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1960 Movies and Intimations of Disaster and Hope CHRISTOPHER SHARRETT 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 Hefner opened his first Playboy Club in February, and in May the first birth control pill, Enovid, became commercially available, generating over a halfmillion prescriptions in the second half of the year. The arrival of “the pill” signaled the beginning of the sexual revolution and the feminist movement, but changes in sexual restrictions were circumscribed by male prerogatives, represented in Hefner’s “playboy philosophy,” the rise of skin magazines, and the continued tendency by patriarchal commercial culture to objectify and commodify the female body. Television featured some socially relevant programming, perhaps most important CBS’s broadcast (on 25 November) of the powerful documentary “Harvest of Shame” with Edward R. Murrow. Exposing the impoverished and largely unacknowledged working conditions of many Americans, “Harvest of Shame” appeared within the televisual flow of popular but vapid fantasy worlds offered by such series as “The Andy Griffith Show” (1960–1968), “My Three Sons” (1960–1972), and “The Flintstones” (1960–1966), the last a family-oriented and animated version of Jackie Gleason’s pioneering socially aware sitcom “The Honeymooners ” (1955–1956). The activist group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) held its first meeting in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in January, and in February a sit-in by four African Americans at a whites-only Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, ignited dozens of similar protests across the nation over the next few months. Diplomatic relations with Cuba became increasingly strained, emphatically with the election on 8 November of John F. Kennedy to the presidency. 22 The new president subscribed to the domino theory of revolution in the third world, and his so-called liberalism suggested to many the serious limitations of liberal ideology. Kennedy’s perceived idealism translated into little active support of civil rights; his foreign policy was clearly pro-incursionist, if not as strident as that of his successors. During the same year, authentic social progress made significant strides, as the civil rights movement gained momentum and a crucial sit-in at Shaw College resulted in the April birth of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), whose aim was to coordinate the use of nonviolent direct action against segregation. These conflicting historical moments are relevant to understanding the films of the year. If the cinema as an art form is any guide, the year was a transitional moment whose contradictions reflect the conservative society shaped by the Cold War and U.S. triumphalism after World War II but also anticipate both the radical impulses of the coming years and the reaction that would close off the progressive possibilities of the decade. There were some weak contributions from usually noteworthy directors , a few of whom conveyed the regression that accompanied the social progress symbolized by some of the more interesting films of the year. Otto Preminger’s Exodus, often ranked high in Preminger’s oeuvre, is prominent for several fine performances. But this mammoth film—enchanting for many viewers because it was shot partly on location in and around Tel Aviv—is either ignorant or disingenuous on the politics of Zionism and the role of the West in the creation and political use of the state of Israel. Vincente Minnelli’s Bells Are Ringing, while it features a flamboyant performance by Judy Holliday, lacks the density of the director’s best musicals, while Elia Kazan’s Wild River is a flaccid, unconvincing work that probably represents the limits of the filmmaker’s liberal sensibility. Robert Mulligan’s The Rat Race repeats key ideas of much more distinguished films of the period, as does Henry Hathaway’s slapstick “northern” western, North to Alaska, a travesty when set against the past accomplishments of the genre in the prior decade. Clearly, Hollywood was still capable of more than a few gross errors even as it exploited the collapse of the system in fostering a new creativity. The westerns addressed the issue of race that had been tentatively broached in some movies of...


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