1969: Entering New Hollywood
1969: The culmination not only for the 60s as a decade but for an entire era of studio filmmaking in Hollywood. Due to the dwindling popularity of old fashioned big budget films along with the breakdown of the Production Code in 1966 and new ratings system in 1968, the major studios were looking to reinvent themselves. This opened the door to a younger counter-culture generation of writers and directors who were heavily influenced by the avant garde and experimental cinema of Europe and Asia. A collection of films from 1967-68 including Bonnie & Clyde, The Graduate, Cool Hand Luke and Night of The Living Dead were an early indication of what was on the horizon. Along with the socio-political artistic changes, upgrades in technology like the lightweight Panavision 35mm Panaflex camera allowed filmmakers to leave the sound stages behind and capture a realism from shooting on location. This fruitful period of dynamic filmmaking was later coined the New Hollywood or American New Wave.
For our latest list we’ve chosen 20 films from 1969 that we both love and that represent the transition from the trite studio pictures of the past into the rebellious cinema of the 1970s.
Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid (Dir: George Roy Hill): This film was the first collaboration between director George Roy Hill and Robert Redford & Paul Newman (who went on to do The Sting a few years later). The two lead actors weren’t playing the typical tough as nails outlaws, but instead affable and charming Robin Hood style rogues on the run. It was a perfect example of the anti-establishment New Hollywood cinema that was a statement on the time in which it was made and is a masterpiece of the Western genre. Co-starring Katherine Ross and Strother Martin.
Easy Rider (Dir: Dennis Hopper): After starring in AIP exploitation biker films for Roger Corman like The Wild Angels and The Glory Stompers, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper made this existential road movie which wasn’t about a biker gang, but instead two hippies on choppers searching for the American dream. The film would represent both the rather negative culmination of the 60s peace and love/hippie movement and the exciting start of the New Hollywood cinema of the 70s. Co-starring Jack Nicholson, Luke Askew and Karen Black.
There’s a decent BluRay version of this classic available, but it might be missing some decent booklets or postcards that were part of earlier DVD editions in the UK for example: Amazon USA | Amazon UK | Amazon DE | Amazon CA | Amazon FR
The Wild Bunch (Dir: Sam Peckinpah): Sam Peckinpah’s visionary tale of Old West outlaws at the end of their time was an allegory for the raging Vietnam War and examination of the ugliness of violence with its bloody slow motion action sequences. Peckinpah also had a disdain for the TV and movie gunfights that had no realism and this was his explosive response. A beautiful, visceral work of genre cinema with brilliant performances from the cast including William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Robert Ryan and Edmond O’Brien.
Pit Stop (Dir: Jack Hill): Dick Davalos (East of Eden, Cool Hand Luke) stars in this tautly directed carsploitation gem about a rebel that is trying to make it big on the racing circuit. Along the way he goes up against the wild man champ (played by Sid Haig) and has a brief fling with a fellow racer’s wife (Ellen Burstyn). This early effort from Director Jack Hill is one of his best. He would go on to make several cult classics in the 70s including The Big Bird Cage, Coffy, Foxy Brown and Switchblade Sisters.
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (Dir: Paul Mazursky): This popular counterculture themed adult comedy directed by Paul Mazursky looks at two middle class straight laced married couples (Bob: Robert Culp, Carol: Natalie Wood, Ted: Elliott Gould, Alice: Dyan Cannon) and the effect the the Swinging 1960s movement has on their relationships. While certainly not a movie for everyone, it is a great look at the rather flimsy free love mentality of the hippie generation.
Buy on DVD: Amazon USA
Take The Money and Run (Dir: Woody Allen): In this hilarious crime-comedy Woody Allen plays Virgil Starkwell, a clumsy thief whose life story is told through interviews with family and friends. For his directorial debut Woody employed a mockumentary style of storytelling to jam it with all kinds of sight gags and screwball antics. The most famous being the bank robbery scene where his message to the teller about having a gun is misspelled as “gub”.
Buy on BluRay: Amazon USA
Medium Cool (Dir: Haskell Wexler): A powerful experimental film by DP/director Haskell Wexler that mixed cinema verite and fictional drama together causing a unique, thrilling outcome. Robert Forster (Jackie Brown) plays a TV news cameraman who becomes disillusioned after discovering his company is providing the FBI with information taken from different journalists. The most memorable scenes were filmed during a real riot during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago which was set within the story.
Midnight Cowboy (Dir: John Schlesinger): A Texas dishwasher named Joe Buck (Jon Voight) who has big dreams moves to New York City and becomes a hustler. On his travels, he encounters a scuzzy street urchin named Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman). The tall blonde ladies man and short gimpy greaseball become odd couple pals as they try to make their way together in the Big Apple. Both actors are amazing in their roles and the movie is a prime example of New Hollywood cinema at its finest. The film won three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. The opening credits feature the Grammy winning song Everybody’s Talkin’ by Harry Nilsson.
The Italian Job (Dir: Peter Collinson) A charming thief named Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) enlists a group of criminals/drivers to help him rob a cache of gold ingots in Turin, Italy by causing a traffic jam. The film’s most memorable sequence is an exciting car chase through the city as Croker’s gang try to escape the police after loading up a fleet of Mini Coopers with the precious ore. The film was remade in 2003 with Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron which we also recommend.
