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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hollywood’s Landmark Movies of the 1960s: New Hollywood Era Film Style and the Cinema of Sensation

Hollywood’s Landmark Movies of the 1960s:  New Hollywood Era Film Style and the Cinema of Sensation

Abstract
Hollywood feature filmmaking experienced significant transformation during the 1960s. Subject matter was directed toward a shifting American culture which resulted in changes in aesthetic value from traditional Hollywood filmmaking. This included challenges to traditional moral and political values in America as well as an emphasis on visually graphic films with an appeal to the senses.

Introduction
            Hollywood feature filmmaking experienced a significant transformation during the decade of the sixties.  Several landmark movies of this time period played a significant role in destroying the “time-honored forms” (Monaco, 2001, p. 2) and content characteristic of previous Hollywood films.  Moreover, the social unrest in American society coupled with the cultural changes it was experiencing served as a catalyst for altering the subject matter and aesthetic value of films being produced in the New Hollywood at that time.
Overview
            The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of the landmark movies of the 1960s and the Cinema of Sensation.  My thesis is that the movies of the 1960s are uniquely different from other previous American cinema because of the subject matter challenges they directed towards a shifting American culture and the significant change in aesthetic value of traditional Hollywood filmmaking.  My thesis statement is based on the following three premises:  

            (1)  On a national scale, America’s youth experienced a cultural shift in attitudes and behaviors as part of the ‘sexual revolution’ of the 1960s.

            (2)  Cultural issues of America challenged by the motion picture industry of the 1960s included the threat of global nuclear war, the glorification of antiheroes in society, as well as sexual explicitness and violence in films. 

            (3)  The use of more visually graphic films that appealed to the senses (i.e., Cinema of Sensation) in lieu of Hollywood’s previous traditional emphasis upon character development and dramatic story was inaugurated as part of the New American Cinema of feature filmmaking in the 1960s. 


Shift in America’s Youth Culture
            In the 1960s, America’s youth experienced cultural shifts in attitudes and behaviors that constituted the ‘sexual revolution’ (Monaco 5).  For much of America’s youth, there was a move toward “pursuit of pleasure” (Monaco 6).  For example, on August 15-17, 1969, a large number of young Americans attended the Woodstock Music Festival.  Michael Wadleigh’s documentary of the event thematically described it as, “let it all hang out” (Monaco 7).  Woodstock was “a music festival where young people convened to celebrate love and peace… [and] represented a high point in the counterculture” (Johnson MSN Encarta On-Line).  The people who attended the festival were characterized as “members of the counterculture, who were often referred to as hippies and who characteristically rejected materialism and authority, protested against the Vietnam War, supported the civil rights movement, dressed unconventionally, and experimented with sex and illicit drugs” (Sandow MSN Encarta On-Line).  Coupled with this shift in America’s youth culture, the U.S. Government also approved the use of the birth control pill in 1960 as an oral contraceptive for women (Monaco 7).  The Government’s stamp of approval for use of the birth control pill was a significant demonstration of the ‘sexual revolution’ that young people in America were experiencing.  Therefore, as a result of the ‘sexual revolution’ among America’s youth in the 1960s, there was also a transformation in subject matter content and aesthetic value of traditional Hollywood films produced during that period, as well.

Cultural Challenges by the Motion Picture Industry
            As America’s youth culture began to shift in the sixties, the Hollywood motion picture industry also began to challenge traditional moral and political values in America.  This can be observed through the 1960s landmark films, Dr. Strangelove (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, I am Curious (Yellow), and Bonnie and Clyde.  Each of these films made their own particular contribution to the motion picture industry’s transformation to the New Hollywood Era of the 1960s.  

