The Sixties, or, When Being Dated Works in Your Favor

I like period movies.  In fact, if a movie takes place in a favorite period, I can pretty much watch it just for that, the period.  The costumes, the hairstyles, the cars, the houses, and everything else that makes that period so unique.  Of course, if the movie really has little else to offer in the way of story or acting, I probably won’t return to it.  But if a movie isn’t a period piece, it shouldn’t call too much to its period, right?  It shouldn’t mire itself down in up to the second fashions, it shouldn’t rely too heavily on up to the minute cultural references, or make social commentary that might be embarrassing in a few years.  But in the 1960′s, the movies were changing.  Attitudes were changing, what was allowed on the screen was changing, and the generation gap was growing.  As a result, movies from the sixties tend to look and feel more like their decade than other movies from other decades look like theirs (if that makes sense to anyone but me, let me know) and it doesn’t bother me at all.  I can watch any movie from the sixties if it’s good, but if it also screams “the sixties” in every cliche, costume and cultural reference, I can watch it even if it’s bad.  If it happens to be good, well, that’s just icing on the cake.

twofortheroad

Just a couple of days I found myself watching Easy Rider on Netflix.  I didn’t watch it because I had any great desire to sit through the story, as it is, of Captain America (no, not that one) and Billy the Kid (no, not that one either) traipsing across the country on their way to a brothel in New Orleans.  No, I watched it because that damn movie screams out the decade in which it was made.  It’s filled with self-lauding platitudes and smug assertions by Captain America (Peter Fonda, who takes himself soooo very seriously in this movie) and hilarious stoner observations by Billy (Dennis Hopper, also the director) as well as a commune and an acid trip for good measure.  It also has Jack Nicholson who proves himself to be, by far, the most captivating actor in the movie.  Now, I didn’t watch it from beginning to end (I’ve done that before, long, long ago).  No, I just skipped around and watched scenes from the sixties.  Why?  It made me feel good, that’s why.  And not the hippy-drippy stuff, no.  Rather, stuff like the girls in the diner, with their polyester skirts and flat hairstyles.  I thought, “That’s how every girl I knew looked when I was little.”  The signs, the cars, the little details that fill the screen that a production designer today could never match making a movie about the sixties.

But that’s just what I watched the other day.  If I really want to see the sixties, there are so many other better options.  A personal favorite for this kind of thing is The President’s Analyst.  It has the sixties written all over it, even down to the plot-essential jokes about the phone company.  The phone company!  It has major plot points revolving around jokes about the phone company that no one, and I mean no one, born after 1970 would probably even get.   It seems like every frame of The President’s Analyst is meant to signal for all time that it was made in 1967 and if that was its intention then success!  And that’s why it’s so enjoyable (well, to me and, I think, Richard and Kimberly for sure) because it shoots for every target in its cultural perimeter while so many movies back away timidly from such things fearing they won’t have appeal for future generations.  Who cares!  Live in the here and now.  Make your movie about what’s happening this very second if you want and to hell with longevity (although it has that, I think, in spades).

coburn

In fact, James Coburn himself really feels like the sixties to me.  The President’s Analyst would top the list for me, with his work, but other movies he did, such as Our Man Flint and its sequel, In Like Flint, also are so completely entrenched in the sixties, it’s impossible to watch them without feeling like you’re reliving an entire period simply by watching a movie.  With these, and appearances in other sixties classics like Charade, James Coburn wins top honors as “Most Sixties Actor.” (I know, I know, there are plenty of other actors that could win, too, from Terence Stamp to Michael Caine to Laurence Harvey, to mention only three, but hey, he’s my choice).   And speaking of Charade

…could there be any doubt that Audrey Hepburn is the winner of “Most Sixties Actress?”  I mean, sure, there are plenty of contenders (Natalie Wood, Julie Christie, and Monica Vitti could all give her a run for her money) but she’s the one for that decade for me.   Now, she did some seminal sixties work like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, How to Steal a Million and Two for the Road, but just a few weeks ago I watched her in Wait Until Dark again (it was on TCM, of course) and realized what a great sixties movie that is.  The Alan Arkin character is hilariously sixties in both mannerisms and dialogue while being also scary and menacing (go ahead any other actor, pull that one off).  And the interior of Hepburn’s apartment is filled with furniture, knickknacks and dressings that look exactly like almost every house I ever walked into when I was a kid.

1966: Audrey Hepburn: How to Steal a Million, with Peter O'Toole.

