Capturing the Moment: The Essence of 1960s Film (Part One)

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Paper on 1960s film

Submitted: July 12, 2010

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Submitted: July 12, 2010

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CAPTURING THE MOMENT: THE ESSENCE OF 1960S FILM
by
S. Adam Bernstein

July, 2010
Abstract
This study focuses on 1960s film, in order to ascertain what the true essence and uniqueness of the decade is.It pursues this end by utilizing an in-depth analysis of six quintessential films of the era: David and Lisa, My Life to Live, Flight of the Phoenix, Blow-Up, The Graduate, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. It seeks out their commonalities and what differentiates them from films of other decades.In addition, the study endeavors to flesh out the key ingredients of post-modern film, looking at the directors, Godard, Resnais, Demy, Fellini, and Antonioni.The film segment of the project, while utilizing a firsthand look at the films, attempts to both define and grasp the 1960s sensibility.Several conclusions result, the primary one being that the essence of 1960s film is revealed to be a symbiosis of self-awareness, moment-awareness, and creativity. In effect, the decade was a perfect storm; i.e. all conditions were right for filmmakers to draw self-awareness into their films, which is the primary source of both creativity and moment-awareness.And it asks why these elements are missing from more recent film.The study ends with the discussion of a brand new concept, that of dekas theory, which states that the essence of film is the capturing of the moment (within the decade, hence dekas).This contrasts Truffaut’s auteur theory and similar relatively narrow film theories.
Table of Contents

Abstract..................................................................................................................................................... 1

Contents..................................................................................................................................................... 2

Table of Figures........................................................................................................................................ 3

Chapter 1: Introduction to the Capstone Project.................................................................................... 4

Introduction to the Chapter.................................................................................................................. 5

Background of the Study....................................................................................................................... 5

Problem Statement................................................................................................................................ 5

Professional Significance of Study........................................................................................................ 6

Overview of Methodology..................................................................................................................... 6

Delimitations.......................................................................................................................................... 6

Definition of Terms................................................................................................................................ 7

Summary................................................................................................................................................ 8

Chapter 2: The Literature Review.......................................................................................................... 9

How Film Evolved in the 1960s........................................................................................................... 10

Quintessential 1960s Films.................................................................................................................. 11

David and Lisa..................................................................................................................................... 12

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.......................................................................................................... 12

Blow-Up............................................................................................................................................... 13

2001: A Space Odyssey....................................................................................................................... 14

Post Modernism and Godard.............................................................................................................. 15

Chapter 3: Methodology......................................................................................................................... 17

The Data Needed................................................................................................................................. 17

Post-Modernism in 1960s Cinema....................................................................................................... 19

Interpretation of Data......................................................................................................................... 19

Chapter 4: Results of the Study: Description of Video Project............................................................. 20

How did Film Evolve in the 1960s....................................................................................................... 21

What are the Quintessential 1960s Films?.......................................................................................... 23

French New Wave............................................................................................................................... 24

Conclusion........................................................................................................................................... 25

Chapter 5: Conclusion............................................................................................................................ 25

Statement of Problem.......................................................................................................................... 26

Explanation of Video Project.............................................................................................................. 26

Review of Methodology....................................................................................................................... 27

Summary.............................................................................................................................................. 28

Relationship of Research to the Field................................................................................................. 31

Discussion of Results........................................................................................................................... 32

Conclusion........................................................................................................................................... 33

Works Cited......................................................................................................................................... 34

Appendix.............................................................................................................................................. 36





Chapter 1: Introduction

Introduction to the Chapter:

Something extraordinary occurred in the 1960s. It was a point in time where technological innovation, relative economic prosperity, and a new kind of intellectual and cultural freedom converged to create an explosion of creativity. Now that the 1960s is history it is important to ascertain what its true value and significance is. 1960s culture was a culmination of many creative forces evolving throughout history. In a sense, this decade marked the onset of modernity, in that space age technology as well as relative prosperity produced enough leisure for enough people to creatively actualize; hence the profound innovations in the era’s cinema.

