“Sixties” Essay, Research Paper
Beginning roughly with the release of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Stopped Worrying and Loved the Bomb in 1964, and continuing for about the next decade, the “Sixties” era of filmmaking made many lasting impressions on the motion picture industry. Although editing and pacing styles varied greatly from Martin Scorcesse’s hyperactive pace, to Kubrick’s slow methodical pace, there were many uniform contributions made by some of the era’s seminal directors. In particular, the “Sixties” saw the return of the auteur, as people like Francis Ford Coppola and Stanley Kubrick wrote and directed their own screenplays, while Woody Allen wrote, directed and starred in his own films. Kubrick, Coppola and Allen each experimented with characterization, narrative and editing techniques. By examining the major works of these important directors, their contributions become more apparent.
Dr. Strangelove (1964), an adaptation of Peter Bryant’s novel Red Alert, although still bearing the usual traits of a Kubrick film, is something of a departure for him in terms of editing and spatial strategies. The film’s run-time more or less corresponds with the fictional or represented time in the story. This direct correspondence between fictional and real time adds to the sense of temporal compression induced by the film’s insistent editing patterns. Although Dr. Strangelove employs many long takes, it contains the shortest average-shot-length of any Kubrick film. The film consists of roughly 700 shots and has a run time of 94 minutes for an average-shot-length of 8 seconds. Despite the rather short average-shot-length, Dr. Strangelove still resorts to crucial long takes to slow down the rapid momentum of the story (Falsetto, 35).
Several spatial and temporal procedures are at work in Dr. Strangelove, such as the use of the long take. Conversely, the B-52 sequences, often accompanied by various versions of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” employ different editing patterns than the rest of the film. These edits reinforce the film’s theme of inevitability. Through editing, the B-52 sequences display a strong cinematic rhythm. The shots are generally shorter than the other sections of the film, and they significantly contribute to the film’s shorter average-shot-length, despite Kubrick’s deliberate use of long takes (Falsetto, 44).
Stanley Kubrick’s next film was the science fiction masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey. 2001 represents Kubrick’s most ambitious presentation of cinematic subjectivity, most prominently in the Star-Gate sequence and in the final episode of Dave Bowman in an isolation room. These sequences are a result of a film, which for most of its run time does not presented the subjective vision of any one character. In stylistic and visual terms, there is a movement from the three-dimensional style of the film’s first half to the flatter, more abstract visual style of the Star-Gate sequence. The film’s movement towards abstraction can be understood both in visual and narrative terms (Falsetto, 115).
2001’s presentation of details from the “Dawn of Man” sequence, to later space travel scenes are shot with complete conviction and impeccable detail. The viewer believes that the world might have actually looked like what Kubrick presented it as, several million years ago, and the depiction of space travel is just as convincing. The use of models, front projection, the slow editing techniques and camera work all help to create a more complete illusion (Falsetto, 141).
If 2001 was presented almost completely objectively, than Kubrick’s next film, A Clockwork Orange (1972) was presented almost completely subjectively. This may have been in part due to the constraints of the original novel by William Burgess, but nonetheless the film is told from the point of view of its central character, Alex. When Alex is not speaking on camera, he can often be heard as a voiced over narrator, interjecting his comments on the action which is occurring on screen.
The elements of fantasy and theater are evident in the infamous rape scene, where Alex does a freaked-out impersonation of Gene Kelly, performing “Singing in the Rain.” He moves with great flair, and his violent actions become a creative release. Carefully choreographed movements and gestures punctuate his actions. Part of the reason the film’s violence is so attractive is because not only is it presented with great imagination, but it is also performed by the only character in the film with any degree of charm (Falsetto, 150). The elements of fantasy and play that figure in these brutal acts relate to the subjective presentation emphasized by the film’s design. These include point-of-view shots, distorting wide-angle lenses, character voice over and various lighting and editing aspects. Each covey the impression that this world is filtered through Alex (Falsetto, 153).
