The Protest Movement in the Sixties

The Protest Movement in the Sixties

The relationship of popular culture to ideology in the 1960s and into the 1970s has become of interest to academic sociology, although the alarmed interest of politicians has given way to accommodation. The relationship of the entertainment favored by highly visible classes of teenagers and young adults to the behavior of that audience, and especially its use of drugs, is probably now still too current an issue for full perspective and confident judgment.

The sense of possessing qualities equal to but set apart from those of established culture was an important element in the counter – culture of the later 1960s. But as increasing store was set by poetic texts, however radically they might be interpreted, the music was in danger of being cut off from its source of inspiration.

As singers became prized for originality, and originality led to complexity, complexity negated the political point (just as it negated the symbolic simplicity of the singer-and-his -guitar). The history of popular music suggests that it is very unlikely that musical entertainment can induce new behavior, or even introduce new ideas to the audience it must court in order to sell itself.

Though popular music has been blamed in the past for undermining community standards or otherwise damaging society, it is a new phenomenon for popular music to have the pervasive presence that prosperity and the portable radio and tape deck have given it lately, and for such conspicuous economic power to be vested in a youth audience.

The history of popular music that is now happening cannot be fully schematized and managed by the patterns of earlier popular music. Its development has always been contingent, surprising, and even discontinuous except when we rationalize it with hindsight, and it is continuing that unpredictable development now.

A second major contribution of the folk revival was the creation of an audience whose members identified themselves as a community. Until now, even the most committed notions of audience solidarity had centered on sharing the status of being deviants from the social norm; milder forms of teenage commonality had been limited largely to tastes in entertainment. The audience for Dylan, Joan Baez and Phil Ochs began to see their music as the first, essential step in the forging of a whole way of life.

A basic tenet of this lifestyle was antipathy to “commercialism” and the trappings of mass consumerism. Here the political contradictions soon became apparent – contradictions that dogged the fully-fledged counter-culture later in the decade.

As rock has evolved in the last quarter of a century and brought, among other things, self-conscious seriousness to popular music, it has prompted an immense volume of reportage and analysis, much of it empty but some perceptive and judicious. The attention that rock has demanded has occasioned the first widespread, serious critical attention to the popular arts in general.

Many adherents found themselves torn between the desire to spread a cultural and political message, via folk music, and the fear that the channel used to do so – the communications market – place – would taint the musical tradition through commercial exploitation. Successful dissemination brought with it the risk of betrayal: “ Folk music,” wrote Sing Out editor Irwin Silber in 1964, “ is the voice and expression of generations of ordinary folk who were on familiar terms with hard work. Success is the `American Dream’, the middle-class confusion of illusion and reality.”

Dismayed by the appearance of the personality cult, that most hated aspect of “rat-race culture”, diehards saw no gains in the coming together of folk and commerce: “ The fundamentally healthy content of the folk music tradition (is) lost in the caverns of Tin Pan Alley”. From the perspective of popular music, rather than folk, however, the encounter was significant: it marked the beginning of a “creative space” or division between art and image, or between the artist’s authentic voice and the product that reached the market-place. Later musicians would find this space a fruitful area in which to explore and dispute meanings.

To younger folk-revival musicians – and perhaps to Dylan especially – by 1964 the limitations of the idiom, of its audience, of its saleability, had become too clear to overlook. Wholly unexpectedly, the impetus to switch direction and absorb the sounds of rock (as rock `n’ roll had now come to be known) came from a country that, according to critic Charlie Gillett, “had made no previous significant contribution to popular music in the 20th century”. Nostalgia, publicity promotion, and the university environment of a part of the proprietary audience of rock have contributed to the growing critical and scholarly interest in popular music of the past as well as the present. We are in the process of discovering a heritage; it is certain to contribute to the understanding of our own culture.

