Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Year Was 1963

1963 started when I was home visiting my family in PA. April 2012 allowed me to take a break from NYC for a few weeks and return to my dad's movie collection. It's always so very delightful and slightly overwhelming to be in the presence of all of the films that my dad had collected over the years. One film that my dad often suggested we watch together was a favorite of his from 1963 called The Prize starring Paul Newman. For years, the opportunity had escaped us and I thought it would be fitting to begin this movie year with that particular film. It was a fun thriller inspired by Hitchcock films. Of course we loved it.

After getting exposure to the budding French New Wave film style of the early 60s, I welcomed the opportunity to relish in foreign cinema. Three films from French director Jean-Luc Godard were released this year, each of which possess their own unique, playful Godard touch. In The Carabiniers he plays with dramatic and melodic tones, while in the more noir-influenced Le Petit Soldat he does so with touches of romance and dark realism. The epic ode to cinema, Contempt, is Godard at his most grand and at his most personal. His love for film is so clear in his story of a screenwriter's struggle.

Contempt bears some comparison to another epic, personal ode to filmmaking from another of Europe's talented maestros. Italian director Federico Fellini's film offers strikingly cerebral visions that most definitely inspired a thirst for more daring and inventive ways to tell a story. Roman Polanski entered the fray with his debut film Knife in the Water, the simple story of a couple and the hitch-hiker they invite on their sailboat. The claustrophobic tension that Polanski manages to build steadily creates a greater intensity in the progression of the story.

The influence of European and world cinema on American audiences is clearly seen in Oscar's 1963 Best Picture choice, Tom Jones. The rollicking British comedy was a highly enjoyable and inventive film comedy. The British influence can be seen in the growing popularity of James Bond films like From Russia With Love, as well as regular output of Hammer-produced shockers and monster films. Angry Young Man films such as This Sporting Life and Billy Liar were very popular, marking the imminent British invasion

Hollywood films were getting bigger and budgets were inflating to record numbers. The 20th Century Fox spectacle Cleopatra was quite costly and, despite ultimately being a beautiful mess, its stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton became the most talked about couple in filmdom. Comedy films like It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World employed nearly every comedian in the book to deliver huge laughs on a large scale to ensure a major hit. The Cinerama process used to film the American Western epic How the West Was Won offered audiences a film projected on three wide screens. While it seemed that bigger was better, some American directors like Elia Kazan still chose to make more personal films like his personal ode to his country in America, America.

Some of the most memorably entertaining moments in film this year come from Hitchcock's classic shocker The Birds. After he changed the game with Psycho, Hitchcock followed up with this disturbing tail of nature attacking humanity. Another favorite of the year is The Great Escape with its instantly catchy music score and iconic image of Steve McQueen riding his motorcycle. McQueen became an icon for young men, embodying a new 60s version of cool and sleek masculinity. I chose to bookend my cinematic year with another Paul Newman film. Hud is a story of a real American prick and yet Paul Newman still makes the character so appealing. Here is a simple, quiet American film about conflicted, complicated people.

It took me until late January to complete 1963. Again, I returned to the Troutman homestead to get close to my dad's film library. Missing on this trip was Dad himself. He passed away in August 2012 leaving behind a legacy that I can only adopt. He loved film and really cared so much about the details and specifics behind the making of each movie. My knowledge and interest stems from his encouragement of a shared love for the moving image. In the same house where we watched The Prize together, I watched Hud alone. It would not be long, however, until I would continue on this adventure through movies to 1964. I am not doing this project just for me anymore, but for my dad as well.