1960s Cultural Phenoms

The 1960s was a great time for cinema as some of the most highly acclaimed and memorable motion pictures were shot during this period. Films reflected the decade of turbulent social change, transitional cultural values, rebellion, fun, fashion and rock ‘n’ roll. Newcomers emerged, breaking the molds and eventually defining cinema’s next generation of stars and powerbrokers. All the films in this series were box office successes, award winners and continue to be studied for their cinematic achievements.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

This critically acclaimed, classic trial film burst onto the scene in1962, revealing ugly truths at a time when Civil Rights activists and students were challenging segregation in the South. The story takes place in 1930s Alabama as Atticus Finch, a widowed lawyer (Gregory Peck) defends a black man falsely accused of raping an impoverished white woman. The innocence of Finch’s young children — daughter, Scout, and son, Jem — gives way to understanding crucial lessons about prejudice and the fears that motivate it. Justifiably, critics underscore that the film goes easy on the racial realities of small-town Alabama in the 30s, but the criticism doesn’t negate the tour-de-force of acting, writing, and production value.

The film won three Academy Awards and eight nominations, and it was the second feature Robert Mulligan would direct alongside longtime collaborator Alan Pakula, then a big-time Hollywood producer. Peck won Best Actor and Horton Foote won Best Adapted Screenplay (from Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name). It also won for best Art Direction and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Actress in a Supporting Role and Best Music Score.

In 1995, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. To Kill a Mockingbird stands as American Film Institute’s number one choice for best courtroom drama of all time, and it named Atticus Finch as the greatest movie hero of the 20th century.

The Graduate (1967)

The Graduate is one of the key, ground-breaking films of the late 1960s, and helped to set in motion a new era of film-making. The influential film is a biting satire/comedy about a recent East Coast college graduate who finds himself alienated and adrift in the shifting, social and sexual mores of the 1960s, and questioning the values of society (with its keyword “plastics”). The themes of the film also mirrored the changes occurring in Hollywood, as a new vanguard of younger directors were coming to the forefront. Director Mike Nichols instantly became a major new talent after winning an Academy Award for his directorship. He represented New America (the 60s) with themes, narrative devices and cinematic techniques influenced by European and avant-garde movies. Fueled by the auteur theory, the film kicked off a decade when film directors enjoyed more power and prestige than they ever had before.

Dustin Hoffman represented a new generation of actors, according to TCM critic Rob Nixon, breaking the mold of the traditional movie star and bringing “a new candor, ethnicity, and eagerness to dive deep into complex, even unlikable characters.”

The film grossed $104.9 million dollars in 1967, making it one of the highest grossing films in North America (when figures are adjusted for inflation). It was nominated for all major categories for the Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but only Nichols took home the Oscar for Best Director. In 1996 The Graduate was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” and today rates number 17 on AFI’s 100 movies of cinematic milestones.
*Sources: filmsite.org (written & edited by Tim Dirk); and tcm.com (written by Rob Nixon)

Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid (1969)

As a whimsical revisionist Western film from director George Roy Hill, Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid is another example of breaking with tradition both culturally and cinematically in the 60s. Although it imitates the styles of other outlaw films, the direction focused on the endearing misadventures of the heroes, using slapstick comedy, conventional western action, contemporary music and humorous dialogue to poke fun at western film clichés.

The good-natured comedy/drama shares the exploits of legendary, turn-of-the-century outlaws and their “Hole in the Wall” gang who mock and defy authority and the Establishment. The handsome and humorous buddy leads revived the careers of Paul Newman and Robert Redford as they played the roles loosely based on outlaws that actually existed: Robert Leroy Parker (“Butch Cassidy) and Harry Longbaugh (“The Sundance Kid”).

Although varying considerably in tone and mood, it’s one of the most popular and high-grossing westerns ever made. It was nominated for Best Director and Best Picture, and it won for Best Original Screenplay for first-time screenwriter William Goldman. Conrad Hall –who in 2003 was judged to be one of history’s ten most influential cinematographers by the International Cinematographers Guild– won for Best Cinematography. Later that year the film was selected for the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
*Sources: filmsite.org (written & edited by Tim Dirks) and Wikipedia