There’s nothing like a movie from the sixties that takes place in the sixties that absolutely embraces the sixties that can bring home the nostalgia for me.  Obviously it has to do with when I was born and when I grew up and the way that something that looks familiar to your five-year-old self can make you feel so comfortable.   So when I watch the movies listed above or Petulia, Darling, A Shot in the Dark, Alfie, The Graduate, Sex and the Single Girl, Contempt, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, Modesty Blaise, or anything with Dean Martin, I may be watching it because it’s great or I may be watching it simply because I feel like watching a movie that says “sixties” to me.   And the more dated, as in, the more sixties, the better.

26 Responses The Sixties, or, When Being Dated Works in Your Favor
Posted By johnnytoobad : March 26, 2014 2:40 pm

Great post! Two more suggestions for emblematic sixties milieus –

The V.I.P.s: Stupendous feeling for that timeframe … with Liz & Dick & many more stuck at an airport! With all the hoopla about the impending Mad Men season — I love that show & can’t wait, but those who think they get every sixties nuance correct could benefit from checking this out … Where in Mad Men is there a sixties woman like Liz in this — or like Mrs. Robinson either for that matter?!?

Model Shop: Jacques Demy’s American film gives a sun-blasted phenomenal outsiders’ vantage point on L.A. milieu etc. in a way that I don’t think any American director could have attained … I saw this on the big screen recently & was really blown away … Anook Aimee reprises a jaded version of her iconic “Lola” role in an earlier Demy film …

Posted By Jenni : March 26, 2014 3:31 pm

A different way to get that sixtie’s vibe, not a movie but a tv series…I’ve been watching the old Hawaii 5-0′s on Netflix streaming. I was 4 years old when the show premiered and I can recall the opening shots and that great theme music, I can recall my grandpa watching it every week, if we happened to be at his house when it came on…so watching it now as an adult, I am mesmerized by the fashions, hairstyles, furnishings in the homes, -very cool to me to watch it. Plus, the guest actors are a lot of the stars of today who were just getting their feet wet in acting. Christopher Walken, with blonde hair(!) was the baddie the other day!

Posted By Adam R : March 26, 2014 3:40 pm

Great post. I was actually thinking PETULIA through the whole article as my pick.

Posted By Doug : March 26, 2014 5:10 pm

Jenni, a great companion to “Hawaii 5-0″ that I remember as a kid was “Adventures In Paradise”. Think of “Firefly” in the South Pacific, a tramp steamer captain moving freight from island to island with a small crew, having lots of fun.
I grew up in the ’60′s, and everything from “Batman” and “Lost In Space” to Disney’s “The Swiss Family Robinson” made it memorable.
Looking back from 2014, I’d say the movies which best represent the era are “Pillow Talk”, “How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying” and “The Apartment”.
I guess “A Hard Days Night” also qualifies.
James Coburn mentioned above has a small but funny cameo in “The Loved One”.
I agree with Greg-Coburn WAS the male star of the ’60′s.
Hepburn also has my vote-though Liz Taylor was right up there.

Posted By kingrat : March 26, 2014 5:38 pm

Great post, Greg. It’s fun to re-live the 60s through your descriptions. 1960s hairstyles are the most memorable, for men as well as women. If the men have long hair, facial fuzz, and bright-colored clothes, you’re watching a 60s movie.

Posted By robbushblog : March 26, 2014 5:52 pm

The 60′s are actually my least favorite decade for movies, especially the latter half. I know, I know. Kimberly is probably having a fit. The more dated the movie looks, the less likely I am to watch it. Ha ha! I am your opposite number!

Posted By John Armstrong : March 26, 2014 6:21 pm

Coincidentally, I just received _Trafic_ from Netflix. Yes, it’s ’71 but I think it’s fair to say the ’60s dominate most of Tati’s imagery.

That said, I’m curious about the joke you refer to in _The President’s Analyst_. Since it’s not on Netflix, any chance you can try to tell about it?

Posted By andrew : March 26, 2014 8:14 pm

On the other side of the sixties spectrum (but still could only happen in the sixties: most of the Elvis movies and Frankie and Annette’s beach movies.

I think the seventies can also have its own sort of overwhelming style. (Smile and Across 110th Street jump to mind at first)

Posted By Emgee : March 26, 2014 9:16 pm

I could have written this post verbatim myself ( maybe i did, or is that the acid kicking in?)
A lot of the titles you mention i’ve seen in the last 6 months and loved every flared, tie-dyed groovy minute of it.
May i add to the list: Coogan’s Bluff, In Like Flint, The Italian Job, Divorce American Style, Marlowe, Billion Dollar Brain……oh man, that incense is doing my head in!

Posted By Doug : March 26, 2014 10:12 pm

Though not one of the most noted ‘movie stars’, Mary Tyler Moore did have quite an affect on culture, on the Dick Van Dyke show and starring in two definitive “1960′s movies”:
“What’s So Bad About Feeling Good?” in 1968, essentially a drug culture vs establishment parable, and “Change of Habit” with Elvis in 1969.
Priest and Nun doing the Lord’s work…”In The Ghetto”, the song which, though it wasn’t in the movie, is closely associated with the film.

