Posts coming into Monday should be fairly light, don't you think? I considered writing about Trotsky and Lenin, but I don't know, I just couldn't get my enthusiasm up to speed. Instead, I want to write about something dear to my heart: film.
I have been watching many films this weekend, sort of a mindless marathon. As I watched "Saw III", a film I can't recommend, my mind started wandering and I found myself trying to identify films which are tied to a decade. Some films can be seen over and over again, regardless of time's passage: "Casablanca", "Gone With The Wind", "Apocalypse Now", "The Godfather". However, there are some films that are noteworthy not as film but as timecapsules. They exist as a little window into a removed time and culture. If you want to take a look with me through that time portal, here are some suggestions which are certainly not inclusive. I'll only cover forty years with lists that are woefully incomplete. Note, this is not about quality, this is about films for the cultural historian.
1950's -- James Dean as angst ridden bad boy in "Rebel Without A Cause"; Marlon Brado as biker punk with the heart of gold in ( "What are you rebelling against?" "Whattya got?") "The Wild Ones"; Glenn Ford tacking teen delinquency in "Blackboard Jungle" (which by the way launched "Rock around The Clock" by Bill Haley and the Comets); "Baby Doll" by director Elia Kazan (a man who would later sell out his own in the McCarthy hearings) and based on a play by Tenessee Williams. This film about the life of postwar Amreica behind the gray flannel facade irked then New York's Cardinal Spellman to declare the film "evil in concept... certain to exert an immoral and corrupting influence on those who see it." Spellman should have lived to see "Revenge of the Nerds".
1960's -- David Niven took a turn as a befuddled parent in "Prudence and the Pill" a statement about the decade's perceived promiscuity as symbolized by the development of birth control; "I Love You Alice B. Tolkas" starring Peter Sellers as an uptight middle class bachelor who suddenly embraces the sixties drug culture; and more promiscuity with "Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice" and "Three In The Attic". On another front Sean Connery took the role as James Bond in "Dr. No". I love the Bond series, but this film is pure Cold War. It's a wonderful look at early sixties fashions, automobiles, and technology. The same can be said for "Goldfinger" which had Sean Connery mouthing the words: "Get lost, darling, this is man-talk" and "The best way to appreciate the Beatles is with a good pair of earmuffs." And Vietnam? "The Green Beret" with John Wayne on the right. Antiwar films weren't front and center until the seventies, and even then they were mostly allegorical.
1970s -- "The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh" is pure disco culture as is ""Roller Boogie" and"Xanadu", which was actually released in 1980, but I will keep it here as born of 70's culture. And if we're talking disco, we're talking "Saturday Night Fever". The seventies also gave us films that purported to reflect black urban culture in America: "Shaft", "Superfly" and "Dolemite".
1980's-- The Eighties gave us AIDS. Under the Reagan administration (someone will have to tell me sometime why history has been rewritten around his administration) we saw the rise of the ME generation, a burst of excess and self-centeredness. In film,"Hollywood Hot Tub" is pure kitsch and a great glimpse into the culture that the media tried to push on America. " Also, the youth movement of the sixties and seventies continued with the self absorbed eighties version in such films as "Sixteen Candles", "Dirty Dancing", and "The Breakfast Club".
Forty years there. Obviously, I'm just picking examples to prove a point. When I watch a film made in the thirties, part of the fun for me is to listen to the dialogue for slang and cultural references, to study the interior decors, to watch the exterior shots of cityscapes that are no more, painted over by time and progress.
Thanks for the indulgence. I think I'm to go now and watch Friedkin's "The French Connection", great shots of the New York during the early seventies, and gritty as they come.