This study will focus on film of the 1960s and will explore both what differentiates it from film of other eras, as well as what its true essence is. Marshall McLuhan says in Understanding Media that film is a “hot medium”, meaning it has a more intense impact on the viewer than other forms of media such as TV. Also, he coined the phrase, “The medium is the message,” meaning it is the medium itself (film) that has the profound effect on the viewer rather than its content (McLuhan). This will be a recurrent reference point for the study which will focus on more profound aspects of 1960s film, rather than mere content (plot). It is common to look at this era with cliché, inevitably dwelling on political aspects. In contrast, this study will focus on the gestalt and the underlying meaning; if this can be determined, the era’s relation to the present and future can also be realized.

Background of the Study:

Looking back at the 1960s usually gravitates towards the political aspects of the era. Concentration is placed on civil rights, war, and the New Left, often to the exclusion of cultural significance. When culture is examined it is often the drug culture that stays in the forefront. While not diminishing the significance of these topics, it is important to also analyze how and why the culture all of a sudden became so creative. So trying to avoid film criticism, this study will attempt to utilize film theory to answer the question of what makes 1960s film unique.

Problem Statement

This study will attempt to answer the major question: How does cinema of the 1960s reflect and reveal the essence and uniqueness of the decade?

It will do this by exploring the sub-questions:

1. How does film evolve throughout the decade and how synchronous is it with events of the era?

2. What are the commonalities of the quintessential films of the era?

3. How does post-modern European film reveal an emerging self-consciousness during the decade and how did it influence sixties filmmaking and culture in general?

Professional Significance of the Study

While analyzing any work of art, being objective without any sense of subjectivity makes for a lifeless and usually worthless work. This will actually be an objective study of subjective experience, and will attempt to avoid all the clichés associated with the 1960s. Therefore it will bring to film theory a unique perspective of the era, in an attempt to define what is essential, rather than what is political. The heart of the study is to define the 1960s essence through its cinema.

Overview of Methodology:

The study will compare the European 1960s film with American 1960s film, engaging in a qualitative descriptive methodology. The method will be a direct analysis of the films, utilizing the film theory of such authors as Andre Bazin, who defined film’s significance by its realism, as opposed to its artistic value. Another layer of this analysis will be to hold the films up to the light of McLuhan’s theories of media, as well as Deleuze’s concept of the crystal image (see definition of terms below). Finally the pop-culture aspect of 1960s cinema will be touched on in order to further illuminate the 1960s essence.

Delimitations

This study will analyze a few films of the 1960s utilizing film theory and the media theory of Marshall McLuhan. It will avoid discussion of plot where possible and attempt to realize the gestalt of the film. The study will focus on American films including David and Lisa, Flight of the Phoenix, The Graduate, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. There will also be a comparison with European films, including Contempt, Blow Up, and the Demy musical, Young Girls of Rochefort. European cinema has a reputation for being more intellectual and philosophical; however these aspects will be the focus of film on both continents.

Definition of Terms

Auteur Theory- The concept, originating with Francois Truffaut, that the director is God so to speak; that he is the ultimate creator and the film is a product primarily of his vision. Hitchcock is a great example of an auteur. This study will utilize this to look at sixties directors such as Mike Nichols, Frank Perry, and Jacques Demy.

Crystal Image—Philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s concepts of the “direct image of time” and the “crystal image” refer to a fusion “of the pastness of the recorded event with the presentness of its viewing” (Totaro). The elaboration of these concepts lead to the foundation of a new film theory called dekas theory, which will be explained in the conclusion.

Dekas Theory- This is a term coined for this project which refers to the time-awareness aspect of film. The theory is that the moment which is captured is the most important component of film, rather than the director.

Film Theory--Film theory explores the essence of cinema and provides conceptual frameworks for understanding film's relationship to reality, art, and society. This is not to be confused with film criticism because it refers to the philosophy of film.

Gestalt- Gestalt refers to how the whole film comes together. The focus will be how the background music, the cinematography, and spontaneity of the acting, the dialogue, the setting, etc. all combine to create the whole.

Moment Awareness--- A concept developed by this project which is based on Deleuze concept of crystal image (see above), which is the key to the thesis of this study. 1960s film is significant to the extent that it captures a fleeting moment.