Dr. Strangelove
            The 1964 film, Dr. Strangelove (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb), addressed the controversial political issue concerning the threat of global nuclear war through comedy parody.  Based on the novel Red Alert by Peter George, the screenplay for Dr. Strangelove was a satire about a “belief that the communists [were]… planning to conquer the free world by poisoning the water supply with fluoride” (Film Index International On-line).  In response to this threat, General Jack D. Ripper authorizes a B-52 atomic bomb attack on Russia.  In an effort to stop the nuclear attack on Russia, all bombers are successfully recalled; except for one commanded by Major ‘King’ Kong.  At this point, President Muffley learns from the Russian Ambassador de Sadesky that the Russians have a Doomsday device that will set off nuclear explosions all over the world if a nuclear bomb is exploded in Russia.  Seeking advice from his Chief Scientist Dr. Strangelove (an ex-Nazi paraplegic), President Muffley is told that “humanity can survive if a selected few take to underground shelters and remain there for about 100 years” (Film Index International On-Line).   The film concludes with Major ‘King’ Kong riding the atomic bomb like a bucking bronco as it falls to the earth.  The atomic bomb then explodes which triggers the Russian made Doomsday Device and subsequently detonates nuclear bombs all over the earth.  “The most important theme of the film is that it makes fun of the sad, perverse, and absurd reality that the U.S. and the Soviet Union could destroy each other within 30 minutes” (Lindley 663).  


            The screenplay for Dr. Strangelove brought forward very challenging questions to the American populace.  These included questions as to why America had bombers constantly in the air (already prepared to head toward their targets), whether or not individual base commanders had the authority to use nuclear weapons at their own discretion, why our military forces were on hair-trigger alert, and whether or not the Doomsday Device was an actual reality (Lindley 663).  It is interesting to note that in 1963 when the film was made, “there were 34,000 nuclear weapons on earth” (Lindley 663).  With so many nuclear weapons spread throughout the world, the potential of an actual Doomsday event at that time may not have been as far fetched as many people think.  The satirical elements of Dr. Strangelove included the use of humor, sarcasm, mockery, cynicism, ridicule, derision, and scorn relative to the threat of global nuclear war that was so prevalent in the sixties.  

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
            The 1969 comedy-drama/Western film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid demonstrated the exaltation of antiheroes in society.  The story was about “two affable outlaws… [who became] notorious in the early 20th-century West for the audacity with which they and their gang pull off bank and train robberies… a number of holdups [which]… ended in comic failure” (Film Indexes On-line).  Directed by George Roy Hill, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid cast Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy and Robert Redford as the Sundance Kid.  This ‘buddy’ story portrays Butch and Sundance as murderous bank-robbers; but through their short, comical dialogue and funny character traits, they are actually well received and admired by the previewing audience.  

            Although Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is based on real events and real characters, it is not a serous film.  It is a comedy-drama that is developed around a story where “no matter how great the odds are against them, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid always feel confident in their chances and Butch always discusses where they will go next and what they should do next” (Bowen).  As a result, even though they are gangsters, Butch and Sundance are viewed by the audience as endearing antiheroes.  Butch and Sundance were central characters to the story, but they lacked the personality traits of nobleness and moral good which is traditionally present in heroic story figures.  The use of antiheroes as a thematic element in the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was a challenge to traditional American values and consistent with the shifting attitudes in American youth culture in the sixties.  

I am Curious (Yellow)
             The eroticism in the Swedish film I am Curious (Yellow) stirred up a “heated debate over obscenity laws after its U.S. release in 1968″ (Monaco 64).  The film challenged sexual explicitness of movies being displayed in theaters all across America.  Directed by Vilgot Sjoman, the film is about a girl named “Lena, aged twenty, [who] wants to know all she can about life and reality” (IMDB On-line).  As she seeks to gather information on people and other areas of interest to her, “she experiments with relationships, political activism, and meditation” (IMDB On-line).  

            There are several scenes containing nudity, explicit sex, and “love-making sessions” (Film Indexes On-line) which temporarily precluded the film from being shown in the United States until its “seizure by Customs was appealed” (IMDB On-line).  When the movie was released in motion picture theaters across America, many people found the movie offensive to conventional standards of decency and morally disgusting.  Coupled with the ‘sexual revolution’ among American youth in the 1960s, the film I am Curious (Yellow) challenged traditional moral values in America and stirred up great controversy within our nation because of its offensive, obscene, sexually explicit material. 

