The 1960s is one of the most creative periods in the still-short history of cinema. It was a time of sexual liberation, devoid of taboos, where fimmakers dared deconstructing genres and transgressing the rules. In other words, they were behaving like real artists.
The revolutionary French New Wave, started by former film critics from Cahiers du Cinéma, is mostly responsible for changing the way films were made. It paved the way for what is commonly known as the jump cut and the non-narrative approach to filmmaking. Contemporary directors are still, consciously or not, inspired by it.
In a modern film landscape dominated by super heroes, broad comedies, formulaic horror movies and endless sequels, looking back at 1960s’ cinema feels like a breath of fresh air. Petulia (1968), directed by Richard Lester, is a unique effort which didn’t meet an audience upon its initial release, but became, and still is, an instant classic. This love story starring George C. Scott and Julie Christie and set in San Francisco during the hippy era combined flashbacks, symbols, non-linear narrative and stunning photography along with elaborate rack-focuses and compositions, which made it a visual masterpiece. Other noteworthy filmmakers whose visions have marked the 1960s are Paul Mazursky with Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), Claude Lelouch with A Man and a Woman (1966) and Michelangelo Antonioni with Blow-Up (1966). What these artists have in common is the unpredictable manner in which they told a story.
While Petulia was produced and released by Warner Brothers, such a project would never be greenlit by a major studio in 2015. The costs of production in the industry have been skyrocketing for the past three decades and taking chances with a different approach would raise a red flag among studio executives. In the 1960s, films had one unique producer, granting them a more distinct personality, as opposed to the 5 or 10 that has become the standard in 2015. Producers in those days were filmmakers. The credits spoke for themselves: ‘A Raymond Wagner production’, ‘A Dino De Laurentiis presentation’. The producers’ role was not limited to securing the rights to a novel, hiring the talents and putting together the funding, they also left their indelible mark on the projects they worked on. Since studios are now controlled by big corporations, films have lost their identity and are reduced to becoming products of mass consumption.
In the past few years though, it seems that some Mexican directors have come to the rescue of a highly sclerotic film industry. The 86th and 87th Academy Awards have been dominated by two Mexican visionaries: Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu. Birdman (2014) is one of the most original, funny and touching films made by a Hollywood studio (Fox) in 20 years. Groundbreaking at all levels, this unique tour de force was shot in a way that gives the illusion of one long continuous take. Thank you Mr. Iñárritu for proving that there is more than one way of telling a story!