Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France


I don’t really remember the 1960s. And that, as we all know, is solid proof that I was actually there.

Strangely, events and the media lately seem determined to conspire to put me back in the 1960s. Looking back over what I have written in this space the past several weeks, I cannot help but notice that I keep getting pulled back to or near that decade, not unlike warm water inexorably swirling and draining out of a hot tub time machine. At the end of April, a discussion of Ji-woon Kim’s The Good, the Bad and the Weird inevitably involved invocation of Sergio Leone’s classic spaghetti westerns of the 1960s. The following week the death of Lynn Redgrave prompted reminisces of her most famous film role, in 1966’s Georgy Girl. The week after another death, that of fantasy artist Frank Frazetta, brought a load of more (personal) memories of the era, prompting a walk down Memory Lane to my Conan the Barbarian phase. Next came a discussion of Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, which somehow included a detour back to Peter O’Toole’s two prominent portrayals of Henry II, in 1964’s Becket and 1968’s The Lion in Winter.

You would have thought a rumination on the Festival de Cannes two weeks ago would have brought me solidly into the present time, but darned if I didn’t get drawn into a discussion of the Rolling Stones documentary Stones in Exile, which may not have brought us exactly back to the 1960s—except that it focuses on 1971, which to all intents and purposes, culturally and thematically, has more to do with the 1960s than it does with the decade we normally think of as “the Seventies.” And, of course, last week’s observance of the passing of Dennis Hopper inexorably brought us back to his cultural touchstone, Easy Rider, which solidified 1969 as a key moment in what we generally think of as “the Sixties.”

Some of the movies I’ve been seeing also hearken back to that long-ago time. Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me was made around the same time as the Stones were recording their aforementioned album. And Iron Man 2 and Robin Hood may be bright, new, shiny movies, but they also evoke memories, respectively, of 1960s comic books and numerous previous adaptations, including a few minor ones in the 1960s. (A 1964 one updated the Robin Hood story to 1920s Chicago and starred the Rat Pack!) To borrow a line from the title of a record album, what a long strange trip it’s been. And yes, I know that title appeared in 1977, but it was looking all the way back to the birth of the Grateful Dead in 1965.

The rational side of my brain knows well that there is nothing particularly cosmic or magical about these memories from four decades ago calling to us now. The law of averages makes it inevitable that a certain number of people who made their mark culturally during that decade would be facing their mortality about now. And even those who are not at death’s door would still be at the age where money (for their own medical and nursing comforts or at least for their heirs) would become more of a priority. That may explain why Mick Jagger and crew have quite willingly hopped aboard the media hype machine, to an extent that they really haven’t before, to milk that much more money out of an album recorded two-fifths of a century ago.

And the fact is that the Sixties nostalgia resurfaces fairly regularly. And will continue to do so as long as there is at least one baby boomer still breathing. And the same is true of other decades. Witness this year’s paean to the Eighties in the afore-alluded-to Hot Tub Time Machine. Still there is something particularly riveting about the 1960s. In terms of what the decade meant culturally and historically, it is a point in time that insists on being seen as a major turning point. It had beauty and ugliness, drama and comedy, and it can genuinely be said that, for good or ill or both, the direction of America and the western world shifted in direction. It is a period ripe for competing artistic visions, attempting to define What It All Meant.

Nor is the trickle or flood of memories from the 1960s likely to abate soon. Nearly every announcement that comes out of Hollywood or the world of independent cinema can be found to have some sort of connection to the decade. For example, consider this bit of potentially depressing news, indirectly concerning one of my personal most profound cultural imprints of the 1960s. A week and a half ago, Guillermo del Toro told that he would not be directing the two planned Hobbit movies after all. He will still be co-writing them and The Lord of the Rings honcho Peter Jackson will still be producing, so all is not lost. Still, geeks who read and re-read J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy (when else? in the 1960s) will debate forever how wonderful the del Toro version of the Hobbit films would have been.

Total Film magazine’s web site promptly and helpfully came up with a list of possible replacement directors for the movies, starting with Jackson himself. Some of the more fanciful suggestions include Duncan Jones (Moon) and the Canadian maven of movie weirdness/grossness David Cronenberg. As interesting as the possibilities are, most fans seem to feel that the only solution is for Jackson himself to step in.

Frustratingly, those movies are still a long ways off, idling in pre-green light mode. In the meantime, students and survivors of the 1960s can still look forward to lots of other movies based on comic books that flourished in the Sixties: Thor, Captain America, Green Lantern—not to mention further sequels to Spider-Man and X-Men. And let us not forget the coming new incarnation of what is perhaps the cultural highlight of the entire 1960s: the Tim Burton movie adaptation of Dark Shadows.

* * *

The soccer World Cup starts tomorrow and a fair amount of media attention has been directed to the fact that the U.S. and English teams will play each other for the first time since 1950. In that encounter, the U.S. won an upset 1-0 victory, which was dramatized in the 2005 movie The Game of Their Lives, starring Gerard Butler and Wes Bentley. The BBC sniffed that the movie glorified the Yanks, portraying the Brit players as elitist snobs rather than the working stiffs that they were. If you want to see a movie about the World Cup, though, you could do a lot worse than Paul Weiland’s lovely and underrated Sixty Six (yes, another Sixties movie), about the last time England won the World Cup. Unfortunately, there is no corresponding American film, since the U.S. has never won the World Cup and will certainly not this time either.

-S.L., 10 June 2010

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