Bonnie and Clyde
            America’s moral values relative to violence were challenged by the Hollywood motion picture industry during the 1960s with the release of the film Bonnie and Clyde.  Directed by Arthur Penn in 1967, Bonnie and Clyde became one of the most debatable, controversial films of this time period.  The screenplay presents two gangsters, Clyde Barrow (portrayed by Warren Beatty) and Bonnie Parker (portrayed by Faye Dunaway), who struck fear in the hearts of the general public for their aggressive, brutal, killing episodes that they carried out during their bank robberies.  

            Bonnie and Clyde was very different from previous American cinema because of the very dramatic presentation of vicious and extreme violence that was incorporated into the film.  For instance, at the conclusion of the film, the main characters of the story are killed in a whirlwind of gunfire.  Bonnie and Clyde was resentfully “criticized for its shocking violence, graphic bullet-ridden finale and for its blending of humorous farce with brutal killings” (Dirks, The Greatest Films Website).  The violence depicted in Bonnie and Clyde also challenged the Motion Picture Production Code that was adhered to in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s which prohibited “film studios [from incorporating] graphic displays of bloodshed” (Torr 16).  The Production Code “stipulated that movies stress proper behavior, respect for government, and Christian values” (Black, Hollywood Censored, preface).  Simply ignoring the intent and guidelines of the code, this film “became the first to feature graphic depictions of gunshot wounds” (Torr, 2002, p. 16).  Bonnie and Clyde was a clear departure from the Motion Picture Production Code’s requirements and a major confrontation and challenge to America’s traditional moral values.

            Bonnie and Clyde was a key launching point for the motion picture industry to incorporate graphical violence into Hollywood films.  After Bonnie and Clyde was released, Hollywood motion picture directors then started to incorporate more realistic violence in their films by taking advantage of the significant technological achievements that were being developed in special visual and sound effects.  As a result, violence in greater scales than ever before imagined are now possible — such as the simulated “destruction of whole cities, as in 1996′s Independence Day” (Torr, 2002, p. 17).

Cinema of Sensation
            As part of the New American Cinema that was inaugurated in the 1960s, the use of more visually graphic films that appealed to the senses came to fruition and replaced Hollywood’s previous traditional emphasis upon character development and dramatic story.  This emphasis on visually graphic films coupled with its intrinsic appeal to the senses of the viewing audience is known as the Cinema of Sensation.  “The new aesthetic of sensation was defined by a speeded-up pacing, the sweep of color production that all but eliminated black-and-white features from Hollywood production, and an increased reliance on graphic visual and sound effects” (Monaco 2).  This new editing style was “more strongly based on how shots and scenes were constructed in terms of time, rather than on spatial relationships within visual shots” (Monaco 2) and the former “dialogue-based cinema that had dominated Hollywood production from the end of the 1920s” (Monaco 2).  Therefore, “the Cinema of Sensation was largely premised on the goal of creating sheer visual stimulation, even if such sensation was created at the cost of narrative consistency and dramatic continuity” (Monaco 261).  

Psycho
            The Cinema of Sensation actually began with the “famous shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), where Janet Leigh’s character [Marion] is stabbed to death” (Monaco 2).  As Hitchcock began to shoot the film Psycho, he stated that “he would stretch the bounds of cinema” (Leff 108).  This was demonstrated through the violent shower scene when Marion was in a motel bathroom.  [Note:  It is interesting to point out that "the motel bathroom contains a toilet, which, [due to the Motion Picture] Production Code enforcement, had not been seen on screen for almost thirty years” (Leff 108)].  Even though “only one shot — less than one second long — would finally show knife against flesh, and then only denting rather than penetrating the flesh” (Leff 108), the murder was one of the most brutal ones ever filmed up to that point in 1960.  With the film Psycho, Hitchcock “made violence both an elemental and an aesthetic experience” (Leff 108).  

