Friday, April 3, 2009

1969 (The 9 Years, Part 4)

As we are now in 2009, we can expect to see a great many articles trumpeting the 70th anniversary of the fabled "Best Movie Year," 1939. This is tradition, dating back probably to every 9 year of every movie-oriented decade.

But is 1939 really the best year for movies? I don't know about that. It was a superb time for movies, but after the watershed year 1979, I started having my doubts about its media-driven quality. There was more to the story, I thought. And, in 1989, I started noticing a trend. Then, in 1999, I was sure I was on to something.

I have a theory: that the 9 year in every decade is the best of that period. Why? I can only surmise that filmmakers working during the decade in question want to get out their final word on the era, and thus save their best for last. But, in the end, who really knows why: maybe it's simply just chance working here. Still, it's a very definable trend.

1969 constituted a massive jump upwards for film. The medium was aging, and so its practitioners were trying to push forward its possibilities. It comes as no surprise that the results were spectacular. And so:

40 years ago this year, we celebrate:

<---> (experimental filmmaker Michael Snow's infuriating Wavelength follow-up)

Alice's Restaurant (Arthur Penn's adaptation of Arlo Guthrie's epic song, with Guthrie in the lead)

Anne of a Thousand Days (a sequel, of sorts, to 1966's A Man For All Seasons, with Richard Burton as Henry VI, the now-dissatisfied husband of Anne Boleyn, played by Geneviève Bujold)

The Ant and the Aardvark (Friz Freling's unique animated effort, with John Byner as the voice of both leads; the basis of a long-running Saturday-morning cartoon show paired with The Pink Panther)

Army of Shadows (Jean-Pierre Melville's late-discovered masterpiece about the French resistance during WWII)

Bambi Meets Godzilla (by Marv Newland; possibly the shortest great film ever produced)

Battle of Britain (Bond director Guy Hamilton's underseen WWII epic with all-star British cast)

The Bed-Sitting Room (peerless post-nuclear Brit drama with another all-star cast; extremely influential)

Blue Movie Andy Warhol: "I'd always wanted to do a movie that was pure fucking-- nothing else--the way Eat had been just eating and Sleep had been just sleeping. So in October '68 I shot a movie of Viva having sex with Louis Waldon. I called it Fuck." The blue tint was the result of an error: Warhol used tungsten (indoor) film but sunlight streamed onto the set, inspiring the new title. Shown for the first time since 1968 in NYC in 2005.

Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice (sexually daring Paul Mazursky directorial breakthrough with Robert Culp, Natalie Wood, Elliott Gould and Dyan Cannon)

Boot Hill (comedic Spaghetti western, the third go-round for long-running Italian duo Terence Hill and Bud Spencer)

A Boy Named Charlie Brown (the first big-screen outing for Charles Schulz's comic-page milestones; Oscar-nominated score, and the spawn of three theatrical sequels)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill-directed hit buddy picture with Paul Newman and Robert Redford as the beleagured, good-natured bandits, and Katherine Ross as the woman they love; Oscar-winning William Goldman script, Conrad Hall cinematography, and Burt Bacharach score)

Cactus Flower (colorful comedy with Walter Matthau and Supporting Actress Oscar-winner Goldie Hawn)

Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? (Unusual Anthony Newley cult film co-starring Newley's wife Joan Collins)

Coming Apart (Milton Ginsberg's one-of-a-kind single-shot-set-up movie with Rip Torn memorable as a curious psychiatrist)

The Damned (Luchino Visconti's twisted look at twisted lives in Nazi Germany with Dirk Borgarde and notably sexy Charlotte Rampling)

Downhill Racer (Michael Richie's daring competition-themed picture--the first of many for the director--following clashes between headstrong skier Robert Redford and equally stubborn coach Gene Hackman)

Easy Rider (Perhaps the most important movie of the era: Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda star as disastisfied motorcyclists existentially searching for America; features a breakthrough performance by Jack Nicholson, a first-of-its-kind rock soundtrack, beautiful Laszlo Kovacs photography, and an incredible, precedent-setting violent climax)

Fellini Satyricon (Federico Fellini's most unusual movie--and that's saying a lot--about the soullessness of decadent Rome, with stunning photography, art direction, costuming and makeup)

Goodbye, Columbus (New York jew Richard Benjamin falls for shiksa Ali MacGraw in adaptation of Philip Roth novel)

Goodbye Mr. Chips (clunky but effective musical remake of 1939 school-set classic with fine lead work from Peter O'Toole and Petulia Clark)