Another important filmmaker of the period was Francis Ford Coppola, who was responsible for the Godfather series. The film does feature the home life of members of the Mafia. Many other gangster films have done this, but no other film emphasized the domestic side of gangsters to the extent that the Godfather (1972) did. Film critic William S. Pechter remarked that we se the mean in the Mafia “as members of a family”: as godfather, father, grandparent, son and brother. The viewer’s predominant image of Don Corleone are of him in his domestic role – as father of the bride, shopping for groceries and playing with his grandchild. Responding to this new emphasis on gangster’s personal lives, the audience is more aware that these gangsters are human beings and therefore, as mortal as the rest of us (Johnson, 111).
Due to the immense success of the original Godfather movie, the studio began pressuring Coppola into doing a sequel. He eventually agreed and took about writing the sequel that would not necessarily pick up where the last one left off, but would explore the untouched elements of its predecessor. Unfortunately, right before filming started, Marlon Brando had a falling out with the studio, and would not be reprising his role as Don Vito Corleone.
There are two main plotlines in The Godfather, Part II (1974). The first is the life of young Vito Corleone, played by Robert DeNiro. The Mafia in Sicily killed Vito’s family, and he was smuggled out of the country to Ellis Island. The film abruptly switches to a party celebrating the first communion of Michael’s son. Throughout the movie, Coppola juxtaposes images of Michael with those of his father. Ultimately though, Coppola wanted the film to draw to a logical conclusion, without making it formulaic (Johnson, 151). Instead of Michael getting killed, or falling from power, he manages to attain power relatively unscathed and ends up jaded and alone as a result.
The desire for revenge explains most of the Mafia murders in the both Godfather films. It explains Michael’s entrance into the business and why in Part II he feels he must shed so much blood, including the blood of his only living brother. Michael “chose to become a killer out of family loyalty. He can never go back to the time before that moment in the restaurant when he shot his father’s enemies (Johnson, 155).” Coppola tried to steer the audience to this theme. Just before the release of Part II he stated that the major plot of the story was “how two men, father and son, were…corrupted by this Sicilian waltz of vengeance (Johnson, 155).”
On the other side of Coppola and Kubrick, were the comedic stylings of Woody Allen. In many ways, Allen was a throwback to the comedy of silent, and early sound films. His films contain the subtle ironies Buster Keaton, the word play of Groucho Marx and the social commentary of Charlie Chaplin (Mast, 440). Like Chaplin, Allen wrote and starred in all of his films, and he directed all but one of them. In addition, Allen’s understanding of American humor invites comparisons to Mark Twain, and like Twain, his achievement and impact on culture is comparable to Twain (Girgus, 10).
Allen’s seminal work was Play It Again Sam, which he starred in and wrote, although Herb Ross directed it. In this film, techniques such as voice-overs, traditional frame narratives, music and visual images are employed in ways, that Allen develops them further in later films. He moved from repeating jokes from his stories and comic routines to creating truly original cinema. In 1977’s Annie Hall, he documents his own transition from a gag writer to a serious, credible artist (Girgus, 11). Play It Again Sam uses its divided subjectivity through the use of visual and audio infuses to create structure and substance in the film (Girgus, 15). Although Allen did not direct this film, he did use this as a benchmark from which he would base all of his future works.
Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, and Stanley Kubrick each produced some of the most important works of the “Sixties.” Although Kubrick experimented more with cinematic technique, with his uses of spacing, and long shots, all three experimented with elements of characterization. Kubrick used both subjective and objective points of view quite deliberately in his films. Coppola took the Mafia, and humanized them more so than previous gangster movies, in addition to redefining what a sequel should be. Woody Allen took comedy back to its roots, and in the process, was able to created some of the most groundbreaking comedy since Charlie Chaplin. In addition, this return of the auteurs paved the way for many of today’s prominent filmmakers. Without Kubrick or Coppola, there would be no Quentin Tarantino, and without Woody Allen, there would be no Kevin Smith. Coppola, Kubrick and Allen have each made enduring films, and continued to do so well after the “Sixties” had ended.
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