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American Cinema of the 1960s

Themes and Variations

Edited by Barry Keith Grant

Publication Year: 2008

The profound cultural and political changes of the 1960s brought the United States closer to social revolution than at any other time in the twentieth century. At the same time, American cinema underwent radical change as well. The studio system crumbled, and the Production Code was replaced by a new ratings system. Among the challenges faced by the film industry was the dawning shift in theatrical exhibition from urban centers to suburban multiplexes, an increase in runaway productions, the rise of independent producers, and competition from both television and foreign art films. Hollywood movies became more cynical, violent, and sexually explicit, reflecting the changing values of the time. In ten original essays, American Cinema of the 1960s examines a range of films that characterized the decade, including Hollywood movies, documentaries, and independent and experimental films.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

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pp. ix

I wish to thank series editors Lester Friedman and Murray Pomerance for all their support and advice as I worked on this book. Thanks, too, to the contributors, with whom it has been a pleasure to collaborate and whose work has been so insightful about the 1960s. I am indebted to Leslie Mitchner for having the vision to see the value of the Screen Decades series for ...

Timeline: The 1960s

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pp. xi-xiv

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Introduction: Movies and the 1960s

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pp. 1-21

“What happened in the sixties was no one’s deliberate choice, but one of those deep-seated shifts of sensibility that alters the whole moral terrain,” writes Morris Dickstein (x). Of course one might say the same of any decade—the 1930s, for example, brought the Great Depression and the international rise of fascism, the 1940s World War II and the Atomic Age, the first decade of the new century 9/11, and so on, each event requiring a radical rethinking of the world and our place in it. ...

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1960: Movies and Intimations of Disaster and Hope

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pp. 22-43

The year seemed to look forward to a period of radical social change following a decade of repression and conformity. But this change would quickly face compromises and contradictions, emblematized in the white mainstream audience’s embrace of Chubby Checker’s watered-down cover version of Hank Ballard’s rhythm-and-blues song “The Twist,” which became an instant hit after Checker performed it on Dick Clark’s whitebread television vehicle for rock ’n’ roll promotion, “American Bandstand.” Hugh ...

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1961: Movies and Civil Rights

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pp. 44-66

This was a particularly notable year for Hollywood films as the so-called “turbulent decade” got under way and radically transformed many familiar social, cultural, political, and economic institutions in American civil society. It was also marked by a number of historic milestones, including the breaking off of diplomatic relations with Cuba on 3 January and the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April, a considerable increase ...

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1962: Movies and Deterioration

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pp. 67-88

By any measure it was a dreadful year. In the United States and abroad, events seemed to be marked by a steady spiral of deterioration. Certainly, there was some positive news. New Frontier optimism began to see results in the heavens as John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth in February. After a number of frustrating postponements, Glenn’s flight “put the U.S. back in the space race with a vengeance, and gave the morale of the U.S. and the entire free world a ...

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1963: Movies and the Little Soldiers of the New Frontier

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pp. 89-109

This is a pivotal year in the history of civil rights: among the most important events were the highly contested first registration of Black students at the University of Alabama, the shooting death of Medgar Evers by white segregationist Byron de la Beckwith, and President John F. Kennedy’s submitting of a civil rights bill to Congress, all in June; the March on Washington culminating with Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in August; and the explosion of a Ku Klux Klan bomb at a ...

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1964: Movies, the Great Society, and the New Sensibility

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pp. 110-129

Armageddon was cinematically forecast this year in On the Beach, based on Nevil Shute’s 1957 novel about nuclear holocaust. But aside from the cool, sly fantasy of annihilation at the climax of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, the year passed without the arrival of the impending apocalypse. Instead, as Andy Warhol declared, “Everything went young in 1964” (Warhol 69). This pronouncement coincided with the release in January of ...

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1965: Movies and the Color Line

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pp. 130-149

While the war in Vietnam was escalating to the point that there were almost 185,000 troops in country by year’s end, one would be hard pressed to find any evidence of that in mainstream films. By the same token, another war—President Lyndon Johnson’s much ballyhooed War on Poverty—also seems to have left little trace on celluloid images of the year. One learned from protest singer-songwriter Phil Ochs that 23,000 U.S. ...

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1966: Movies and Camp

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pp. 150-171

By most accounts, this was not a strong year for American cinema. Commentators observed that Hollywood seemed to be out of touch with the era’s countercultural sensibilities. Audiences were turning away from Hollywood films in favor of underground and exploitation films, as well as more idiosyncratic auteur films from Europe such as Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-sac, Claude Lelouch’s A Man and a Woman, and Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculine-Feminine. If and when ...

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1967: Movies and the Specter of Rebellion

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pp. 172-192

If history, as Todd Gitlin once reflected, “could be picked up by the scruff of the neck and made to dance” (224), this was surely a choreographic year. The Super Bowl, the Monterey Pop Festival, and the American Film Institute began; Sir Francis Chichester soloed his yacht around the world; Mickey Mantle hit his 500th homer; New York’s Stork Club vanished; Che Guevara was butchered by Bolivian troops on 9 October; Dr. Christiaan ...

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1968: Movies and the Failure of Nostalgia

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pp. 193-216

During 1968, the actual assumed the status of the harrowing imaginary as history became an unmitigated American nightmare. This traumatic year proceeded with a series of horrific shocks and tumultuous confrontations as establishment and anti-establishment forces clashed on political, cultural, and geographic fields of engagement. Domestic icons, institutions, and policies were attacked, activism climaxed and was suppressed by extremist measures, Vietnam casualties peaked, and the legacy of Camelot ...

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1969: Movies and the Counterculture

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pp. 217-238

On 20 July, Neil Armstrong was the first man to step onto the Moon’s surface, an event captured live on television and broadcast to a worldwide audience. It represented both a high point for American technological innovation and a victory over the Soviets in the space race. Despite this achievement, the year was marked by continuing social and political unrest that had characterized much of the preceding decade. The counterculture, best symbolized ...

1960–1969: Select Academy Awards

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pp. 239-245

Works Cited and Consulted

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pp. 247-252


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pp. 253-255


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pp. 257-275

E-ISBN-13: 9780813544717
E-ISBN-10: 0813544718
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813542188
Print-ISBN-10: 0813542189

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 33 photographs
Publication Year: 2008