The Happy Ending (Richard Brooks directs then-wife Jean Simmons to an Oscar nomination in one of many 1969 pre-feminist dramas about a woman leaving her family to "find herself")

Hello, Dolly (sputtering Gene Kelly musical, starring Barbara Streisand as Jewish matchmaker, paired with Walter Matthau; still, fine Jerry Herman score, resulting in first and only number-one hit for co-star, jazz legend Louis Armstrong)

if... (Brit Lindsay Anderson's powerful anti-authority movie with Malcolm McDowell debuting as Mick Travis, a character he'd later revisit in 1973's O Lucky Man! and 1982's Britannia Hospital. He's a young lad here, a spitfire kid at a strict boy's boarding school. Famous for its dreamy, faux-violent ending; winner of the Palme D'Or at Cannes; overcast cinematography (B&W and color) by Miroslav Ondricek)

In The Year of The Pig (Emile De Antonio's devastating Vietnam documentary, Oscar-nominated)

Invocation of My Demon Brother
(weird Kenneth Anger experimental short with electronic score by Mick Jagger and cameo by Manson killer Bobby Beausoleil)

It's Tough to Be A Bird
(Oscar-winning Disney animated short, by the estimable Ward Kimball who, as usual, deftly mixes cartooning with live-action)

The Italian Job (exciting British caper movie with Michael Caine, Noel Coward and Benny Hill)

John and Mary (effective romantic film with Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow)

Johnny Cash: The Man, His World and His Music
(excellent musical documentary/bio-pic, with June Carter Cash, Bob Dylan, Glen Campbell, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans)

Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (unjustly overlooked, very strange sci-fi effort from Britain's Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, creators of UFO, Thunderbirds and Space: 1999)

Kes (beautiful Ken Loach drama about the relationship between a UK boy and his adopted hawk)

Last Summer (subtly disturbing beach drama with Richard Thomas and Bruce Davison as boys chasing after Barbara Hershey--then billed as Barbara Seagull--with Oscar-nominated wallflower Catherine Burns complicating matters)

The Learning Tree (seminal Gordon Parks movie, deeply felt, about black teenager)

The Love God? (strange but funny sex-obsessed Don Knotts vehicle)

My Night at Maud's (the third installment, and one of the most challenging, of Eric Rohmer's famed Six Moral Tales series)

The Magic Christian (Terry Southern-penned British chaos with Peter Sellers, Ringo Starr, Christopher Lee and Raquel Welch)

Marlowe (James Garner stars as L.A. detective; first big-screen outing for martial arts star Bruce Lee)

Marooned (dull space travel epic has great cast and Oscar-winning special effects)

Me, Natalie (Patty Duke graduates to adulthood with this film about cloistered girl finding out about the world)

Medium Cool (Haskell Wexler's sobering social commentary, about a valueless TV reporter who finds himself besotten by the 1960s; perhaps most famous for including footage actually shot amidst the bloody 1968 Democratic Convention riots)

Midnight Cowboy (arguably the most incindiary Best Picture winner of all time: Jon Voight stars as Joe Buck, a naive Texan who travels to New York to become a high-paid gigalo, and ends up on the streets with downcast Erico "Ratso" Rizzo, played impeccably by Dustin Hoffman; brilliant musing on American values, scored by John Barry, written by Waldo Salt, and directed by Brit John Schlesinger)

The Milky Way (controversial criticism of Christianity, directed by Luis Bunuel)

Mondo Trasho (gritty debut comedy from director John Waters and star Divine)

Monterey Pop (Unmatched concert movie from D.A. Pennebaker, about California 1967 pop festival; Simon and Garfunkel, Otis Redding, the Mamas and the Papas, Janis Joplin, the Animals, the Who, Country Joe and the Fish, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Booker T. and the M.Gs, the Electric Flag and Ravi Shankar)

More (hallucinogenic effort from Barbet Schroeder, with photography by Nestor Almendros and score by Pink Floyd)

Mr. Freedom (funny superhero spoof and biting critique of US cockiness, directed by William Klein)

Muhammad Ali, the Greatest (another William Klein movie, this time a documentary focusing on the famed boxer's political and social importance)
The Oblong Box (British, AIP-filmed adaptation of E.A. Poe story starring Vincent Price and Christopher Lee)

Oh What a Lovely War! (actor Richard Attenbourough's directorial debut, attacking British attitudes towards WWI with songs and gags)

On Her Majesty's Secret Service
(Another British film, this time arguably the best of the Bond series, with George Lazenby in the 007 role for the only time, and Diana Rigg as the woman Bond marries; Telly Savalas is Blofeld).

