Flicks!

Films broke new ground in the sixties, and we were engrossed in them. Being cool and insightful young adults, we were not content to embrace the same old Hollywood fare all the time. We hungered for cinema which was new, different, controversial, and thoughtful.

In our quest, some of us ventured to Expo ’67 in Montreal, where spectacular multi-screen presentations pioneered split screen images, and where (at the Czech pavilion) the audience helped determine the direction of the plot at several crucial points, through electronic voting conducted by means of devices at each seat. The rum drinks at the Jamaican pavilion were memorable also!

One landmark experience for us as undergrads (at the Walden, believe or not) was seeing Blowup, the work of Italian auteur Michelangelo Antonioni. Adapted from a short story by Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar (Las Babas del Diablo), it told the story of bored (and sadistic) fashion photographer (David Hemmings) in swinging London who believes he has documented a murder in a park on film. Or has he? What is reality? The body in question, as well as the image of the character played by Vanessa Redgrave, disappear along the way, and the film closes by following the ever rising trajectory of a non-tennis ball, hit by one of a sporting crowd of (silent) mimes. Besides the puzzlement generated by the story line, there was Redgrave removing her blouse at one point, and the “purple orgy” scene with Hemmings and two young women, to keep our attention, along with the British mod music of the Yardbirds, featuring Eric Clapton.

Speaking of the libidos of young male collegians, the Russ Meyer potboiler Lorna found its way to the Walden, as those from our class who attended still remember. The eponymous heroine, who was well endowed and oversexed, lived along the river banks with her husband but satisfied her desires with an escaped convict. While the movie featured only brief nudity, that proved to be sufficient for Ephs in the class of 1968 viewing it.

The first novel of Charles Webb ’61 provided the story for The Graduate, which became the runaway hit of 1967, especially for the college audience. Returning with honors from a small New England college (which one?) to the almost surreally sun-drenched, swimming pool world of Southern California, and its caricatured, middle-age denizens, Ben drifted helplessly (to a Simon and Garfunkel score) until depressed, alcoholic Mrs. Robinson seduced him into a meaningless relationship; eventually he found purpose in wooing, winning, and running off with her daughter, Elaine. As a statement about young adult alienation and rebellion, we could relate completely, and we will always remember the career advice given to Ben by an elder—“plastics”.

On a higher aesthetic plane, 2001: A Space Odyssey, was, in the vernacular of the time, truly mind-blowing. It has been described by the critic Roger Ebert as not the ordinary sci-fi film, but “a philosophical statement about man’s place in the universe”, as reflected in the evolutionary progression from the apes to the Star Child, and the extraterrestrial intervention in that progress. Almost a silent film in terms of dialogue, and devoid of conventional Hollywood acting performances, it nevertheless captivated the audience with its images and message, and its imaginative use of classical music. The subplot involving HAL, the rogue computer running the spaceship Discovery, is a cautionary tale for our time.
You may not be aware that a member of the Class of 1968 was involved in the promotion of the film, which was released at the beginning of April of our senior year. The phrase indelibly associated with the advertising of 2001 is: “The Ultimate Trip”. That brilliant summation of the essence of the film was the handiwork of Tom Pierce, after viewing a pre-release copy of the film many times, as part of his work with an advertising company for his Winter Study project in January 1968.

Although Tom never had the opportunity to meet the iconic director, Stanley Kubrick, whose previous hit had been Dr. Strangelove, he had the satisfaction of knowing that Kubrick picked his description of the picture as the one to feature. This occurred after older advertising executives, who were baffled by the movie, had struck out. Like most interns, however, Tom derived no extra income from his brainstorm, which was exploited by others, but it remains a sterling example of compelling advertising copy—by one of our own.

3 comments

  • A sincere thank you for this great job highlighting the movies of our era. Especially “Lorna.” I recall seeing a few empty beer bottles thrown at the screen when the acting or the script faltered. By the way, I believe that Eric Clapton had already left the Yardbirds when Antonioni featured them in “Blow Up.” Instead we get to see Jimmy Page soloing, and a frustrated Jeff Beck smashing his inexpensive and unplugged Hofner acoustic guitar against a set of Vox amps. If you look closely, you can see Beck has the guitar slung across his right shoulder (not his left, as would be customary) so it’s easier to take off and slam into the sound gear. I can still recall Professor Charles Samuels asking us about the Yardbirds scene. He was genuinely interested in seeing how Antonioni wove them into the movie.

    • Williams 68 Web Team

      Yep, you’re right Lloyd. Clapton had already left to join John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. So yeah that’s Jeff Beck, following Antonioni’s instructions and smashing a cheap German-made Höfner instrument specifically chosen for the “role.”

  • When I was in training there was a weekly Friday night screening of a current film with commentary by various faculty psychoanalysts. For Blow-up, one professor focussed on that scene where David Hemmings unwittingly observed his girlfriend having sex with another man. The professor suggested that this represented an unconscious attempt by the director to work through his experience of the “primal scene”(where a child observes his/her parents in the act of sex). Another professor focussed his discussion on the intense interest in photography and on the final scene where David Hemmings retrieves the imaginary tennis ball, and returns it to the “players”. We hear the sound of the tennis ball as the movie ends. Perhaps this is a statement by the director about the power of visual creativity to produce a new reality.

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