Posted By Doug : March 26, 2014 11:00 pm

my mistake-Doctor and Nun, not Priest. Still good and good.

Posted By Cary Watson : March 27, 2014 4:21 am

Yeah, I’ll take the ’60s over any other decade in film history, mostly because so many artistic and creative barriers were being breached and reshaped at the time. And the Italian films of that era were some of the best. I’ve got a review of DANGER: DIABOLIK that also talks about Italian films of the ’60s:

http://www.jettisoncocoon.com/2014/03/film-review-danger-diabolik-1968.html

Posted By Bob Lindstrom : March 27, 2014 7:43 am

I still think of Hepburn as a ’50s icon. My vote for most’ 60s actress would go to Julie Christie.

Posted By swac44 : March 27, 2014 12:39 pm

At the other end of the spectrum are ’60s disasters like Doctor Dolittle and Star!, which could only have come from that decade. I find them endlessly watchable, if only to watch the big-screen Hollywood musical get put out of its misery.

Posted By John : March 27, 2014 3:17 pm

For me, born in ’66, this spills into early ’70s movies, particularly unhip early ’70s movies. For some reason, I get a wicked flashback from “The Brotherhood of Satan” — the birthday party in the backyard, the family sedan (yes, I grew up in California), the clothes. Another good ’60s one is “Divorce, American Style,” right down to the awkward, arms-length relationship between Dick Van Dyke and his kids, and Van Johnson’s fabulous turn as a complete ’60s gregarious dickhead. For more American dickehead, ’60s men, see “Madigan” and “The Detective.” Oh, and I find a verisimilitude in the home of the Spaeth girl (can’t remember her first name) in “The World of Henry Orient.”

Great post, though in the interest of full disclosure, with exception of “Wait Until Dark,” I don’t like many of these movies, which might have a lot to do with my tolerance for Audrey Hepburn. Yet I dig James Coburn.

Posted By a. saez : March 27, 2014 7:37 pm

Lee Marvin in POINT BLANK & Paul Newman in HARPER is a good example.

Posted By george : March 27, 2014 9:12 pm

ALICE’S RESTAURANT is a much smarter (and funnier) movie about the ’60s counterculture than EASY RIDER. They came out the same year, 1969, but unfortunately EASY RIDER is the one people remember and still watch. Except for Jack Nicholson’s performance, it’s terribly dated.

Check out ALICE’S RESTAURANT to see a better movie about long-haired hippies.

Posted By george : March 27, 2014 9:17 pm

“If the men have long hair, facial fuzz, and bright-colored clothes, you’re watching a 60s movie.”

That only applies to the last few years of the decade, roughly 1966 to 1969. Don’t expect to see long hair, beards or brightly colored clothes in movies made earlier in the decade. Short hair on guys (and long skirts on women) were still the rule until about ’66.

THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST is a classic ’60s satire (hippies, the government, the phone company, etc.) It’s almost as funny as WILD IN THE STREETS.

Posted By gregferrara : March 28, 2014 12:16 am

Ha ha! I am your opposite number!

You are the Blofeld to my Bond. Ha ha! I’m Bond and your Blofeld!!

Posted By gregferrara : March 28, 2014 12:17 am

John,

The jokes center around the phone company being in charge of everything, the phone company recordings people used to get, etc. Kind of like airplane food jokes: they were funny and original at one time but then became tired and cliched.

Posted By gregferrara : March 28, 2014 12:18 am

swac – Disastrous outings are often incredibly watchable. The whole car crash/rubber necking instinct.

Posted By readycarlos : March 28, 2014 6:25 am

Check out the new Warner Archive Instant site. Lots of fun 60′s movies to stream!:

http://instant.warnerarchive.com/index.html

Posted By Cool Bev : March 28, 2014 12:27 pm

How 60s was Petulia? The Grateful Dead play street hippie extras, that’s how 60′s. I think Jerry and Bobby even have lines.

Posted By frank tucciarone : March 30, 2014 5:13 pm

Peter Honda?????

Posted By gregferrara : April 1, 2014 2:45 pm

Ha! I didn’t notice that until this very second. Yikes. And thanks.

Posted By Jacqueline Keddie-Holt : April 4, 2014 8:58 pm

I cannot forget “A Man and A Women”. The French with a Mustang and music. The ultimate date movie of the late sixties and it was dubbed as well. The lines at the Foreign Film Theatre were outlandish on Fridays and Saturdays for several months.

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