The cinematography of the 1960s was a combination of rebelliousness, fun, frivolity, and at the same time, an era of tragic social and political events of civil rights movement and the cold war, all of which reflected on the cinematic pictures of that decade. This ten-year period represented a unique stage that showcased monumental cultural changes in the cinema industry that influenced the culture as a whole.
Movies made in the 1960s were aimed to overshadow Hollywood’s mainstream film, instead of presenting a new genre of the avant-garde. Having analyzed the cinematographic era of 1960, it is clear that this decade was a kind of transitional phase, where due to the bouquet of tragic social events cinema industry was not living its best period. However, the films made during this time were one to influence American culture in a significant way.
Social and political conflicts had a significant influence on the film industry during the 1960s. The Cold War, the Vietnamese War, and the Civil Rights Movement all had their impact on cinematography, where these topics were uphold with a purpose to convey a particular point of view. Different types of movies were portraying the theme of military and political conflicts, many of which were politically-satirical that presented the military system in a frightening light during the 1960s. Such a concept was not socially adapted as the viewers actively spoke out against these manipulations and harshly criticized them.
Therefore, the government’s attempt to heroically depict the war in a hyperbolized way did not end with social acceptance and was met with public displeasure (Abramson et al., 2008). One of the legendary films by Robert Mulligan “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962) depicts the social conflicts regarding racism and segregation (Worland, 2018). In the movie, a director reflects on the history of slavery and its violent defense, as well as shows the unfair relationship towards the African-American minority. Another infamous picture that won an Oscar and became one of the most successful movies in the 1960s was “The Graduate” (1963).
It “satirizes rigid social customs and exposes hypocrisy through wit and understatement” (Worland, 2018, p. 72). These and many other pictures influenced and transformed the cultural perspectives of many Americans in the 1960s. The vast majority, even though actively criticized social and political issues of this decade, considerably reflected on the cinematographic industry.
The foreign directors also heavily influenced the movie industry in the 1960s. As the cinematography faced a phase of predictable, non-original movies, American filmmakers had to turn to the over-the-seas directors for inspiration. In consequence, a new generation of auteurs emerged, who were referring to European cinematography as their primary source of reference. Their independent, creative visions stormed the American cinema and created an entirely new generation of directors. An extensive showing of foreign European and Japanese pictures in the American cinemas also influenced such new phenomena.
Contrary to commercial only Hollywood movies, international cinematography was intellectually challenging and induced the art perspective more than ever (Worland, 2018). Such new aspects of writing films inspired American directors to have a new approach to making new conceptualized films, especially the auteur theory of Truffaut and Godard. Such influence went as far as the American directors started to borrow ideas from European cinematography explicitly. The foreign impact on the style and production is seen in Artur Penn’s movie “Bonnie and Clyde.” French directors helped the production of the film; therefore, one can trace the European style, which is particularly noticeable in the closing sequence. With such foreign influence, the demand for exceptional art house films raised, which proves the change in the cultural perception of Americans.
The 1960s most vivid change in the cinematography was a much more open approach to showcasing violence and nudity. It was in the 60s when Hitchcock released “Psycho” (1960) the extremely brutal film with explicit scenes of murder and violence. Hitchcock was one of the film directors that took the film industry of the sixties to another level by opening up the margins and introducing the audience to the new horror. However, the ghastly imaginary used by Hitchcock involves greater complexity and often portrayed as a metaphor for some social issues (Fillol, 2019).
The ban for the depiction of nudity was canceled in 1964, which influenced future motion pictures and raised American cinematography to the European level where it was acceptable for many years prior. Another film that is of great importance to the cinematographic industry of the 1960s in “Bonnie and Clyde.” The graphic violence and sex scenes portrayed in the movie sparked a wave of criticism, so the film was accused of the glorification of murder; however, it became a legendary picture (Worland, 2018).
Depiction of homosexuality was also allowed in 1961, although they had to be shown with care and discretion. (Abramson et al., 2008). The success of such films allowed directors to become more open with such earlier prohibited scenes. The appearance of such violence in cinema is a representation of the tragic cultural and social history of this decade, which distinguished by its rebellious and destructive events (Abramson et al., 2008).
In conclusion, the 1960s film industry had a significant influence on American culture. The viewers, however, did not accept the consequences of tragic political and social events reflected in the movies. The impact of foreign cinematography opened the Americans to new styles and concepts of the film.
It broadened their mind in a way that directors were forced to reshape the whole idea of Hollywood production. The nineteen sixties had a major breakthrough in the movie industry regarding the violence and sexual scenes depiction. Viewers became more accepting and excited about such a new concept, which created a new generation of directors. Overall, the 1960s were a decade of significant changes in the cultural aspect, which were greatly influenced by cinematography.
Abramson, L., Everett, A., Morrison, J., Pomerance, M., Benshoff, H., Desser, D., … Schaefer, E. (2008). American Cinema of the 1960s: Themes and Variations. B. K. Grant (Ed.). Rutgers University Press.
Fillol, S. (2019). Off-screen space and the fold: ways of representing the unrepresentable, shaped by the Hays Code in classical cinema. Atalante-Revista De Estudios Cinematograficos, (28), 49-62.
Worland, R. (2018). Searching for New Frontiers: Hollywood Films in the 1960s. John Wiley & Sons.