Post-modern- Post-modern film has to do with the stepping out of traditional bounds of filmmaking in order to become a self-aware film. Good examples are those of the French New Wave such as Godard (Contempt), Resnais (Last Year at Marienbad) and Serge Bourguignon (Sundays and Cybele), as well as the Italians, Fellini (8 ½) and Antonioni (Blow Up).

Phenomenology-- This is a term in philosophy which refers to the philosophical inquiry of Husserl, Heidegger, and Sartre. This will be touched on as a part of film theory, being a method of description relating to consciousness of the art object (film) (Casebier 4).

Summary:

This chapter lays the foundation for this study which seeks to demythologize the 1960s mystique by looking at the era’s cinema, while engaging film theory. It will also seek to measure cinema’s progress throughout the decade by categorizing the films chronologically. The early-sixties shall be considered for this study’s purposes to be the JFK era (1961-1963), the mid-sixties the British Invasion era (1964-1966), and the late-sixties the psychedelic era (1967-1969). Of course, these eras overlap, and the films will have various criteria applied to determine exactly what progress occurs. These criteria will involve level of sophistication, complexity of cinematography, and philosophical significance. The following chapter is a literary review of 1960s film and begins with a look at the historical context of 1960s film.

Chapter 2: Literature Review

This chapter will be a critical review of both synthetic and primary sources used to answer the question, “What is the essence of 1960s film?” There will be three sections to this, the first being a critique of literature on how film evolved throughout the decade. Second will be a look at sources relating to the commonalities of the decade’s quintessential films. The final section will review literature on how the post-modernism of the French New Wave reveals an emerging self-consciousness during the sixties.

Of course the seeds of 1960s film were planted long before the decade began. For instance Italian post-war neo-realism began in the 1940s with the likes of directors such as Rossellini (maker of 1945’s Open City). “The world of Rossellini is a world of pure acts, unimportant in themselves, but preparing the way…for the sudden dazzling revelation of their meaning” (Bazin 100). This paved the way for the French New Wave of Truffaut and Godard.

