LICENSE TO THRILL
Coming out in 1962 to a backdrop of cold wars and hot Beatles tunes, the film Dr No was a slick, cheeky spy thriller based on a book series by Ian Fleming’s James Bond series. The books were popular, but not as popular as the film series which is currently the longest running film franchise around, as well as being arguably the most influential on popular culture. Everyone knows Bond — the smooth-talking, ladies-man action hero who can’t help but save the world, to live and let his enemies die. Yet the film has been through some image changes over the years. The stereotypes of his wardrobe consisting only of suits, or him being a combat master, are recent. Bond from the 60s was a different Bond.
The films were at home in the post-war period, like the novels from which they were adapted. It was the ‘Swingin’ Sixties’, a revolution in fashion (just look at Bond’s clothing in the first few films), sex (Bond was invented by Fleming the same year as Playboy) and technology, three of the most important features of the Bond films. Bond was an icon of the time, and early films such as From Russia With Love or Goldfinger are still considered the classics of the series. Sean Connery was idolised as a sex symbol, a ‘man’s man’ similar to Hugh Hefner or Fleming himself. This perfect mix of context and content was what forged the franchise as such a prominent and individually stylised one, with a view to kill all competition.
The films tapped into the 60s feelings of sexual liberation and adventure. Bond girls, one of the staples of the series, were hailed by feminists as icons due to their sexual freedom. The varying locations played on the public’s desire for adventure in a world that was packed with global events, a world outside of England. It was however tinged with an undertone of xenophobia and fear of the outside, ‘alien’ world. Depictions of other places seem to be from a British lens. Regardless, the early films are perhaps the most classically ‘60s’ due to the fact they are so noticeably from that period.
However, the world was not enough, and MGM, the franchise owners, blazed into the 70s and 80s with this same model of Bond. It did not work. The rise of ‘serious’ warfare from Vietnam and the AIDS scare made Bond seem redundant, his sexual escapades and slightly silly adventures seeming childish or dangerous. The popularity in a vastly different world waned, and only survived by changing significantly into a character barely recognisable to the audiences from the 60s. Bond was now alive in their eyes only. Tom Bedford
Sex, drugs and violence crept their way onto the screens of American cinema with the rise of counterculture heralding the end of the strict censorship of the Motion Picture Production Code. Looking back at a few of the iconoclastic films of the era, we can explore some of the works that mark the making of modern production values and the revolutionary spirit that distinguished the late 1960s.
Laced with a sense of exploited naivety perfected through Dustin Hoffman’s fumbling charm, Mike Nichols’ 1967 masterpiece The Graduate is a coming-of-age comedy that touches upon a moment of awakening, in which Ben (Hoffman) realizes his dissatisfaction with the status quo and is forced into discovering his sexuality. This struggle mimicked that of the country’s frustration with middle-class values in the face of the Vietnam war, whilst Nichols’ directorial style also indicated the rise of American New Wave cinema.
Earlier that year Bonnie and Clyde was released in cinemas, a romanticised biopic about two of the nation’s sexiest armed robbers. Opening with a naked Faye Dunaway chatting at Warren Beatty out of the window, Bonnie and Clyde broke taboos with blatant sex and violence previously unseen in Old Hollywood. Although set in the 30s, the erotic energy within the film resonated with 60s audiences just coming into the height of the sexual revolution, whilst the film also represented the birth of graphic violence in cinema.
Counterculture in the late 60s was marked most prominently by the hippy movement, a lifestyle resonated and developed by hippy exploitation films such as Psych-out, Riot on Sunset Strip and Skidoo. Another notable addition to the genre was The Trip a psychedelic odyssey into Paul Groves’ (Peter Fonda) experiment with acid. Written by Jack Nicholson, the film is seen as a precursor to Easy Rider a road movie directed staring Fonda, Nicholson and Dennis Hopper. Straddling motorbikes tearing down deserted highways, Easy Rider delves into some of the paranoia that surrounded the hippy culture following the Manson murders, through flashes of communal living, drug use and violent conservatism.
Paranoia is also touched upon in Medium Cool, a film that blends documentary footage and fictional scenes to portray the anger felt by a news cameraman when he learns the FBI is using his station’s footage for surveillance. With snapshots of war protests and Martin Luther King, Medium Cool presents a boiling pot of socio-political tension that was seeping through the media during the late 60s. Isis Billing