“The times were a changing”, crooned folk singer Bob Dylan, perhaps not knowing just how true his words were at that time. All forms of art were changing radically in the 1960s, as society heaved and grunted and brought about a counter culture revolution, the likes of which the world had not ever seen before.
The Cold War, the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, and senator Robert Kennedy headed for the presidency, brought about a profound sense of mistrust between the youth and the establishment. Young people lashed back at authority, vowing to trust no one over thirty, protesting the war in Vietnam, which had become a hugely unpopular war that America was losing. The Americans very nearly went to war with Russia and Cuba, as Kennedy stared down Russia during the Cuban Missile Crisis, perhaps showing his mettle as a President before his death. Live television allowed audiences to see Kennedy’s killer himself assassinated on TV the following day, while images broadcast home from Vietnam showed the futility of that dirty little war. Man raced to the moon, with the Americans landing in 1969, just a few years after Kennedy declared that man would land on the moon by the end of the decade. Rioting in Detroit and the South reached manic heights as blacks and whites clashed in the Civil Rights Crisis leading to marches on Washington and the eventual signing of the bill by Johnson that gave blacks equal rights in all areas. At the end of the decade, thousands gathered in peaceful protest to watch rock bands perform at Woodstock, which would come to define the 1960s.
The extreme revolution in society saw art change, because art does reflect society. Yet cinema was the last major art form to change, though when it did, it did so virtually overnight. Television, literature, music, theater and paintings all changed long before film did, and everyone wondered what the hold-up was, but of course it was the old guard, struggling to hang on to their dwindling power. As the old directors retired, or died off, Hollywood had no choice but to take chances with the new filmmakers emerging, and their work was bold, innovative, heavily influenced by that of the fine directors at work in Europe.
It would lead to a remarkable time in film, headed directly into the seventies, the most exceptional ten year period in movie history. Interesting, though they worked in American film, three of the directors on this list are British, as they chose to make films in America. Two of them would win Academy Awards for Best Director, the third would revolutionize the horror genre in ways no one ever saw coming.
The leader of the French New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard once said he could make a film with a guy and a girl and a gun, and he was right. The film that changed everything in American cinema did just that, and never looked back.
10. Mike Nichols – The Graduate (1967)