Next Page: Popular Culture in Britain

Screens, Large and Small

Screens, Large and Small

Hollywood and the Cold War

In 1940 David O. Selznick made a picture of Daphne Du Maurier’s story, Rebecca. Alfred Hitchcock gave it masterly direction, which, coupled with beautiful performances by Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, and Judith Anderson, made it one of the important pictures of the year. Bette Davis added to her reputation as one of Hollywood’s best actresses with her performance in a screen version of W. Somerset Maugham’s play,

Read the Article

Switching on to Television

At the opening of the twentieth century the decisive influence of the ragtime pianists fell on white audiences tiring of the minstrel show and willing to pay to hear black performers. At the same time the American band was being heard everywhere, promoted by John Philip Sousa, the most successful musician of his time, and testifying among other things to pugnacious nationalism. Both phenomena would modulate into dance bands playing vigorous dance music.

Read the Article

TV Dramas and Variety Shows

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.

Read the Article

CinemaScope: Hollywood’s Response to Television

After the war the rate of change accelerated. Anti-trust suits broke up the large companies and forced them to sell their theaters. And television began to keep the public at home. The movie industry responded with attempts at expanding the medium to attract new interests: 3-D, CinemaScope, Technicolor; and it continues to experiment: quadraphonic sound, sensurround, holographic images, leaps in special effects have been tried.

Read the Article

Cinema’s Heroes and Families

Western Import and its representative, M. Jacques Haik, launched the Keystone comedies with Mabel, Fatty, and Charlie in Europe in 1915; other comedies of theirs not distributed by this house were suppressed. In a very few months Chaplin had replaced Linder as king of comedy, and cinemas had to book A Night at the Show weeks ahead. Western Import was even compelled to place photographs of Mabel and Charlie on sale so as to make their appearance widely familiar and to discourage imitators.

Read the Article

Drive-in Cinemas

Inside the cars parents and children settle in their seats, munching hot dogs. Love-struck teenagers snuggle up; the air fills with the glow of fireflies and smell of buttered popcorn. The lights of the tiny town of Centre, a mile away, are too dim to penetrate this enchanted scene. The movie begins. It could be 1953.

Read the Article

Film Outside Hollywood

Each big producing firm in Italy had its own company of actors under annual contract. Actors like Emilio Ghione (who was a director as well as an actor, and has written a brief essay on the Italian film), actresses like Maria Jacobini, Gianna TerribiliGonzales of the unforgettable name, and the pre-eminent star Francesca Bertini, directors like Gabriellino d’Annunzio, Negroni, Righelli and Guazzoni all made up a picturesque and lively group.

Read the Article

Marilyn, The Dream Woman

In stressing the importance of sexuality in Marilyn Monroe’s image, it might seem that I am just another commentator doing to Monroe what was done to her throughout her life, treating her solely in terms of sex. Perhaps that is a danger, but I hope that I am not just reproducing this attitude toward Monroe but also trying to understand it and historicize it.

Read the Article

Marilyn, The Dream Woman

Marilyn, The Dream Woman

Stars are important to us because they act out aspects of life that matter to us, and though we may tend to think of the things that matter to us as immutable and enduring, they are nonetheless only ever encountered in a culturally and historically specific context.

The fifties hardly invented sexuality as a talking pint, but it was a period characterized by a particular, widely disseminated, and intensely popularized discourse on sexuality. Monroe’s image, and Monroe herself to the extent that she identified herself with it, both expressed and were in turn overwhelmingly determined by that discourse. She was charismatic, a center of attraction, who seemed to embody what was taken to be a central feature of human existence at that time.

In stressing the importance of sexuality in Marilyn Monroe’s image, it might seem that I am just another commentator doing to Monroe what was done to her throughout her life, treating her solely in terms of sex. Perhaps that is a danger, but I hope that I am not just reproducing this attitude toward Monroe but also trying to understand it and historicize it.

Monroe may have been a wit, a subtle and profound actress, an intelligent and serious woman. I have no desire to dispute these qualities and it is important to recognize and recover them against the grain of her image. But my purpose is to understand the grain itself, and there can be no question that this is overwhelmingly and relentlessly constructed in terms of sexuality. Monroe’s sexuality is a message that ran all the way from what the media made of her in pin ups and movies to how her image became a reference point for sexuality in the coinage of everyday speech.

