There are those rare years where everything seems to gel. The “product” released by the big Hollywood studios and the independent filmmakers is par excellence. The films of that particular year reflect the zeitgeist of the time and strike a chord with audiences everywhere.
1969 was a year in which the cultural revolution that came to define the decade and its generation was finally represented in film.
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
1969’s classic movies were stories that reflected the shifting social mores and burgeoning alternative lifestyle movements of the time. Paul Mazursky’s Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice explores the implications of “open” relationships and wife-swapping among two middle-class couples in suburban Los Angeles. A little too old to be counterculture hipsters and a little too young to deny the hippie aesthetic’s impact on their lives, Bob (Robert Culp), Carol (Natalie Wood), Ted (Elliot Gould) and Alice (Dyan Cannon) nearly wreck their lives and their marriages searching for their place in an evolving world.
In Easy Rider, the seminal drop-out movie, Billy (Dennis Hopper) and Captain America (Peter Fonda) search for their place on the road. Discarding wristwatches, symbols of the borgeouis life, Billy and Captain America hit the open highway on their Harleys, attempting to live their vision of the American dream. Apparently the American dream includes hippie communes, jail, hookers, an ACLU lawyer (Jack Nicholson) and lots of weed, coke and acid. Young audiences identified with the message of the film, which, although, seemingly nihilistic to the Establishment, resonated with the Youth Movement attracted to the concept of dropping out, but recognizing its limitations.
The counterculture was also drawn to Midnight Cowboy, the first movie to receive an X-rating (for seamy content). The themes of dashed hopes and alienation in the movie struck a chord with a generation torn asunder by Vietnam. The film told the story of young cowboy Joe Buck ( Jon Voight), who moves to New York to earn a quick buck as a hustler, and his friendship with gimpy conman, Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman). Although their decadent universe was far removed from even the seediest hippie lifestyle, the connection between Buck and Ratso was the sort of peace and love vibe the gurus were shouting about.
1969 was a year marked by upheaval as much in the political arena as in film. Even Peckinpah’s ultra-violent western The Wild Bunch reflected the anti-Vietnam sentiment. It’s brutal bullet ballet evoked thoughts of boys being blown to bits in the jungles of Southeast Asia.
Truly, 1969 was a marquee year.