Putney Swope (Dir: Robert Downey Sr): In this counter-culture satire, Arnold Johnson stars as Putney Swope (voiced by Robert Downey Sr) a black ad executive that is accidentally voted in as Chairman of The Board. Putney’s takeover starts with him renaming the company “Truth and Soul Inc” and replacing the white staff with black ones. A variety of very funny fake commercial spots created by Putney’s new artists are inserted in between the normal scenes. The film examines the topics of race, popular advertising and corporate corruption while providing a ton of laughs.
The Learning Tree (Dir: Gordon Parks): This coming of age drama was based on an autobiography by Gordon Parks which depicts his childhood/teen years growing up in Kansas during the 1920s. The film also acted as a character study of black manhood in a white dominated society from the perspectives of the two main characters Marcus (the rebel) and Newt (the conformist). The movie garnered critical acclaim for its authenticity and artistry. Parks would go on to direct the smash Blaxploitation hit Shaft in 1971.
Buy it on DVD: Amazon USA
The Wedding Party (Dir: Brian DePalma): Originally produced in 1963, this student film by DePalma, his college professor Wilford Leach and fellow classmate Cynthia Munroe tells the story of a groom to be (Charles Pfluger) and his two buddies (Robert DeNiro, William Finley) who try to persuade him to not get married. The film is certainly not on the level of DePalma’s later accomplished work, but is a mildly entertaining morsel of the indie American cinema of the 60s. Co-starring Jennifer Salt and Jill Clayburgh. Robert DeNiro would work with DePalma again on the counterculture comedies Greetings, Hi Mom! and the 1987 crime film The Untouchables.
Buy it on DVD: Amazon USA
More (Dir: Barbet Schroeder): Shroeder’s directorial debut tells the story of a German student Stefan (Klaus Grunberg) who hitchhikes to Paris where he commits a burglary and encounters an American girl (Mimsy Farmer) that he follows to the Spanish isle of Ibiza. The two fall in love and begin experimenting with various drugs like marijuana, LSD and heroin. Featuring a score by the rock band Pink Floyd, it is a prime example of 60s counter culture cinema influenced by both the French New Wave and the free love movement.
True Grit (Dir: Henry Hathaway): In this thrilling Western adventure, Kim Darby stars as Mattie Ross, a young girl whose father is gunned down by a two bit outlaw named Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey). Her quest for revenge leads her to the doorstep of Marshal Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn, a whiskey soaked gunfighter who she employs to help her bring Chaney to justice. On the way a Texas Ranger (Glenn Campbell) joins the two on their search. Co-starring Robert Duvall, Strother Martin and Dennis Hopper. The film (or rather the novel it is based on) was adapted again in 2010 by The Coen Brothers.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Dir: Peter R. Hunt): In the sixth installment of the popular action franchise, Aussie actor George Lazenby replaced Sean Connery in what is now widely considered one of the best films in the long running spy series. The story has 007 teaming up with a countess (Diana Rigg of The Avengers) to take down the diabolical mastermind Blofeld (Telly Savalas) who is planning to use germ warfare to kill millions. The film features an outstanding title theme by John Barry as well as a beautiful Hal David co-written single “We Have All The Time in The World” sung by Louis Armstrong.
Kes (Dir: Ken Loach) A teenager (David Bradley) who is bullied by schoolmates and his brother finds solace in falconry. His new found interest changes his life for the better for a short time. This cinematic portrait of working class people set against the bleak backdrop of Yorkshire, England is a masterpiece of kitchen sink realism. It’s now ranked seventh in the BFI’s Top Ten British Films.
The Rain People (Dir: Francis Ford Coppola): A newly pregnant housewife (Shirley Knight) who becomes disillusioned with her marriage leaves on a road trip to find herself. On the way she picks up a hitchhiker named Killer (James Caan) an ex football player with brain damage. She also befriends a police officer (Robert Duvall) and they get intimately involved. This is one of Coppola’s least popular productions but could now be viewed as a more downbeat, less commercial companion piece to Easy Rider.
Hells Angels ’69 (Dir: Lee Madden) Two wealthy playboys (and half brothers) Chuck (Tom Stern) and Wes (Jeremy Slate) plan to rob a casino in Las Vegas and disguise themselves as biker gang members to do it. The only thing they have to accomplish beforehand is to join up with the infamous Hell’s Angels, and gain the trust of their leader Sonny Barger as a cover. After some wild confrontations the two are able to become friends with Sonny’s gang and even hook up with one of their mamas in the process. Their big caper seems to go off without a hitch but when Sonny and the gang later discover they’ve been duped by their new friends, a roaring rampage of revenge begins.
Alice’s Restaraunt (Dir: Arthur Hiller) Based on his song “Alice’s Restaraunt Massacree”, singer-songwriter Arlo Guthrie stars in this offbeat hippie comedy about a college dropout that attends a Thanksgiving dinner held by some of his old friends. Afterwards, Arlo decides to help out by taking several months worth of garbage to the local dump only to find it closed. When they leave it in another restricted area, he and his pals catch the attention of police and Arlo is later brought before the draft board. The film ultimately is a statement on the Vietnam War and America’s fear of the younger generation taking things in a new direction.
They Shoot Horses Don’t They? (Dir: Sydney Pollack): In 1932 during the Depression, a young man (Michael Sarrazin, The Flim Flam Man) wanders into Santa Monica ballroom where a dance contest is being held. The MC (Gig Young) gets him to join and be the partner of Gloria (Jane Fonda) a deeply troubled woman. Among the other contestants are two aspiring actors (Susannah York, Robert Fields), a sailor (Red Buttons) and a farmer and his pregnant wife (Bruce Dern, Bonnie Bedelia). A story about a group of desperate people who seem to be running out of time, holding on until the contest is over.