In his introductory apologia for "The Sixties," the first major series of the new season at the American Film Institute Theater, programmer Michael Clark anticipates a couple of Same Old Criticisms and tries to deflect them in advance. "This series," he writes, "is intended to be neither a definitive chronicle of the century's stomiest decade nor a perfunctory recycling of the era's most outstanding films."
Clark's Stormiest Decade Award seems a shade premature as well as debatable. Even if the '80s and '90s turn out to be balmier than anyone has a right to expect, the teens, '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s and '70s weren't exactly strangers to warfare, social unrest and disillusion. Born in 1948, Clark may be understandably prejudiced.
His disavowals would be easier to overlook if his stated intention sounded more provocative. There's something lacking in "It attempts to portrays, in roughly chronological fashion, the influences on a chronic Sixties filmgoer . . . " Inevitably, one is drawn back to those nonintentions. A definitive chronicle of the decade's movie culture might be impossible, but why not a retrospective that aspires to be comprehensive or richly suggestive?
Nevertheless, "The Sixties" looks like a diverting series. It began auspiciously enough with "Psycho," "Breathless" and "Jules and Jim," better than him. In fact, George (Allen) told me that the day he cut None of these movies would have to sneak onto lists of the decade's finest. Before the series closes about 60 titles from now with a double-bill of "Easy Rider" and "Gimme Shelter" on Wednesday, Oct. 25, it will have paid respects to many of the decade's acknowledged classics, sensations and period pieces.
The preoccupation of most young movie freaks at the beginning of the decade was the French New Wave. When those eagerly anticipated first films of Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Louis Malle, Alain Resnais, Philippe de Broca and Jacques Demy finally arrived, they seemed to signify not only a generational revival of filmmaking in France but also an international awakening. The New Wave breakthroughs were accompanied by fresh approaches from all over the globe: Sweden, Italy, Japan, India, Great Britain, Poland, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia.
While arousing curiosity and excitement, the new foreign films also caused a feeling of inferiority. Pleased as you might have been by this sudden abundance of filmmaking personalities and influences, you couldn't help regretting that they all originated abroad. You kept waiting for the Americans to catch up.
The catch-up movie finally arrived in 1967: "Bonnie & Clyde," a revitalization of tradiotional gangster melodrama written under the influence of the New Wave. A decade later, artistic as well as commercial preeminence had returned to the United States. If most of the bright young directors seemed to be French or Italian in the early and middle '60s, most of them now seem to be American, an advantage it would be mad to squander in the decade ahead. Nevertheless, the American comback required cross-cultural stimulation. "Bonnie & Clyde" needed the stylistic influence of a Truffaut even if didn't need Truffaut himself as the director.
Given the importance of foreign filmmakers in the first half of the decade, the roster of seven foreign language titles in the AFI series looks awfully slight. The New Wave is represented by "Breathless," "Jules and Jim" and "Last Year at Marienbad," the rest of the subtitled world by "Red Desert," "Repulsion," "Belle de Jour" and "Persona."
Of course, the Biograph hosted a New Wave retrospective last year, perhaps a contributing factor to the AFI's once-over-lightly.All the same . . . When one begins to recall the number of pictures that helped distinguish the period in one way or another, the lack of representation begins to appear shocking. For example: "L'Avventura," "La Doice Vita," "Shoot the Piano Player," "Masculine Feminine," "Weekend," "Divorce Italian Style," "Moment of Truth," "Before the Revolution," "A Fist in His Pocket," "The Cousins," "The Five-Day Lover," "That Man from Rio," "The World of Apu," "Knife in the Water," "Kanal," "Eroica," "The Cranes Are Flying," "Yojimbo," "Fires on the Plain," "Shame," "Z."
Documentaries fare a little better, though one wouldn't be able to reconstruct the process that made something called "cinema verite" appear to be a big deal. There are nine feature-length documentaries in the series, including the concert films like "Festival" and "Monterey Pop." Clark has booked "The Green Berets" and "Hearts and Minds" for the same evening (Monday, Oct. 23, at 6:30 and 9 p.m. respectively), a provocative but also anachronistic gambit, since "Hearts and Minds" was released in 1975.
But then "The Green Berets" looked perculiarly anachronistic in 1968. Television journalism and an occasional theatrical documentary like Eugene Jones' brilliantly dry, objective "A Face of War" had already imposed a more authentic vision of the fighting in Vietnam. "Hearts and Minds" wasn't really necessary to shame or contradict "The Green Berets." Perhaps it can now be recognized how self-contradictory "Berets" itself was. Despite John Wayne's defiantly optimistic oratory, one still seemed to be watching American soldiers engaged in an interminable, demoralizing war.
It seems unfair that "Berets" is the only Wayne vehicle in the series. After all, he began the decade starring in such solid entertainments as "North to Alaska" and "Hatari!," ended it with a triumphant performance in "True Grit" and remained the most popular of movie stars, heading a Top Ten completed by Doris Day, Elizabeth Taylor, Cary Grant, Paul Newman, Rock Hudson, Jack Lemmon, Julie Andrews, Sean Connery and Elvis Presley.
