It’s almost cliché to say it now, but it’s true, the 1960s were a decade of tremendous change, turmoil and upheaval. The civil rights movement and the anti-war protests brought about significant but painful changes, with many of our country’s cities exploding into flames. There were the Kennedy and the Martin Luther King and Malcolm X assassinations, there was the violence and tragedy of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago and the 1970 shootings at Kent State. We were fighting a bloody and confusing and divisive war in Vietnam.
It was a decade dominated by young people, as the first of the baby boomers born after World War II went off to college, and a “generation gap” emerged between them and their parents, who had defeated Hitler and enabled the country to emerge as the dominant world power. Many of these people viewed the younger generation as disrespectful and unpatriotic. In actuality, I think the baby boomers were working to realize the dream that their parents had fought for in enduring the great depression and winning World War Two, a dream of social and economic justice and freedom for all. They may have been idealistic, but the whole concept of the United States is based upon idealism – in this sense, by pushing for civil rights and a fair and sensible role in the world, they were not just idealistic but patriotic.
There were seismic changes in virtually all aspects of our culture. The common theme was the breaking down of barriers. Rock and roll evolved and expanded and grew more substantive, lead by the Beatles, while Bob Dylan fused folk and rock and songwriting and poetry and literature into a new art form. Andy Warhol blurred the line between pop culture and fine art. In literature, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five conveyed themes of disillusionment and absurdity and questioning of authority that resonated with the times.
Film, which in the 1950s seemed to be lagging behind the other art forms, rebounded strongly in the 60s. There were more films that accurately represented and portrayed what was going on. Norman Jewison’s In the Heat of the Night confronted institutional racism with depth and complexity. Stanley Kubrick’s Doctor Strangelove comically captured the frightening surrealism of the atomic age and the cold war. Films like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde pushed the envelope of artistic and graphic depictions of violence and horror. Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita captured the existential emptiness of life in the atomic age, while Francois Truffaut’s Jules and Jim and Mike Nichols’ The Graduate captured the romantic essence of being young at such tumultuous and exciting times.
Here is the list of my favorite movies from the 1960s:
18. In the Heat of the Night, 1967, directed by Norman Jewison
17. Long Day’s Journey into Night, 1962, Sidney Lumet
16. Hud, 1963, Martin Ritt
15. The Sundowners, 1960, Fred Zineeman
14. To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962, Robert Mulligan
13. The Innocents, 1961, Jack Clayton
12. Séance on a Wet Afternoon, 1964, Bryan Forbes
11. La Dolce Vita, 1963, Federico Fellini
10. Ride the High Country, 1964, Sam Peckinpah
9. Lolita, 1962, Stanley Kubrick
8. The Graduate, 1967, Mike Nichols
7. Jules and Jim, 1962, Francois Truffaut
6. Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone
5. Bonnie and Clyde, 1968, Arthur Penn
4. Doctor Strangelove, 1964, Stanley Kubrick
3. The Apartment, 1960, Billy Wilder
2. Psycho, 1960, Alfred Hitchcock
1. Shoot the Piano Player, 1960, Francois Truffaut