Hitchcock and the Creation of Illusion
            In the film Psycho, Hitchcock “had cut an overhead shot of Marion’s body draped limp over the tub with her buttocks exposed” (Leff 108).  The writer of the screenplay described it as a “heartbreaking shot, ‘poetic and so hurtful’” (Leff 108).  However, there were a few more scenes that were bothering the censors as they reviewed the film.  After previewing the film, three of the five censors from the Production Code reviewing team were absolutely sure that they saw flashes of Marion’s naked body during the attack.  However, the other two censors disagreed.  Geoff Shurock, who was one of the more influential Production Code censor team members, told Hitchcock, “Please take out the nudity” (Leff 108).  Then, “two days later, the director returned the print — unchanged — to the Production Code office… and as Stephen Rebello reports in his book on the making of Psycho, the censors exchanged positions:  Three now saw no nudity, two saw it” (Leff 108).  The interesting aspect of this situation was that the three that saw no nudity were absolutely right.  “Hitchcock’s shrewd editing had made viewers only think they saw exposed flesh… [and] as finally the censors realized, Hitchcock’s [Psycho] was a textbook lesson in the creation of illusion.”  Therefore, we see that “impersonations, shadows, and rapid cut editing [can be]… used to heighten the sense that all human visual interpretation has a component of delusion and deception” (Morris 47).

Hitchcock’s Development of the Emotional Sensation of Fear
            Typical of Alfred Hitchcock’s horror films, the female is objectified by the male and viewed as a sex object.  Hitchcock was a specialist in directing film scenes that presented the female as the object of the male gaze.  Moreover, in Hitchcock’s films, women were traditionally shown as powerless, helpless, passive, and speechless.  As part of his Cinema of Sensation, Hitchcock loved to deal with the audience’s emotions — especially with their emotion of fear.  For example, in his film Psycho, Hitchcock used terror and violence against the female to taunt the senses of the viewing audience.  “‘Torture the women!’ was the famous advice given by Alfred Hitchcock.” (Williams, p. 705).  

            With the introduction of the Cinema of Sensation, Hollywood horror films have more often than not continued to use women victims “who suffer simulated torture and mutilation as victims of sadism” (Williams, p. 707).  As exemplified in Psycho, the “film’s true disturbing quality, however, comes from how it makes the viewer relate to the terror that comes from being secretly watched” (Griffith 76).  In addition, “critics identify Psycho’s power with Hitchcock’s masterful use of the cinema’s essential voyeurism:  the audience participates in evil by secretly peeping at illicit scenes and then identifying with the illicit, even criminal, acts portrayed” (Griffith 76).  Moreover, Hitchcock said that “about 1/3 of the effect of his terror film Psycho was due to the music” (Setterberg 62) because the “musical score [helped] tie together and give meaning to the flickering images on the screen” (Setterberg 62).  

            Hitchcock was a master at the Cinema of Sensation and the “greatness of Psycho lies in its ability, not merely to tell us [about the human potentiality of good versus evil], but to make us experience it” (Griffith 76).  Thus, the emotional sensation of fear as demonstrated in Psycho opened the door to the Cinema of Sensation and its subsequent application to Hollywood filmmaking in order to appeal to the senses of the audience through visually graphic means.  Through the artistic film technique of cinematic sensation, Hitchcock’s Psycho is a film that “draws out of the psyche all the hidden propensities for destruction [and]… murder… paradoxically, the entry into this world of psychic darkness” (Griffith 76).  Therefore, because Psycho can be considered a “healing, therapeutic journey for the viewer… made aware of dark impulses and potentials for evil, we are forewarned” (Griffith 76).

Summary
            In this article, I provided an overview of the landmark movies of the 1960s and the Cinema of Sensation.  The thesis of this essay was that the movies of the 1960s are uniquely different from other previous American cinema because of the subject matter challenges they directed towards a shifting American culture and the significant change in aesthetic value of traditional Hollywood filmmaking.  This thesis was based on the following three premises: 
     (1)  On a national scale, America’s youth experienced a cultural shift in attitudes and behaviors as part of the sexual and political revolutions of the 1960s.
    (2)  Cultural issues of America challenged by motion pictures of the 1960s included the threat of global nuclear war, the glorification of antiheroes in society, as well as sexual explicitness and violence in films being displayed in theaters across the United States. 
    (3)  The use of more visually graphic films that appealed to the senses (i.e., Cinema of Sensation) in lieu of Hollywood’s previous traditional emphasis upon character development and dramatic story was inaugurated as part of the New American Cinema of feature filmmaking in the 1960s. 