How film evolved in the 1960s
Various forms of new cinema emerged throughout the world in this decade. Among these were the French New Wave, New German Cinema, Czechoslovak New Wave, Brazilian Cinema Novo, and the British Free Cinema (Nowell-Smith 1). There is a reason these movements all sprouted simultaneously; namely, the Sixties spark ignited a creative revolution in cinema. This spark was a result of rebellion against 1950s conformity, as well as a developing counter-culture that was reaching critical mass.
Author Novell-Smith notes that, “...almost without exception the new cinemas were a rebellion.Principally this rebellion was aesthetic and was in opposition to what I have elsewhere called the 'false perfection' of the studio” (3), by which he means Hollywood films in general.This decade was the time when new ideas merged with new film techniques as well as a new independent spirit.1969’s Easy Rider is a prime example of filmmakers (Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson, et al.) who went outside of Hollywood, got independent funding, and ended up with a counter-cultural classic.
A European example of this is 1966’s A Man and a Woman, which is actually partly in black-and-white mainly because the director, Claude Lelouch, ran out of money for color film stock. Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention; hence film analysts read meaning into the differing film stocks. “The now-famous climactic scene in a train station was not scripted at the time of shooting, thus Aimee was unaware that director Lelouch had decided upon a tearful reunion between her and Trintignant” (Erickson). Spontaneity is both a European and 1960s film technique which can be traced back to neo-realist cinema.
Another new aspect of film to emerge in the decade is what French philosopher Gilles Deleuze calls the “time image” (Nowell-Smith 5).He refers to directors Antonioni (Blow Up) and Alain Resnais (Last Year at Marienbad)and explains that “time begins to make its presence felt as something in itself, above and beyond the forward movement of the action” (6).This is very evident in Last Year at Marienbad (1961), which is filled with scenes seemingly frozen in time, slow motion segments, and numerous flashbacks and flash forwards.Another revolutionary aspect of this film is that the plot is secondary to style, atmosphere, and ideas.This trend will evolve throughout the decade culminating in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, discussed later. "The French philosopher Gilles Deleuze published the first of two volumes of reflections on the nature of cinema, subtitled 'L'image mouvement'. This and a second volume 'L'image temps', which followed in 1985, set out to ground a fundamental distinction in the cinema between films...characterized by what he called the 'movement image' and those...characterized by a different form of image entirely, the 'time image'” (5).This consciousness of time is a philosophical approach more attuned to European directors, but this time element distinguishes 1960s film in general from, say, the shallow films of today.
Quintessential Films of the 1960s
The chronology of 1960s film’s progression can be gleaned through an analysis of a few particular films, which represent the early, middle, and late 1960s.The thread running through them is that of liberation and modernization (Nowell-Smith 8).Also with a few exceptions they are all non-mainstream, non-commercialized films.
David and Lisa
David and Lisa from 1962, directed by Frank Perry,marked a groundbreaking trend in American film. Heavily French New Wave influenced, low-budget, and independently funded, the content here is another early clue to an unfolding phenomenon; namely, troubled youth of the era. Gabbard’s book, Psychiatry and the Cinema, states that, “Part of the film's success lies in (Howard) da Silva's ability to communicate the compassion his character has for his patients without letting the trappings of the profession impede him” (88). So this film utilizes a brand new approach to both the content and production methods.This humanist approach of an alternative school for disturbed youth "attempted to abandon the old Hollywood myths and seriously examine themes of the family, love, and human communication” (86).
An ominous music score by Mark Lawrence accentuates the emotional disturbances of the characters and sets the art-film tone. David is played by Keir Dullea, who went on to star in 2001: A Space Odyssey and Dr. Alan Swinford is played by formerly blacklisted actor, Howard da Silva. This is a quintessential early ‘60s film because of its theme of disturbed youth, its humanist elements, its French New Wave influence, and the independence of its production.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The 1966 Mike Nichols film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is based on the Edward Albee play, which is a product of the New York alternative theater of the absurd.The play references elements of both William’s Streetcar andO’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night.The theme of fantasy vs. reality pervades the content (as in Blow-Up), and is part of Nichols’ continuum that included 1967’s The Graduate. Cutting edge in many ways, “The MPAA ratings board gave the film a seal of approval after Warner Bros. appealed and made a few cuts of the most extreme profanity…It was the first film to be released with a ‘Suggested for Mature Audiences’ warning” (Dirks). This film was a bridge in the sense that it was the last black-and-white film from a major studio, as well as the film that prompted the ratings system.
This was Edward Albee’s magnum opus, and Nichols very first film.Even though he states in the recent director’s DVD commentary that he would have preferred it in the studio rather than on location, the film actually set in a Massachusetts town adds to the haunting atmosphere and realist quality.The sub-theme is relatively new also: the mid-life crisis, which is also explored in Burt Lancaster’s 1968 film, The Swimmer. Possibly because Nichols didn’t know better as a new director, he achieved a new style of realism in the guise of the theater of the absurd.
Blow-Up
