A Century of Cinema: 1960-1969

Welcome back to our bi-weekly series where your favorite (and not-so-favorite) Filmsmiths writers will be discussing our favorite films of the last 100 years (give or take). In order to bring a little bit of order to such a monumental task, we’ve decided to tackle these films decade-by-decade, starting with the 1910s and moving chronologically to present-day. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the previous list: A Century of Cinema: 1950-1959.

Without further ado, here are the Filmsmiths’ Favorites for 1960-1969:

 

Funny Girl (1968) – Eliza McGowan-Stinski

Funny Girl

I’m not going to try to convince you this is the best movie of the 1960’s by any means… but I seem to have a soft spot for Funny Girl. Completely putting aside the fact that Fanny Brice is a female “lead” who uses humor to get out of feeling uncomfortable about not being “pretty enough,” depends on a man to feel beautiful and not to mention all the other [sexist] stereotypes about women portrayed *hhhhhhh deep inhale* I adore Barbara Streisand and the soundtrack is stuck in my head more often than it’s not.

It’s based on the life of early 1900’s aspiring singer/entertainer/comedienne Fanny Brice who goes from the small town girl with skinny legs who can’t even be in the chorus, to a huge star in the acclaimed Florenz Ziegfield’s shows – all with a little help from her friend Eddie Ryan (Lee Allen), her non-stop fiery personality and talent, and the charming Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif). The film (based on a stage musical) follows her rise to fame, but focuses more so on her relationship with Mr. Arnstein.

Honestly if you’re going to watch this musical for anything, it’s going to be for Barbara Streisand’s performance. I don’t think winning an Oscar says everything about a film or about the films that didn’t win, but she did win Best Actress for this role… It’s cute, funny, emotional, beautifully written by Isobel Lennart and directed by William Wyler (yes The Best Years of Our Lives and Ben Hur William Wyler), entertaining, and nostalgic. Funnnnnnyyyyyyy…. Did you hear that? Okay I’m done.

Funnnyyyyyyyyy.

 

The Graduate (1967) – Nick Potter

The Graduate

Well I would say that I’m just drifting, here in the pool. It’s very comfortable to just drift.

In this discussion of our favorite films per decade and in the future of this project, I’m not quite sure that any film defines the decade that it came from like The Graduate does. Beyond that, this film manages to find new ways of feeling relevant each and every year.

Countless amounts of people have discussed the importance and relevance of The Graduate, and there’s literally nothing that I could add to that conversation at this point. There’s a reason it is discussed so heavily. There aren’t new things to say about The Godfather or Citizen Kane either, because they are masterpieces.

The Graduate was never supposed to work. Mike Nichols was a comedian (with Elaine May) and a theatre director, known for bringing Neil Simon to the stage. He shocked many with the success of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? but that still wasn’t enough to convince people that he had staying power. Dustin Hoffman was a small theatre actor, Katharine Ross was an unknown, and Anne Bancroft had fallen off in notoriety since her Oscar win earlier in the decade. Yet, all of these question marks combined in such a beautifully resonant way. The nebbish way that Hoffman portrays Benjamin Braddock is a great way to propel the awkward romantic comedy that he is entangled in with Elaine and Mrs. Robinson. Beyond just pure entertainment, Nichols crafted a film that immediately connected with a whole generation of people, and countless more to come. So many people have felt the pressure of family and friends on what their next step is and why they haven’t achieved it yet, and The Graduate at the very least delivers some respite from that.

 

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – Patty Williamson

2001

Stanley Kubrick’s visually-compelling classic 2001: A Space Odyssey is my pick for favorite film of the 1960s. Marketed as a psychedelic “trip” in 1968, the film tackles serious topics like the evolution of the human race, our development and use of nuclear weapons, and simultaneously offers an alternative view of religious philosophy outside of a Judeo-Christian tradition.

Trying to quickly summarize the plot of 2001 is problematic, to say the least. The film is split into four distinct parts and can easily leave the viewer confused as to how they all link to one another. The first segment of the film is 25 minutes long and tells the story of early apes who learn to use bones as tools. The development of tools leads to the development of weapons, and the once peaceful tribe  of herbivores become blood-thirsty killers. Oh, and by the way, there’s absolutely no dialogue spoken for the entire segment.