Once Upon A Time in the West (one of the greatest westerns of all time: Sergio Leone's Italian masterpiece following the establishment of a railroad town, with Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson, Lionel Stander, Frank Woolf, Jack Elam, Woody Strode, and a career-defining villainous turn from Henry Fonda; landmark Ennio Morricone score)

Paint Your Wagon (failed Joshua Logan musical western still worth seeing for the singing presences of Jean Seberg, Clint Eastwood, and Lee Marvin, who had a #1 hit in the UK with "Wanderin' Star;" the film's also got Harve Presnell (who does a mean "They Call The Wind Mariah") and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band)

The Passion of Anna (typically angsty--and great--Ingmar Bergman effort starring his favorite actors: Max Von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, and Bibi Andersson)

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Oscar-winning Best Actress Maggie Smith in prim comedy-drama about a lovelorn schoolteacher)

Putney Swope (outrageous Robert Downey Sr. underground comedy about black advertising exec who rises to great power; the clever commercial parodies influenced an entire generation of comedy filmmakers and TV producers)

The Rain People (Shirley Knight is a knockout in this Francis Ford Coppola directorial effort following a dissatisfied housewife and her dalliances with brain-damaged football star James Caan and testosteroned lawman Robert Duvall)

The Reivers (fun Mark Rydell rural 1910s comedy, based on William Faulkner and starring a game Steve McQueen; excellent John Williams score)

The Sterile Cuckoo
(debut films for director Alan J. Pakula and Liza Minnelli, starring with Wendell Burton as shy, lovestruck college students)

The Stewardesses
(bad but endlessly-played 3D nudie movie)

Support Your Local Sheriff (funny western starring James Garner; exceptional supporting cast, too)

Sweet Charity (only partially successful Bob Fosse directorial debut, a musical version of Fellini's Nights of Cabiria, with Shirley MacLaine slightly miscast in the lead)

Take The Money and Run (first film wholly directed by Woody Allen; a scream)

Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (return to film industry for two-decade-blacklisted director Abraham Polonsky; starring Robert Blake, Robert Redford, and Katherine Ross)

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (first noted film from Sydney Pollack; extremely downcast tale of Depression-era marathon dance contest; excellent cast features newly-serious Jane Fonda and Supporting Actor Oscar-winner Gig Young)

Topaz (unusual Alfred Hitchcock cold war thriller)

True Grit (raucous Burt Kennedy western with Oscar-winning lead from John Wayne as Marshall Rooster Cogburn)

The Valley of Gwangi (cowboys vs. dinosaurs, with outstanding Ray Harryhausen special effects)

Walking (Oscar-nominated animated short by Canadian Ryan Larkin, himself later a study subject for 2005 Oscar-winning animated short Ryan)

What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? (chilling old lady horror movie with Ruth Gordon and Geraldine Page)

The Wild Bunch (the best film of the year: William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Edmond O'Brien, and Jamie Sanchez all try and outrun bounty hunter Robert Ryan in Sam Peckinpah's moral--some would say immoral--western masterpiece; photography by Luchien Ballard and music by Jerry Fielding are first rate)

Z (the first movie to be nominated for Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film in the same year; Costa-Gavras directed this hard-bitten, suspenceful tale of political unrest in Algeria)

I very big year for the Brits, with 13 movies repped (14, if you count the Brit-directed Best Picture winner Midnight Cowboy). Also a big year for female actors, with pre-feminist rumblings sounding off in many of the movies mentioned above. Robert Redford had the best year of all artists, with three films repped here. REAL rock music makes a breakthrough into movies, ushered in most notably with Monterey Pop and Easy Rider's famed source music score. And, finally, lots of firsts here: Allen, Fosse, Pakula, Waters, Hopper, Minnelli, Divine, and serious-acting Jane Fonda. Really, the movies had definitely become more daring and outspoken. The coming decade would be the last truly great period for motion picture production.

By the way: the scorecard:
1939: 41 titles
1949: 56
1959: 66
1969: 73

Next in The 9 Years: my personal favorite movie year ever, 1979!


----- Jennifer ----- said...

your blog is very nice

the crew of Unfaithful said...


Dean Treadway said...

Thanks, everybody!

MovieMan0283 said...

I was intrigued by the idea of <--> though I never saw it. Do you consider more or less infuriating than Wavelength (which I also never saw, despite some close calls - once or twice I chickened out, for sure...)

Dean Treadway said...

Both are intriguing in their own way, though they're each not something one just, oh, sits down and watches. WAVELENGTH is, by a good measure, the more integral, interesting movie for the film completist. But, for the average audience, both would be equally maddening.