For the U.S., 1968 was a sociopolitical crossroads at which a war, political schisms, activism, youth culture, style, the arts and the widening gender gap all converged in a fast moment of change. The exhibit 1968: The Year That Rocked History, which officially opens to the public on Saturday, February 7 and runs through May 10 at the History Colorado Center, brings all of those divergent directions together; in advance of the show's debut, we're rolling out a suite of lists to prep you for the 1968 experience.
In 1968, cinema provided a welcome escape from the world's problems, as it had from the start of the art form. Steve McQueen was a marquee king with the action hit Bullitt, Barbra Streisand was winning over the world as Fanny Brice in the musical Funny Girl and the MPAA began to institute its now infamous ratings system. But there were also a new crop of films that appealed to the eyeballs of a generation ready to tune in, turn on and drop out.
See also: 1968: The Year That Rocked History
Mix the fervor of NASA's Apollo program with a few tabs of LSD and you'd get this mind trip of a film that brought Arthur C. Clarke's bestselling novel to masterful, wild life. The out-of-this-world tale of the discovery of a mysterious object buried beneath a lunar landscape that sends an astronaut (Keir Dullea) and his computer system on a mind-opening adventure, it was a cinematic stunner that gave director Stanley Kubrick the right shift into the second half of his monumental career, following the amazingDr. Strangelove
.6) Planet of the Apes Opened April 3, 1968
Charlton Heston stars in this science-fiction tale of a lone astronaut who crash-lands on a bizarre planet run by apes that have developed perfect human qualities; he's taken hostage for his "bizarre" appearance. The film ends with a jarring plot twist perfect for '68, when -- *spoiler alert* -- it's revealed that he's really on planet Earth and had been lost in space for years.
In Chris Rock's recent film Top Five, he brings up an interesting argument that the film's plot was a response to civil rights unrest, given the racist slang notion of equating black people with monkeys, and fosters the conspiracy that its message may have hit too close to home with one James Earl Ray, who assassinated leader Martin Luther King Jr. the day after the film's release. Far-fetched perhaps, but it certainly changes the scope of repeat viewings of this film.
Ira Levin's thriller was a runaway best-selling novel about a young, expectant newlywed who begins to suspect that something sinister is up with her pregnancy based on the weird, sudden attention of the elders living in her Manhattan apartment building. Then-head of Paramount Pictures Robert Evans, who famously ushered in such masterpieces asLove Story
, knew that he had a hot property that needed a great lead actress to round out a production that had Roman Polanski as director and John Cassavetes as the devoted husband. Enter the pixie-like Mia Farrow, who had gained notice on television'sPeyton Place
and then notoriety after a quickie marriage to crooner Frank Sinatra the previous year. Farrow took the role against Sinatra's wishes -- he wanted his young bride to focus less on her career and more on being his wife -- and he had divorce papers delivered to the set in front of Polanski and the cast weeks into filming. Farrow demanded to be released from her contract but Evans pushed back, promising the actress that this role would make her a star. Farrow signed the divorce papers and walked away with a hit film and dozens of high-profile roles to follow.4) Night of the Living Dead Opened October 1, 1968
Young filmmaker George A. Romero shocked the world with this stark, black-and-white indie horror film about a random moment when the dead rise from their graves with a sudden hunger for human flesh -- providing the blueprint for the modern zombie craze. A small group of terrified strangers isolate themselves in an empty house while the dead huddle up and slowly, but terrifyingly, fight to get in. Shocking with its depictions of bloody violence and cannibalism, the film has long been heralded for its subtexts, whether intentional or not, of zombies and violence being a response to the long horrors of the Vietnam War that had begun to take their toll stateside. Another point to be examined is the role of actor Duane Jones, the only black actor in the film, and his character Ben standing in for the black experience during a time of so much civil rights upheaval.3) Romeo & Juliet Opened October 8, 1968
Franco Zeffirelli's period adaptation of Shakespeare's classic was the first to star leads in the appropriate ages of the characters, Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey were both between sixteen and seventeen at the time, which caused a sensation due to the filming of love scenes featuring featured Hussey topless. Perhaps a sign of the opening up of a few buttons in America's morality, helped by Shakespeare's place in literary history, the film is still one that gets permission slips sent home when it screens in schools.
Perhaps the wildest film to erupt out of 1968 was Roger Vadim's movie featuring a French comic-book heroine,Barbarella
, an intergalactic explorer whose scant clothing and freewheeling libido were tailor-made for a new generation with an eye on free love and out-of-this-world sexual awakenings. Casting his then-wife, Hollywood hottie Jane Fonda, in the lead lent an odd dent of credibility to an over-the-top tale that followed sexy Barbarella as she leads a mission to retrieve a missing doctor. Along the way she encounters all sorts of crazy, psychedelic worlds where everyone seems to find a way to get our space gal into various compromising positions. The film took some time to become a cult hit, but today it stands out as a Technicolored sample of the counter culture that was flowing through the country like a fine wine at the time.1) Yellow Submarine November 13, 1968
Prior to the famous trip to India that seemed to move the band into a new era of politically tinged and personal music, The Beatles lent their music to the animatedYellow Submarine
. Directed by George Dunning, this charming slice of Beatlemania didn't star any of the Fab Four -- their characters were voiced by other actors, though the band did pop up for a cameo in the film's finale -- but utilized a cache of hits, rare songs and B-sides to illustrate a fantasy of the world of Pepperland, a music-loving place under the sea protected by the Lonely Hearts Club Band until the music-hating Blue Meanies invade and take over the land. A heroic sailor takes off in the titular yellow submarine to round up the Beatles and bring them back to Pepperland. The film was a big hit and remains a great, if somewhat hallucinatory, high point in Beatles history.
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