As the film progresses, we move into the “future” (2001 was, after all, the future in 1968), where space travel has been perfected and communication is almost completely mediated. What’s amazing to realize when watching 2001 is the fact that Americans had not yet landed on the moon, yet Kubrick’s depiction of space and the view of Earth from space is so spot on that the film spawned several nutty conspiracy theories. The most prevalent claim from the nether-regions of the interwebs is that Kubrick helped the U.S. government fake the moon landing as propaganda campaign in 1969. But, seriously, anyone who thinks Kubrick, an anti-war, ex-pat who lived the last several decades of his life in relative seclusion with his family in England, would take part in pro-USA propaganda, just doesn’t understand Kubrick’s work.

Of course the best known segments from 2001: A Space Odyssey involve the computer HAL, who is perhaps the most overtly human character in the film. Sure, he’s trying to kill the two astronauts, but he has his reasons. The actual humans in the film seem to be devoid of emotion, focused on work, and isolated by technology. In fact, the film can be seen as a cautionary tale regarding the development of technology without thinking through the consequences.

The final chapter of the film includes another 20 wordless minutes of trippy visuals and the appearance of the Star Baby. What does it all mean? Well, that is the subject of another article altogether. For now, let’s just agree that 2001: A Space Odyssey is a memorable, technically and visually perfect film, that challenges moviegoers to broaden their view of the universe and its infinite possibilities.

Easy Rider (1969) – Conor Hall

Easy Rider

We live in a weird time. Division lines are drawn deeper than ever, it seems – conservatives and liberals, alt-right and SJW, whatever. Either way, it’s all politics, but these ideologies are clashing in ways that haven’t been experienced in years. People are firm in their beliefs, and a proclivity to surround themselves with the likeminded can exacerbate these things.

I see a parallel here, is what I’m getting at. Easy Rider is a film about exploration in a similarly volatile time – after a successful drug run, our heroes Wyatt or “Captain America” (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) set out on their motorcycles to maintain the grand tradition of Kerouac, Kesey, and Burroughs. These two “freaks” are out searching for America; taking a big bite out of their piece of the pie. Under the plot-driving guise of heading to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, their’s is a story of aimless wandering through clouds of pot smoke and curious stares from adolescent girls and dubious, cock-eyed glares from their crew-cut fathers.

It’s the relationship between the long-haired riders and the inhabitants of the towns and communities they roll through that really drive this film home – Cap and Billy, eventually joined by ACLU lawyer George (Jack Nicholson) experience both sides of isolationism. They spend time both with the stereotypical down-home farmers and hippies living on a commune; both groups working hard and living off the land – alike in spirit, but far apart in ideology. Captain America, Billy, and George bridge these groups admirably, seeing something lovely in both of them.

You can’t talk about Easy Rider without talking about the “Death” of the ideas of the 1960’s. This was the peace and love generation – but with the Vietnam war ramping up, Nixon closing in on the polls, and Charles Manson ruining everything for everyone, this film is a pessimistic joyride through what writer-director Hopper saw happening at the end of what was meant to be a revolutionary decade. He saw these divisions between people more alike than they’d like to admit only further deepening. When those hillbillies pull out their shotgun and leave motorcycles mangled and smoking in the ditch, we’re seeing hope for the future, hope for unity and understanding, left in nearly the same irreparable shape. It’s a beautiful movie – I believe it works just as well as a commentary on 2017. Fewer hippies here, though.

 

Honorable mentions for the 1960s, in no particular order:

  • The Apartment (1960)
  • A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
  • High & Low (1963)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
  • Cool Hand Luke (1967)
  • The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

What are some your favorite films of the 1960s? Let us know in the comments below or on social media, and be on the lookout for our Century of Cinema: 1970-1979 coming up in two weeks.

Dylan Clauson

A good, good beard boy that studied broadcasting and film at Central Michigan University, where I learned how to pretend that I know what I'm talking about.

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