            After a discussion of the ‘sexual revolution’ among America’s youth in the 1960s, I described how the landmark films of this time period began to challenge traditional moral and political values in America.  The 1964 film, Dr. Strangelove (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb), addressed the controversial political issue concerning the threat of global nuclear war.  The 1969 comedy-drama/Western film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid challenged traditional character traits of heroes in American society by exalting the role of antiheroes in society.  The 1968 Swedish film I am Curious (Yellow) violated obscenity laws after it was released in the United States and challenged sexual explicitness of films being displayed in theaters across America.  The 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde challenged the Motion Picture Production Code and censorship guidelines relative to violence depicted on the screen.  Lastly, I discussed the Cinema of Sensation and how the use of more visually graphic films that appealed to the senses came to fruition and replaced Hollywood’s previous traditional emphasis upon character development and dialogue-based stories.  I also described how the Cinema of Sensation was inaugurated through Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho.   This was followed by a concluding discussion of Hitchcock’s creation of illusion and his development of the emotional sensation of fear through visually graphic means. 

Works Cited
Black, Gregory D. (1994). Hollywood Censored: Morality Codes, Catholics, and the Movies. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Bowen, Jonathan L. (2004).  “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”  Orbital Reviews On-line. Retrieved on January 25, 2004, from http://www.orbitalreviews.com/pages/full/CassidySundance.shtml

Dirks, Tim. (2003). “Bonnie and Clyde.” The Greatest Films Website.  Retrieved on 8 January 2004 from http://www.filmsite.org.
Film Indexes On-line.  (2004).  Retrieved on January 24, 2004, from http://eres.regent.edu:2482/.

Griffith, James.  (July-August 1996).  “Psycho:  Not Guilty as Charged.”  Film Comment, Volume 32, Number 4.  Retrieved on January 25, 2004, from http://eres.regent.edu:2094/itw/infomark/902/92/41778743w7/purl=rc1_EAIM_
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International Movie Database On-line.  (2004).  Retrieved on January 24, 2004, from http://www.imdb.com.

Johnson, Paul; Bill Turque; and Nancy Woloch.  (2004). “United States (History).”  MSN Encarta On-line.  Retrieved on January 24, 2004, from http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_1741500823_9/United_States_(History).html.

Leff, Leonard J.  (August 1999).  “Hitchcock and the Censors.”  World and I, Volume 14, Issue 8.  Retrieved on January 25, 2004, from http://eres.regent.edu:2094/itw/infomark/902/92/41778743w7/purl=rc1_EAIM
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Lindley, Dan.  (September 2001).  “What I learned since I stopped worrying and studied the movie: A teaching guide to Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.”  Political Science & Politics, Volume 34, Issue 3.  Retrieved on January 25, 2004, from http://eres.regent.edu:2054/pqdweb?index=18&did=000000079701030&SrchMode
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Monaco, Paul. (2001). The Sixties (1960-1969). Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Morris, Christopher D.  (January 1996).  “Psycho’s Allegory of Seeing.”  Literature-FilmQuarterly, Volume 24, Number 1.  Retrieved on January 25, 2004, from http://eres.regent.edu:2094/itw/infomark/902/92/41778743w7/purl=rc1_EAIM_
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Sandow, Greg.  (2004).  “Woodstock Festival.”  MSN Encarta On-line.  Retrieved on January 24, 2004, from http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761588927/
Woodstock_Festival.html.
Setterberg, Fred.  (Nov-Dec 1995).  “How they make movies moving: soundtrack composers use a whole bag of psychological tricks to provoke tears – and terror.”  Health, Volume 9, Number 7.  Retrieved on January 25, 2004, from http://eres.regent.edu:2094/itw/infomark/902/92/41778743w7/purl=rc1_EAIM_
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Torr, James D. (2002). Violence in Film and Television — Examining Pop Culture. San Diego, California: Greenhaven Press, Inc.

Williams, Linda.  (1999).  “Film Bodies:  Gender, Genre, and Excess.”  Leo Braudy
 and Marshall Cohen, Eds.  Film Theory and Criticism:  Introductory ReadingsNew YorkOxford University Press.
 

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