No study of 1960s film would be complete without mention of Antonioni’s Blow-Up, from 1966.Set in Swinging London at the mod focal point in time, as Thomson says, “I know that it was there, the very moment the world changed.I would add that forty years later it remains a deadpan delight—witty, sexy, nasty, tricky, and one of the best movies to use in teaching film studies that anyone has ever made (108). Antonioni’s theme is fantasy vs. reality, the most well-known scene being the Yardbirds’ performance, featuring Jimmy Page.This scene references Last Year at Marienbad, in the sense that the mod spectators are mostly catatonic during the performance.Antonioni is known for contemplative philosophical films, and this one features minimal dialogue while being sophisticated enough to reflect its setting. It is a great example of the plot not mattering in a new post-modern genre.
2001:A Space Odyssey
David Thomson’s review of this film states, “2001 was a lavish travesty and an elaborate defense of vacancy or the reluctance to use real imagination” (926).And such was the feeling among some critics when the film premiered in 1968.Rock Hudson famously walked out of the theater saying, “Will someone tell me what the hell this is about?” (Hudson Bio).
Interestingly, this film caught on mostly by word of mouth.The critics initially hated it, since there was no apparent plot and no framework of a film in the traditional sense.However, audiences became hooked, and the critics actually changed their minds. As Tim Dirks review states:
Director Stanley Kubrick's work is a profound, visionary and astounding film (a mysterious Rorschach film-blot) and a tremendous visual experience. This epic film contained more spectacular imagery (about what space looked like) and special effects than verbal dialogue. Viewers are left to experience the non-verbal, mystical vastness of the film, and to subjectively reach into their own subconscious and into the film's pure imagery to speculate about its meaning (Dirks).
With this film we approach the end of the decade, and in many ways the content is synchronous with real events such as Apollo, computer technology, etc. (a similar synchronicity exists with the Haskell Wexler film, Medium Cool, set in Chicago, 1968). Another aspect is that there is no real plot, hence Hudson’s reaction. What there is is a film that attempts to go “beyond the infinite”, to use the final part’s title.The monolith is a recurrent motif, along with the ominous Richard Straus Also Sprach Zarathustra background music (as well as Johan Straus’ Blue Danube). Since the whole film is left open-ended the monolith is widely interpreted as being God. The “Beyond the Infinite” finale is so mind-blowing that hippies used to watch the film over and over again while tripping out to that scene.At its core, 2001: A Space Odyssey is the most profound sci-fi film ever made, mainly because of its open-endedness.
Post-Modern Film, Self-Consciousness, Godard, and Contempt
As the 1960s approached the French New Wave of filmmakers began to make films with increasingly self-referential themes, which parallels the growing tendency toward self-consciousness of the culture.This is a defining characteristic of post-modern film.A great example is the 1963 film, Contempt, by Jean-Luc Godard, considered the most radical of the French New Wave directors. Kreidl’s biography, Jean-Luc Godard, points out the film’s self-reference in a scene where Brigitte Bardot dons a black wig, a reference to brunette Godard actress, Anna Karina. “We are thus referred back to all the actresses of all the Godard films” (145).While a simple example, it clearly explains what is meant by self-reference, which is at the heart of this question.
To sum up this literature review, Marshall McLuhan’s famous phrase, “The Medium is the Message” means:
The personal and social consequences of any medium—that is, of any extension of ourselves—result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves….The instance of the electric light may prove illuminating in this connection.The electric light is pure information.It is a medium without a message…This fact, characteristic of all media, means that the “content” of any medium is always another medium (McLuhan 151).
Therefore, in thecontext of film, the content would be the theatrical performance, and though McLuhan says that this content doesn’t matter compared to the film medium itself, the content during the 1960s was drastically changing throughout the decade. So McLuhan makes an important point about how the media (print, telephone, film) affect individuals and society (233), but his theories occur at a historical moment of radical content change, which he narrowly overlooks.Hence pre-sixties Hollywood schlock is surpassed by a reaction against Hollywood, and a more creative approach in which plot is secondary, while style, atmosphere, message, and self-awareness are primary. Directors such as Frank Perry, Mike Nichols, Alain Resnais, and Stanley Kubrick come briefly to the fore; however this brief epiphany would soon become lost inpost-Sixties commercial oblivion.In the Sixties, the moment truly is the message.
Chapter 3:Methodology
The methodology for the study is geared toward addressing the major question, “What is the essence of 1960s film?”It employs aqualitative perspective and uses primarily the phenomenological research methodology. The approach is to describe and evaluate the 1960s film experience based on a few essential 1960s films, directors, and movements, and will use this to find commonalities, which will help answer the sub-questions.
The first sub-question is “How does film evolve throughout the 1960s?” which will address the distinction between early, mid, and late decade films, as well as the symbiotic relationship between film and reality.The introduction to this section will go into the progenitors of ‘60s film, including neo-realists such as De Sica and Rossellini. The second is, “What are the quintessential films of the era and what makes them so?” in which six films will be categorized, evaluated, and analyzed in depth. The third is, “How does the post-modernism of the French New Wave (Godard, Truffaut, and Demy) as well as Fellini and Antonioni reveal an emerging self-consciousness during the decade and how did it influence sixties filmmaking and culture in general?”This section will end with a comparison between European and American films, and how they influenced each other.
The Data Needed
The plan of action will be to use literary sources in relation to the films themselves, and determine the essential elements based on both literature and first hand critique.An in-depth qualitative analysis will be done of the following films:
1. David and Lisa (Perry, 1962)
2. Contempt (Godard, 1963)
3. Flight of the Phoenix (Aldrich, 1965)
4. Blow-Up (Antonioni, 1966)
5. The Graduate (Nichols, 1966)
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)
(End of Part 1)


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