Friday, July 17, 2009

Top Films of the ‘60s

By David Luhrssen
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Ask a film critic to locate the golden age of cinema and you’ll likely hear one of two answers: the late ‘30s era of The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind, or the late ‘60s-early ‘70s period bracketed by Bonnie andClyde and Star Wars.

Screen World editor Barry Monush begs to differ. In Everybody’s Talkin’: The Top Films of 1965-1969 (published by Applause), Monush makes a case for his chronology of excellence, asserting that “the films of that time represented the best of both worlds”—the vestiges of the old studio system and “the beginning of all that independence and freedom.”

True, the variety of films produced in Hollywood was wide, offering something for everyone in westerns, animation, comedies, horror (the films “still retained some degree of restraint before the genre got out of hand”), science fiction, kids flicks and war dramas. “Screenplays were given priority over high concepts,” he writes, and “it was not common [for filmmakers] to depend on old television shows or flip through the pages of comic books for inspiration.” Marketing was easier going, allowing for meaningful word of mouth. Since the ‘80s, most Hollywood movies are flashes-in-the-pan by design.

Good points all, yet the proof is in the films themselves. In selecting the era’s top movies, Monush refrained from employing his taste as the guide. Instead, he worked up a list of Oscar winners in all principal categories combined with Top-10 box office hits. For many years, Oscar winners and bestsellers coincided to an extent unknown nowadays.

The annotated roster Monush derived from his research is eclectic in form and content, encompassing everything from The Sound of Music to Z, The Love Bug to The Battle of Algiers. Surely no one could love all these movies, and Monush is honest in his aesthetic assessments. Although the era he loves admittedly produced some clunkers, he shows that the good out numbered the bad and the ugly.

Aside from insights into the making of the movies he selected, Monush is keen to explain the differences between the movies and books they were based on. Sometimes, such as Norman Jewison’s hilarious TheRussians are Coming, The Russians are Coming, the movie was clearly better. In other cases, such as Roman Polanski’s classic Rosemary’s Baby, the literary source was so good that the director more or less followed the blueprint.

Everybody’s Talkin' won’t convince every reader that 1965-1969 isn’t an idiosyncratic period to highlight, yet Monush’s book is an easily digested feast for film buffs, packed with anecdotes and written from an accessible critical perspective.

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