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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

The Silver Screen—Sexier and Shadowier

Sean Connery starring as James Bond burst onto the screens with guns blazing in Dr. No (1962), From Russia with Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), and You only Live Twice (1967).  The Bond movies were a stunning combination of sex, violence, and technology.  Bond had it all, beautiful women and amazing technological tools, which to Q’s dismay he was always destroying. Ursala Andress was breathtaking in Dr. No, as she emerged out of the ocean in a white knife-clad bikini, and Raquel Welch in One Million BC (1966) followed suit in an equally unforgettable fur bikini. Jane Fonda, before her anti-war incarnation, left little to the imagination, in her skin tight black space suit as outerspace sex kitten Barbarella (1968).

In Hitchcock’s Psycho and The Birds, violence was abrupt and unexpected.  Psycho, Hitchcock’s (1960) most popular movie, with its unforgettable shower stabbing scene showed the twisted homicidal side of motel proprietor Norman Bates, and inspired an entire genre of  “slasher” movies.  The Birds (1963) showed nature gone wild, as berserk birds began attacking humans with increasing viciousness, and in increasing numbers, while the movie proceeded.

In 1964, Fail Safe and Seven Days in May contemplated the shadowy side of our push-button nuclear missile technology, as did Dr. Strangelove (1964), Kubrick’s satirical comedy starring Peter Sellers.  Later, in 1968, Planet of the Apes contemplated a possible future of Earth after nuclear destruction.  Kubrick’s (1968) iconic 2001: A Space Odyssey, while acknowledging superpower tensions, concentrated on the question of consciousness and on technology run amok in the form of computer HAL 9000’s ubiquitous all seeing "eye" and sensors.  2001 explores human origins and human nature in very mythical and visual ways, and is paradigmatic of the 1960s:

The film moves from 4 million B.C.E. to a point transcending time.  Kubrick’s reliance on the visual ($6.5 million of the film’s total budget of $10.5 million went for special effects) contributed mightily to the mythic dimension of 2001.  The film asks vital questions about humankind through its images.  An early scene, for example, is of a black monolith discovered by humanlike apes, the large black object representing the creation of imagination when the apes touch it.  They then begin making tools.  As an ape tosses a tool into the air, the object dissolves into a spacecraft.  What, the film inquires, has humankind’s creativity really wrought?  Is humanity to be defined by creative tools or destructive weapons?  As the film proceeds, the one astronaut who has survived HAL’s attempts at control tours the universe as past, present, and future merge.  Old and young at the same time, the astronaut is reborn as a starchild.  There is no longer a beginning, middle, and end, but an eternal process of death and rebirth. (Rielly, 2003, p. 219)

During the 1960s, Hollywood instituted a new ratings system and in “1968 American film industry ushered in wave of realism that looked to critics like explicit sex and violence" (Rielly, 2003, p. 168).  Tackling topics that had previously been taboo, films like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) and In the Heat of the Night (1967), for which Sidney Poitier won an Academy Award confronted the topic of racism. Lolita (1962), The Graduate (1967), I am Curious Yellow (1967), Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice (1969), and Midnight Cowboy (1969) dealt with sexuality.  Cool Hand Luke (1967), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and the more violent Bonnie and Clyde (1967), all had outlaws as their heroes, as did Easy Rider (1969), while  Rosemary’s Baby (1968) dealt with the demonic, featuring Mia Farrow playing a young mother who gives birth to Satan’s son.

A turbulent time of transitions, the 1960s were a time that caused many to feel that they did not know where they fit.  Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable starred in Arthur Miller’s The Misfits (1960), the last movie for both before they died, which anticipated this theme of not "fitting in" any more.

The decade also gave us some lighter fare and memorable musicals of the decade, aside from Mary Poppins (Stevenson, 1964), included: My Fair Lady starring Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn (in the role that Julie Andrews made famous on Broadway) and Funny Girl (1964); Dr. Doolittle and Camelot (1967), The Producers (1968); and Hello Dolly (1969).   Two musicals of particular note for us are The Sound of Music (Wise, 1965), and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Hughes, 1968).  Both of these movies are thematically similar to Mary Poppins, and starred the same two stars—Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke as main characters involved in upsetting rather rigid established orders, one real and one imaginal, to come to the aid of children.   The Beatles also made five movies during their time together: A Hard Day’s Night (1964), Help (1965), Magical Mystery Tour (1967), and Yellow Submarine (1968) and Let it Be (1970).


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