Hollywood Faces Disaster
By 1960 television had “liberated” cinema by taking over its function as mass entertainment. Without a clear idea of what its post-television role should be or how to satisfy its increasingly disparate audience, Hollywood was in limbo for much of the next decade. The old studio moguls were either dead, in retirement, or battling to maintain a tenuous control over their companies. With them had gone confidence about production.
The New Youth Audience in the Sixties
Dennis Hopper, actor, director, photographer and art collector, began his film career in the mid-1950s when he started acting as a teenager with a small role in “Rebel Without a Cause,” followed by “Giant.” He has starred in more than 150 films and appeared in over 140 television shows.
In 1969, he scored his greatest success on screen with a starring role in “Easy Rider,” a film he directed and co-wrote with Peter Fonda and Terry Southern. The film received two Academy Award nominations — one for a then-unknown Jack Nicholson for Best Supporting Actor and one for Hopper, Fonda, and Southern for Best Original Screenplay.
Art Cinema and the New Wave
In France, a New Wave of filmmakers, many of them former critics, emerged in 1959 when François Truffaut’s 400 Blows won the Best Direction prize at the Cannes Film Festival. As critics on the magazine Cahiers du Cinema, Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette and Jean-Luc Godard had attacked the dominant tradition in French film of respectful adaptations of “quality” novels, and asserted that the true creators of cinema were its directors. As directors, they experimented with subject matter and technique, producing films dealing with more complex and daring themes than the conventional sentimentalities of Hollywood.
Television in the Sixties
On September 23, 1961, NBC introduced its new series, “Saturday Night at the Movies,” featuring Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable in “How to Marry a Millionaire.” This broadcast was an astounding success and pointed to Hollywood’s growing inclination to release its post-1948 movies to television. Seven more series representing all three networks and every night of the week appeared over the next five years.
Vietnam: Bringing the War Home
As the Vietnam War shook the country’s faith in their government, it also influenced writers, philosophers and theologians to question the metaphysical implications of these events. Vietnam, the first rock’n’ roll war, was also the first television war, with combat footage on the nightly news.
Johnson tried assiduously to manage television coverage of the war, pundits debated endlessly about whether television had “brought the war home” or had trivialized it as just another interruption in the stream of commercials, and whether the scenes of carnage and the reports of American atrocities had numbed its audience or had increased anti-war sentiment or street violence.
Radio Luxembourg and 60’s “Pirate Stations”
Through this apparent decline was due in part to a moral and/or cultural backlash, it had much to do with ingrained aspects of national life and character. One of these was a readiness to live with maiden “Auntie” BBC’s paternalism. British record companies were content – if not enthusiastic – to sell rock `n’ roll, but BBC resistance severely restricted airplay.
The only alternative – the commercial radio station Radio Luxembourg, broadcast from mainland Europe – was very popular with teenagers (especially at 11 pm on a Sunday night for the Top 20), but that popularity did not translate itself into wholesale dissatisfaction with the BBC’s music policy until 1964, when a rash of “ pirate stations” broke out, broadcasting unlicensed from ships moored just outside territorial waters. The pirates introduced an American style of disk jockey to an enthusiastic British audience.
American Television and the Wider World
The very first made-for-TV movie, “See How They Run,” premiered on October 17, 1964, a few months sooner than expected. This Universal production is a crime melodrama that was quickly followed six weeks later by the broadcast of Don Siegel’s next excursion into the telefilm genre, “The Hanged Man.” Like “The Killers” before it, Siegel’s second assignment for NBC-MCA is another remake of a classic film noir, “Ride the Pink Horse.”