/50s most likely didn't like this change one bit. I do not count myself among them. I love the films of those two decades but they were always a little too fluffy for my tastes because they were so restricted on what could be shown or said. I loathe censorship. Where making films abroad was once very rare, it become more commonplace... an issue of economics

Difficult financial times hit movie-makers, due chiefly to television.  Movie studios let their talent go; virtually no stars or directors were contract-bound to studios and those studios were gobbled up by big conglomerates, which is still how they are run today.  The worst production year in 50 years was 1963 (interestingly, my main year as a newspaper movie reviewer)with only 121 films released and the largest number of foreign released into the U.S. at 361. 

The Hollywood Walk of Fame began in 1960 by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, originally an economic ploy although very prestigious in the years since.

The first in-flight movie occurred on TWA in 1961.  The first multi-plex theater opened in 1963 in Kansas City and the 60s brought about the demise of the great theater palaces.  Big, historical epics declined, deemed as too unaffordable.

We turned to a foreign market because it was cheaper to import  films than to make our own.  Mainly we turned to Great Britain.  If we had ignored them a bit before, we never would again.  They gave us what was called kitchen sink cinema which concerned itself with angry, every-day working-class heroes, frank dialogue, and negative post-war themes. 

Britain wasn't the only place we ventured.  With those travels came a great influx of independent and art house films helmed by Europe's most revered directors.  Consider Fellini's La Dolce Vita, Godard's Breathless, Truffaut's Jules and Jim, Bunuel's Belle du Jour, Antonioni's Blow-up, Bergman's Persona and Visconti's The Leopard, to name a few.

Speaking of directors, the old pros had either died, were retired or just making their last films in the 60s.  And this decade either introduced new people or it was the most prolific for directors such as George Roy Hill, Sidney Lumet, Arthur Penn, Robert Altman, Peter Bogdanovich, John Frankenheimer, John Cassavetes, Sidney Pollack, William Friedkin, Mike Nichols, Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen and Andy Warhol.

With censorship severely changed, the 1960s rose like a phoenix with respect to language, sexual frankness, nudity and violence.  We new wave of violence was ushered in with Bonnie and Clyde and if that didn't get your attention, The Wild Bunch at the end of the decade might have done you in.  You never heard language as raw as in 1966's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? although it is quite tame by today's standards.  Sexual frankness came about in such films as The Graduate and Alfie while Medium Cool gave us a first look at full-frontal nudity (never a bad thing... oh, I'm just messin' with you straight-laced folks).   Footballer-turned-actor Jim Brown and lusty-busty Raquel Welch gave us inter-racial love scenes in the western 100 Rifles and we got down with high-class trash in Valley of the Dolls.

With no more studio-contracted writers to pound out story after story, often quickly churned out for some high-priced studio star, literary works were bought more than ever...  A Raisin in the Sun, Elmer Gantry, Inherit the Wind, The Carpetbaggers, A Man for All Seasons, In Cold Blood.

Socially-conscious films (some already mentioned) became commonplace.  Cold-war dramas proliferated... The Mouse That Roared; Seven Days in May; One, Two, Three; Fail-Safe; The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.   We saw the birth of counter-culture, youth-oriented, stoner films such as The Wild Angels, The Trip and Easy Rider.  Guess we owe a shout-out to Peter Fonda for that.  Clint Eastwood quit TV's Rawhide and started making spaghetti westerns for director Sergio Leone.

It wasn't all serious either.  This was the decade of beach party movies and so-so actors on surfboards.  Musicals still flourished with the likes of West Side Story, The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Funny Girl and a number of others, but this would also be the decade of their decline.  And let's not forget Bond, James Bond (six films in the 60s).  And there was Dean Martin (Matt Helm) and James Coburn (Flint) in their ripoff Bond franchises.
This was the decade we lost Marilyn Monroe, Spencer Tracy, Judy Garland, Gary Cooper and Clark Gable and Cary Grant retired from films.  Along with Grant, the biggest stars of the decade included Julie Andrews, Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, Doris Day, Paul Newman, Tony Curtis, Debbie Reynolds, Frank Sinatra, Natalie Wood, John Wayne, William Holden, Sidney Poitier, Jack Lemmon, Burt Lancaster, Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, Steve McQueen, Katharine Hepburn, Peter O'Toole, Shirley MacLaine, Jane Fonda, Dustin Hoffman and the last major star under contract to a studio, Sandra Dee

It was the decade, let's not forget, that I discovered Capucine... and I got my most favorite actress (many dispute that word) ever... and I'm owning it. 

She caught my fancy

The Oscar-winning best pictures in the 1960s were The Apartment, West Side Story, Lawrence of Arabia, Tom Jones, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, A Man for All Seasons, In the Heat of the Night, Oliver and Midnight Cowboy.  Two of them we'll discuss in more detail within the next few months.

Nine of my 50 favorite films are from the 60s:  Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, The Lion, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Sound of Music, This Property Is Condemned, To Kill a Mockingbird and Walk on the Wild Side.

I've said the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s are my favorite decades for films and I have concentrated a little more perhaps on the first two.  It's time to correct that now.  So for a few months, drop in, drop out, tune in, tune out, do whatever is necessary.  Get out your bong, your psychedelic shirts, culottes, bell bottoms, tie-dyes, bandannas and go-go boots and let's groove. 

My First Favorite Aussie

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