"The Sixties" lacks a single movie starring Day, Grant, Hudson or Presley. It also contrives to ignore Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Jerry Lewis, Gregory Peck and Anthony Quinn, all of whom were rather hard to miss, if memory serves. Newman seems a little underrepresented by "Hud" and "Cool Hand Luke" and Sidney Poitier more than a little by "A patch of Blue," where the focus of interest was Elizabeth Hartman's appealing performance as the young heroine. Poitier made all the difference in "Lilies of the Field" and "Guess Who's Coming For Dinner."
Certain omissions in the series couldn't be helped: "Mary Poppins" and "Dr. Zhivago," for example, have been withdrawn for the time being, and Andy Warhol seems to have lost interest in distributing any of the Factory inventory. However, Clark elected to pass over Doris Day, who was merely the top box-office attraction of 1960, 1962, 1963 and 1964.
It's much more satisfying to recall Day in movies of the '50s like "Calamity Jane," "Love Me or Leave Me," "The Pajama Game" and "Teacher's Pet," but neglecting the hits she was associated with in the '60s, usually under the auspices of Ross Hunter and with Rock Hudson co-starred, creates certain distortions about the popular taste of the decade. Her biggest hit, "That Touch of Mink," was undeniably excruciating, a disgrace to both Day and co-star Cary Grant. Nevertheless, it's sometimes necessary to grit your teeth and relive the most synthetic entertainment a period has to offer.
The approach to sex in "That Touch of Mink" was insufferably coy, but it might have been instructive to contrast this smash of 1964 with a sensation of two years later, the movie version of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" The Paul Mazursky-Larry Tucker comedies that emerged at the end of the decade, "I Love You, Alice B. Toklas" and "Bob & Carol & Alice," illustrate even more merely how the tone of the movie sex comedy had changed. None of these films appears in "The Sixties."
The series as a whole could profit from more comparisons and contrasts across the decade in order to document how conventions and mores have changed.
For example, it's good to see "Where the Boys Are" included in the series. A choice period piece of the early '60s, the film was also notalbe for the first appearance of Paula Prentiss, a great natural resource later wasted by Hollywood, which did just as badly as Jean Simmons, Suzanne Pleshette, Shirley MacLaine and Elizabeth Hartman as the decade ground on.
"Where the Boys Are" might be even more effective deliberately contrasted with "The Graduate," which is in the series, or "Greetings" and "Wild in the Streets," which aren't. At any rate, such juxtapositions would dramatize the decade more vividly. "Where the Boys Are" and "Greetings" are radically different reflections of the mentality of American college kids.
In a similar respect, "Twist Around the Clock," now double-billed with "Where the Boys Are" tomorrow, might have been paired more revealingly with "A Hard Day's Night," which is in the series, or John Boorman's film with The Dave Clark Five, "Having a Wild Weekend" ("Catch Us If You Can" in Britain), which isn't.
For every indispensable selection in the series - "Dr. Strangelove," "The Manchurian Candidate," "Tom Jones," "The Pink Panther," "The Loved One," "The Sound of Music," "A Hard Day's Night," "Goldfinger," "Medium Cool," "The Graduate," "Darling," "Lawrence of Arabia" - one puzzles at two or three omissions. There's Peter Sellers in "Strangelove" and "Panther," for example, but why not the Sellers of "I'm All Right, Jack," "Lolita" or "Only Two Can Play"?
Perhaps "Lawrence" was the class of the epic action spectacles encouraged by the sucess of "Ben-Hur" in 1959, but are the '60s really the '60s without a few more examples of the breed? I wouldn't gladly sit through "Exodus" or "55 Days at Peking" again, but "Spartacus," "The Longest Day" and "Cleopatra" had their diverting aspects, for better and worse.
Here's a random list of titles not included in "The Sixties": "Long Day's Journey into Night," "Charade," "The Hustler," "The Miracle Worker," "Cat Ballou," "The Great Escape," "Seven Days in May," "Lonely Are the Brave," "Ride High Country," "The Professionals," "From Russia With Love," "Zorba the Greek," "David and Lisa," "2001," "In the Heat of the Night," "Planet of the Apes," "The Luck of Ginger Coffey," "The Sundowners," "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," "The Guns of Navarone," "To Kill A Mockingbird," "Shadows," "The Connection," "What's New, Pussycat?," "Barefoot in the Park," "Joy House," "Sons and Lovers," "Billy Budd," "The Mark," "Mutiny on the Bounty," "King Rat," "Tiger Bay," and "Othello."
The American avant-garde gets one program, a dole that might have been doubled or tripled without straining the available avant-garde repertory.
Perhaps one should think of the new AFI Theater series as an "Introduction to the Sixties."
The subject isn't about to be exhausted.