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Playing the role of retro film critic

Posted on December 31, 2013 by Taber Times

As we progress our way through the holiday season, and the globe begins to spin for another 365 days, the deep and awesome mysteries of the world aren’t always what people have in mind when considering a little light reading while ensconced in the light of hearth and home.

So I’ve dispensed for the moment with my usual adventures through the troubling milieu of international happenstance.

We can all be fairly assured that empires may rise and fall, leaders may resign in disgrace and others be elected to ticker tape parades, and the whole crazy business of war, economics, government, disease, exploitation and downright stupidity will continue like clockwork, hardly impacted by the textual protestations of this lowly columnist.

That being said, to make a long story short I’ve decided to review a selection of favourite films from the 1960s, that decade of flower power, Woodstock and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Whether or not the public enjoys flights of whimsy on the part of this writer is a matter for debate, but I’ve indulged myself in this vein before with only the slightest of half-hearted objections.

So bear with me on this one — and who knows — you might learn something. Or at the very least, be inspired to fire up the DVD player or scour Netflix while soaking up the last of the holiday eggnog.

Spartacus -1960

A epic film starring Kirk Douglas in the lead role and directed by that penultimate master of cinematography, Stanley Kubrick, it is a semi-historical account of a slave rebellion against Rome led by a former gladiator. Grandiose sets and battle scenes add an air of legend to films of this vintage that is rarely recaptured by latter-day films.

Lolita – 1962

Not exactly child-approved subject matter, but certainly one that has elements of the child-obsessed, this film (also directed by Stanley Kubrick) takes Vladimir Nabokov’s disturbing literary opus to the silver screen, chronicling an older man’s incestuous affair with a 12-year-old girl.

Dr. Strangelove – 1964

Those reading this might have already suspected I share an obsession with the films of director Stanley Kubrick with millions the world over, the above film being no exception. Full of delightful comedy of the almost slapstick variety, mostly punctuated by lead actor Peter Sellers, this film is certainly something much more.

A prototypical black comedy about the end of the world by way of thermonuclear idiocy, it is full to the brim with biting social commentary about the geo-political world of the 1960s.

Dr. Zhivago – 1965

For many, this film was a first introduction to the strikingly-beautiful Julie Christie, who played the lovely “Lara” in this David Lean epic of the Russian revolution, based on the 1957 novel by author Boris Pasternak. An epic tale of love and loss, starring Omar Sharif in the title role, and played out against the backdrop of the terror and hardship of revolution, it was one of the top-grossing films of 1965.

For a Few Dollars More – 1965

Truly the best of Italian director Sergio Leone’s trio of spaghetti westerns that took America by storm in the mid-1960s, this film starring Clint Eastwood helped make that young actor’s career. Full of unrelenting violence and mysterious characters, matched with Ennio Morricone’s classic score, Leone’s films were a breath of fresh air into the western genre.

Often overshadowed by the better known The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), For a Few Dollars More is in many ways a superior film.

Night of the Living Dead – 1968

George A. Romero’s inspired classic that has spawned an entire genre of films, books, comics and television, this zombie epic of survivors holed up in an abandoned farmhouse has become a horror classic. Notably an independent film, it cost a mere $114,000 to produce, but grossed in the millions at the box office.

2001: A Space Odyssey – 1968

Regarded by many as director Stanley Kubrick’s masterstroke, this weird and disturbing space voyage to Jupiter in search of alien life is replete with cinematography, sets, and inventive camera shots that are still studied by film makers today. Long before the days of CGI, Kubrick imagined his way into a weightless environment and produced camera angles and imagery tricks that are still awe-inspiring even in the 21st century.

Planet of the Apes – 1968

Although hardly as revolutionary as Kubrick’s space epic, this film was still the father of an entire science-fiction genre. Often associated with some of the cheesier sequels of the 1970s, the original starring action-titan Charlton Heston is a superb film, with undertones of social commentary and morality about race relations in the late 1960s and the dangers represented by nuclear holocaust.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – 1969

This western classic starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford won an academy award for best screenplay, and fuses elements of comedy into the traditional western format. The onscreen chemistry between Redford and Newman was electric, and the famous canyon scene in the film has become the stuff of movie legend.

Honourable mentions include Mysterious Island (1961), Judgement at Nuremburg (1961), The Day of the Triffids (1962), Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) Julie Christie again in the screen adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s classic novel Farenheit 451 (1966), Fantastic Voyage (1966), Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), Steve McQueen in The Sand Pebbles (1966), The Dirty Dozen (1967), Newman in Cool Hand Luke (1967), and of course McQueen again in Bullitt (1968).

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