She started her career as a pin-up girl, and one can find no type of image more singlemindedly sexual than that. Pin-ups constituted a constant and vital aspect of her image right up to her death, and the pin-up style also indelibly marked other aspects of her image, such as her public appearances and promotions for her films. The roles she was given, the way she was filmed, and the reviews she got do little to counteract this emphasis.

She plays, from the beginning, “the girl,” defined solely by age, gender, and appealingness. In two films, she does not even have a name, Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! (1948) and Love Happy (1950), and in three other films, her character has no biography beyond being “the blonde,” Dangerous Years (1948), The Fireball (1950), and Right Cross (1950). Even when any information about her character is supplied, it serves to reinforce the basic anonymity of the role. For instance, when her character has a job, it is a job that, while it may be genuinely useful, like that of a secretary, is traditionally (or cinematically) thought of as being a job where the woman is on show, there for the pleasure of men.

These jobs in Monroe’s early films are chorus girl in Ladies of the Chorus (1948) and Ticket to Tomahawk (1950); actress in All About Eve (1950) (the film emphasizes that the character has no talent); or secretary in Home Town Story (1951), As Young As You Feel (1951), and Monkey Business (1952). There is very little advance on these roles in her later career. She has no name in The Seven Year Itch (1955); even in the credits she is just “the Girl.” She is a chorus girl in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954), The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), and Let’s Make Love (1960), and she is a solo artiste of no great talent in River of No Return (1954), Bus Stop (1956), and Some Like It Hot (1959). She is a model (hardly an extension of the role repertoire) in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) and The Seven Year Itch (1955), and a prostitute in O. Henry’s Full House (1952).

Thus even in her prestige roles, Bus Stop and The Prince and the Showgirl, the social status of the person she plays remains the same. The tendency to treat her as nothing more than her gender reaches its peak with The Misfits (1961), where, instead of being the “girl” from the early films, she now becomes the “woman,” or perhaps just “Woman”—Roslyn has no biography, she is just “a divorcee”; the symbolic structure of the film relates her to nature, the antithesis of culture, career, society, history.

There is no question that Monroe did a lot with these roles, but it is nearly always against the grain of the way they were written, and the way they were filmed too. She is constantly knitted into the fabric of the film through point-of-view shots located in male characters—even in the later films, and virtually always in the earlier ones, she is set up an an object of the male sexual gaze. Frequently too she is placed within the frame of the camera in such a way as to stand out in silhouette, a side-on tits and arse positioning found equally in the early Monkey Business and As Young As You Feel and the prestige production, The Prince and the Showgirl.

It is not surprising that Monroe became virtually a household word for sex. What is equally clear is that sex was seen as perhaps the most important thing in fifties America. Certain publishing events suggest this—the two Kinsey reports (on men in 1948; on women in 1953), the first issues of Confidential in 1951 and Playboy in 1953, both to gain very rapidly in circulation; best-selling novels such as From Here to Eternity (1951), A House Is Not a Home (1953), Not As a Stranger (1955), Peyton Place (1956), Strangers When We Meet (1953), A Summer Place (1958), The Chapman Report (1960), Return to Peyton Place (1961), not to mention the thrillers of Mickey Spillane.

Next Page: Fashion for the Youth

Film Outside Hollywood

Film Outside Hollywood: Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of DollarsFilm Outside Hollywood: Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars

Each big producing firm in Italy had its own company of actors under annual contract. Actors like Emilio Ghione (who was a director as well as an actor, and has written a brief essay on the Italian film), actresses like Maria Jacobini, Gianna TerribiliGonzales of the unforgettable name, and the pre-eminent star Francesca Bertini, directors like Gabriellino d’Annunzio, Negroni, Righelli and Guazzoni all made up a picturesque and lively group. There were also Augusto Genina and Carmine Gallone, who were later to direct some fairly good films in France.

