This is essentially an extended critical review of a selection of movies roughly bracketed by the 1960s, wherein J. Hoberman attempts to show how movies mirrored (or drove; the cause/effect linkage is never clearly defined) the politics of the time. Hoberman anchors the time in the latter part of the 1950s, citing a few movies to show the normalcy of the era, and the abruptness and sharpness of the transition to the 1960 election--and the explosive change in movies that would occur starting then and continuing throughout the decade.
This decade is a propitious choice. Politics were literally explosive--Vietnam abroad, civil rights rallies and anti-Vietnam riots at home, assassinations of the Kennedys and King, violence in the street, generational violence in the home, sit-ins and shutdowns in the schools. And the changes in movies were also explosive--the end of the star system, the rise of the anti-hero, the increase in violence, sex, and realism (to some; vulgarity to others) on the screen.
So Hoberman tracks the parallel timelines, with the awkward and frequently annoying attempt to relate every significant date on one track to an event in the other. We get the point, and in fact a graphical timeline showing rough synchronicity would have been a better device to prove his point, instead of forced comparisons of events at specific dates.
Because the other issue I have here is that Hoberman merely presents his data, but makes no attempt to identify key linkages. Did movies drive politics, or merely reflect them? What were the specific mechanisms? What was the chronology? I found myself confused that at times, to maintain his chapter organization Hoberman had to refer to movies out of release order, which was confusing as I thought that Hoberman had been trying to show how the movies built on one another along with the political events they tracked, and losing that sequence completely befuddles any cause/effect relationship that Hoberman might have established.
The idea is an interesting one, and the connections between the movies and the politics are unquestionable (and indeed no longer even unquestioned by us now living 50 years into the media age). And there sure were some bad movies made in that decade, perhaps because movie makers (directors, actors, writers) were working with political purposes--although Hoberman never really argues that clearly. He's more interested in the movies as a critic of the art of movies, not as a historian of either movies or politics.
If you are a fan of movie criticism, particularly of movies from the 1960s, this might be of interest to you. Otherwise, this is probably a pass.
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