From blacklist to “Golden Age,” Hollywood drastically changed during the late 1950s to create a chaotic, crazed decade in the 1960s. Bob Dylan once wrote, “The Times They Are a-Changin’,’’ and no other decade truly showcased those drastic differences than the 1960s. It was the height of the Cold War, when the population feared the world could end. The decade was filled with promise, but culminated in tragic deaths.
Film disappeared at the forefront of entertainment and TV reigned supreme. The studio system had crumbled and filmmaking had broadened into experimentation. The 1950s beheld civil unrest and the “bad boy” persona emerged, catapulting James Dean and Marlon Brando into stardom.
However, Hollywood also remained chaste and produced cheap money-making teen “beach movies” with Sandra Dee, Debbie Reynolds and Annette Funicello.
Alfred Hitchcock opened the decade with “Psycho” (1960) and redefined the horror genre by introducing the world to Norman Bates.
Foreign films invaded America and captivated audiences despite their subtitles, including Federico Fellini’s “8 ½” (1963), Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless” (1960), Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blow-Up” (1966) and Francois Truffaut’s “Jules & Jim” (1962). European directors like Roman Polanski eventually crossed over and directed American films such as “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968).
International stars Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren and Richard Burton competed with Hollywood notables. British influences sprung up during the “swinging ‘60s” with “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962) “Tom Jones” (1963) and “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964).
British filmmaker Stanley Kubrick dominated with films like the controversial “Lolita” (1962) regarding pedophilia, the Cold War comedy “Dr. Strangelove: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964) and, “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), which revolutionized film with spectacular special effects.
Stars Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Audrey Hepburn, Julie Andrews and Sidney Poitier glittered and glowed with “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969), “Bullit” (1968), “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961), “Mary Poppins” (1964), and “In The Heat of the Night” (1967). Sidney Poitier emerged as the first African-American to capture the Best Actor Oscar for “Lilies of the Field” (1963).
The James Bond series was launched with “Dr. No.” in 1962 starring Sean Connery. Peter Sellers captivated comic fans everywhere with French police inspector Jacques Clouseau and introduced the Pink Panther series in 1964. Broadway adaptations soon sprouted after “West Side Story” (1961) captured 10 Academy Awards.
Films tested society’s values and addressed the unthinkable. Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment” (1960) pushed the limits of sexual encounters, “Butterfield 8” (1960) examined call girls, Elia Kazan’s “Splendor in the Grass” (1960) considered teenage promiscuity and “To Kill A Mockingbird” (1962) deliberated judicial injustices. Foul language was introduced in the late 1960s and developed prominently in films.
Promiscuous sex was boisterously promoted with the emergence of a new liberal Hollywood.
After pushing the limits, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) was created in 1966 to replace the archaic Hays Code. The ratings included G (General Audience), M (Mature which became Parental Guidance or PG), R (Restricted for 16+) and X (older than 16). “Midnight Cowboy” (1969) earned Best Picture honors to become the first and exclusive Academy Award–winning X-rated film. Subsequently, the film was changed to an R rating. Since then, PG-13 and NC-17 ratings were created to expand the limits and definitions of audience suitability. On rare occasion, some films are even theatrically released as “Unrated.” The youth market persists as the most desirable, with most studios hungering for a PG or PG-13 rating and often editing R-rated films to reach wider (paying) audiences.
The 1960s films were star-studded, but today that no longer applies to spawn a hit. Superstar actors no longer convey the clout they formerly possessed, with big-name movies flopping at the box office.
Originality prevails only for suckers and the financially irresponsible, unless you’re Christopher Nolan (“Inception”) and you write/produce/direct one of the highest grossing films (“The Dark Knight”) of all time. Originality no longer motivates studios; only the “almighty dollar” can do that. Studios would rather go with the old bankable director than take a risk because the shareholders could lose money.
Studios prefer to go for the tried-and-true screenplays. Sadly, remakes rule Hollywood today with movies like “The Karate Kid” (2010), “Alice in Wonderland” (2010) and “Clash of the Titans” (2010).
Independent filmmaking might have been successfully solidified with Dennis Hopper’s “Easy Rider” (1969), but now is almost the sole creative force in a Hollywood dominated by limited and straight-to-DVD releases. Film festivals like Sundance, South by Southwest, Toronto and Tribeca have become the new “it” places to screen imaginative and innovative filmmaking.
Quantity has increased while quality has faded away. Future filmmaking literally lies in the hands of the diligent, determined and daring.