May Highlights on TCM
1967 50th ANNIVERSARY (May 12 and 19, 8pm)/ STARRING FRANCES DEE (May 17, 8pm)-- In 1967, I was 25 years old. I was trying to get my first independent feature finished. The example of John Cassavetes' Shadows and the introduction of lightweight equipment had opened the way for us in the early '60s. All the same, the movie business still seemed like an unconquerable citadel. Although the studios had ceased to be what they were in the '30s and '40s, they were still fully functioning. The production code had started to give way in the '50s, directors like Arthur Penn and Mike Nichols had been energized by the French New Wave and the examples set by many other exciting films and filmmakers from all around the world, but there was still a powerful sense of decorum in Hollywood moviemaking.
Was there a single movie that changed everything? In one sense, no. As Bob Dylan put it in one of the episodes of his great radio show from the early 2000s, there are never any turning points, it's all an ongoing conversation. On the other hand, you could say that everything changed in Hollywood because of not one but two movies made in 1967: Bonnie and Clyde, which was released in August of that year, and The Graduate, which came out in December. Both pictures were enormously and unexpectedly successful. But beyond the question of how many tickets were sold, these two pictures hit the movie business like a tidal wave. Like earlier films made by Penn and Nichols (both of whom came out of the theatre), they felt "European"--Bonnie and Clyde actually started life as a Jean-Luc Godard project, and it was then further developed by François Truffaut before it made its way to Penn--but that was just one factor in their overall impact. They both toppled long-established ideas of how movies were supposed to look and feel, and at the same time they tapped into energies and emotions that had been explored in other American art forms but were new to the cinema.
TCM is celebrating the 50th anniversary of 1967 over two consecutive Fridays this month--a very good idea. Of course they're showing Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate, as well as In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, two of the other pictures that Mark Harris focused on in his excellent book about 1967 in American moviemaking, Pictures at a Revolution. Also included are The Dirty Dozen by Robert Aldrich, also a big hit but a different type of picture (more old-fashioned but extremely tough and relentless), The Producers by Mel Brooks and, by way of contrast, Luis Buñuel's Belle de jour. And, there's John Boorman's Point Blank, a box-office failure at the time but a film that had an immediate and profound impact on me and on all of my friends who were trying to make movies at the time.
Frances Dee was a fascinating actress, and she was also an unusually beautiful one. On May 17, TCM is doing a night of her pictures, including I Walked with a Zombie. I've written about that film before, usually within the context of a tribute to its director, Jacques Tourneur, or its producer, Val Lewton. But it would be a very different movie without Dee and her extraordinary eyes.
by Martin Scorsese