Friday, 14 July 2017

Great Films of the 1960s

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (UK: Karel Reisz, 1960)

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning has a young Albert Finney as the boozing, brawling and shagging Arthur Seaton. Dissatisfied with his mundane factory job and guided by the motto ‘don’t let the bastards grind you down’, Arthur is ‘out for a good time’, living for the weekend and embarking upon a string of affairs which eventually come to threaten his hedonistic lifestyle. He may be a rogue but Arthur is determined to play by his own rules, rejecting the boring conformity of his parents and the limited opportunities that society offers him.
Alongside films such as Room at the Top, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and This Sporting Life, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning remains one of the outstanding examples of the British New Wave. The New Wave shook up the nation’s cinema, revealing the working class in a brave new light and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning depicts its rebellious anti-hero with a brutal honesty rarely seen in the cinema until the 1960s.

This Sporting Life (UK: Lindsay Anderson, 1963)

Like Reisz, Lindsay Anderson emerged as one of the founders of the Free Cinema movement which attempted to merge documentary realist aesthetics with a more experimental, avante-garde and innovative style of filmmaking. This Sporting Life stars Richard Harris as an up-and-coming Rugby League star, Frank Machin, who, despite his physical prowess on the field, is prone to introspection and self-doubt and is tortured by his inner demons.

Filmed on location in the North of England and at Wakefield Trinity’s Belle Vue stadium - the Rugby League action is particularly impressive - This Sporting Life is arguably the greatest sport film ever made. For me, it is certainly the best film of the New Wave with a brooding, poetic and psychological intensity which hints at expressionism considerably more than most of the social realist films of the period.

A  Raging Bull for the industrial north of England.

Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (UK/US: Stanley Kubrick, 1964)

Kubrick’s apocalyptic comedy features Peter Sellers in multiple roles as British RAF Group Captain Mandrake, US President Merkin Muffley and the sinister Dr Strangelove himself. Despite Sellers being in great comic form, the outstanding performance in the film arguably belongs to Sterling Hayden as Brigadier General Ripper. Driven by the fear of Communist infiltration (he believes the fluoridisation of water to be a “commie plot”), Ripper evades the US military’s security systems to single-handedly instigate a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. In addition to Sellers and Hayden, George C. Scott is also superb as the brash patriot, General Buck Turgidson.

Released just two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Strangelove magnificently satirises the paranoia of the Cold War. When the US top brass gather to discuss the impending crisis, they invite the Soviet ambassador to the meeting. As the ambassador and Turgidson come to blows, they are ordered to stop by President Muffley: ‘Gentlemen. You can’t fight here. This is the war room’, barks the President, highlighting the reckless stupidity of US/Soviet relations during the 1960s.

Four years after Strangelove, Kubrick would make 2001: A Space Odyssey. Almost half a century 

later, 2001 still remains the touchstone for a particular trope of cerebral sci-fi.

Carry on Cleo (UK: Gerald Thomas, 1964)

I had to include something from the Carry On team and Cleo- with the possible exception of Carry On Screaming- is their best. The Carry On films, in addition to those produced by Hammer studios, provided a refreshing antidote to British cinema’s earnest realism. Whereas Hammer offered blood and sex to counter middle-class decorum, Carry On delighted audiences with its saucy seaside postcard humour, as salty- and as British- as fish and chips.

You know what you are getting with the Carry On team and Cleo brings together the usual cheeky ensemble: Sid James, Joan Sims, Charles Hawtrey, Jim Dale and the two Kenneth’s- Williams and Connor. Collectively these actors are legends of British comedy and here they are joined by a young Amanda Barrie who plays Cleopatra. Barrie would later become a regular in ITV’s Coronation Street. The film also has Kenneth Williams, as Julius Caesar, delivering one of the finest moments in British cinema. When Caesar realises there is a plot to assassinate him, he flees his would-be assassin, shouting the immortal line: ‘Infamy. Infamy. They’ve all got it in for me.’ Pure comic genius.

Whereas Carry On Screaming parodied the Hammer horror films, Cleo is a spoof of 20th Century Fox’s Cleopatra, released a year before Cleo. When Fox shifted its shooting location from Britain to Italy, the props, costumes and sets were left at Pinewood studios to be raided by Carry On’s production company for use on the film.

Performance (UK: Donald Cammell/Nicolas Roeg, 1970)

Performance’s frank portrayal of sex, drugs and rock and roll and its explicit violence caused Warner Brothers to delay its release until 1970. Like a comedown from a particularly bad acid trip, the film depicts the swinging 60s counterculture's freakish descent into madness and despair.

James Fox is Chas, a brutal and narcissistic gangster hiding out from the mob with a fading and reclusive rock star, Turner, played by Mick Jagger as a warped fictional version of his own rock and roll persona. Under the influence of a cocktail of chemicals, including mind-bending hallucinogenic mushrooms, a weird merging of Chas and Turner’s characters begins.

Performance has exerted a huge influence on pop culture with bands such as The Happy Mondays and Big Audio Dynamite sampling the film. BAD’s ‘E=mc²’ is a celebration of the work of the director Nic Roeg and Happy Mondays’ second LP Bummed is littered with references to this cult classic. The film also features an early example of a music promo, ‘Memo from Turner’, performed by Jagger.

Roeg would go on to become one of the finest British filmmakers of all time and this, his co-directed debut, is one of the coolest and hippest British films of the 1960s. Performance is as trippy as a bucketful of LSD, totally unique and utterly brilliant.

Also recommended:

Breathless/A bout de souffle (France: Jean-Luc Godard, 1960)

Peeping Tom (UK: Michael Powell, 1960)

Psycho (US: Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)

The Great Race (US: Blake Edwards, 1965)

The Battle of Algiers/ La battaglia di Algeri (Italy/Algeria: Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966)

Bonnie and Clyde (US: Arthur Penn, 1967)

Planet of the Apes (US: Franklin J. Schaffner, 1968)

2001: A Space Odyssey (UK/US: Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

Easy Rider (US: Dennis Hopper, 1969)

Midnight Cowboy (US: John Schlesinger, 1969)

*This piece has been adapted from an article published in Hull's independent magazine Tenfootcity (Issue 45 Spring 2017)

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