Ghione’s films, such as The Masked Amazon and particularly the series called Za-la-Mort, as well as those of Negroni and of Pasquali ( Gipsy Love, Between Men and Beasts, etc.), all exhibited the same emphatic style, the same rather touching naïveté, the same overabundance of gestures and declamatory motions. The worst faults of the American film were already apparent here, and on an even larger scale. Film stars in Turin and Rome were far more pretentious and exigent than they have ever been in Hollywood.

Francesca Bertini, Hesperia and Pina Menicelli all created tremendous scenes with their producers and their directors, threatened to stop work unless they were given immense contracts, came late or not at all to rehearsals and engaged in bitter feuds with one another. Francesca Bertini insisted on making a Camille because Hesperia had just made one.

Each of these ladies was backed by a lawyer, Bertini by Barattolo and Hesperia by Mecheri, both of them millionaires who engaged in a mutual contest of “bigger and better” films and financial coups, to the lasting injury of the Italian film. Actors too, in emulation of the actresses, all became extremely temperamental, insisted on being given contracts and thought up fresh ways of being difficult. Febo Mari, while making Attila, refused to wear a beard, whereupon Alberto Capozzi, appearing in St. Paul, declared that he saw no reason why he should sport so ridiculous an appendage and insisted on being clean-shaven too. This war of the beards was typical.

Italy and Sweden, in particular, developed a notion of “national cinema” reflecting specific cultural traits in a mode in which they could be successfully exported. In France, Japan and Eastem Europe a similar process was under way, but in these countries the economic viability of “national” production was less dependent on the export trade.

Japanese films were hardly seen abroad until 1951, when Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. The distribution of Eastem films in Arnerica and Europe did not necessarily mean . that they were fully understood by Westem critics and audiences.

The few Japanese fiIms that did reaeh Westem screens, such as those of Kurosawa, were often those that could be most easily incorporated into European traditions of filmrnaking.

The Seven Samurai becarne The Magnificent Seven, and another of Kurosawa’s samurai films, Yojimbo (1961), was the basis for .the first spaghetti Westem, A Fistful of Dollars, directed by Sergio Leone in 1964.

Next Page: Marilyn Monroe, The Dream Woman

Drive-in Cinemas

Drive-in Cinemas

While many movie theaters in small American towns closed in the 1950s, an equal number of a new kind of theater, which recognized the supremacy of the automobile in American life, opened up.

In the 1920s concerned parents had been anxious about the effects of automobiles and movies on their children’s morals; their grandchildren could now combine these menaces to their moral welfare at the drive-in.

The first drive-in movie theater opened in 1933, but they mushroomed in the decade after World War II. By 1956 there were 4,200 drive-ins, earning nearly a quarter of total box-office receipts. They were promoted as “the answer to the family’s night out”; a way for married couples to avoid the expense of baby-sitters, but their real attraction was to the youth market, where teenagers could escape parental supervision.

The drive-in market encouraged a new kind of filmmaking, pioneered by Columbia producer Sam Katzman and American International Pictures (AlP). Discarding conventional formulas such as the Western, they geared their films solely for the teenage market, hooking a story on to any gimmick they could think of.

The success of Rock Around the Clock in 1956, and the cycle of rock ‘n’ roll movies that followed made it clear that “teenpics” could reap huge profits even. If they pointedly excluded an older audience. These mainstream productions spawned imitations, such as Teenage Crime Wave (1955) and Hot Rod Rumble (1957). The other major “teenpic” genre was the horror film: low-budget “exploitation” movies (so-called because their ‘publicity budgets were higher than their production costs), with titles like I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) were pumped out to provide the material for the double and triple-bills at the drive-ins.

Teenagers liked double-bills for the simple reason that they lasted longer – especially when offered on “midnite matinees”. Few of these movies shared classical Hollywood’s concern with tightly constructed narrative. Instead, their emphasis on spectacle implicitly recognized that the audience might have other things to do than just watch the film. By 1960 the established industry had learnt at least some of the lessons of exploitation producers, and were successfully producing material for the teenage market.

Next Page: Film Outside Hollywood