Rightwing Film Geek

1966 … worst year ever

Would 1966 be considered the nadir of American movies?

I was inspired today to look up what was playing in New York on my birthdate (6-6-66 … hold the Satan jokes; I’ve already made them all myself) and it was … uninspiring.

Here is one page of the New York Times movie pages on that day, two images stacked on top of one another.

Here is the second page of NYT ads, stacked one on top of the other

Of the new releases, there’s one all-time blockbuster, though THE SOUND OF MUSIC was technically a 1965 film, and another major 1966 hit, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING (though I don’t think its reputation is that high today). But there’s just a handful of other films that could be considered even moderately well-remembered now. Most of them are foreign and tending toward the second-ranking works of pantheon auteurs (i.e., RED DESERT, DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID and YESTERDAY TODAY AND TOMORROW, rather than L’AVVENTURA, THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL and BICYCLE THIEF). The few other Anglophone films anyone today might feel obliged to see are THE GROUP, CAT BALLOU and MORGAN!

To be fair, the first week in June has never been Peak Art at the movie theater, though the weighting of the better Hollywood movies toward the end of the year wasn’t AS pronounced then as now.

I then looked at my own Top 10 list for 1966 and got more confirmation that something was rotten in the state of Hollymark.

  1. The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, Italy/Algeria)
  2. Daisies (Vera Chytilova, Czechoslovakia)
  3. Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, USSR)
  4. The Hawks and the Sparrows (Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italy)
  5. The Nun (Jacques Rivette, France)
  6. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Sergio Leone, Italy)
  7. Persona (Ingmar Bergman, Sweden)
  8. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Mike Nichols, USA)
  9. Father (Istvan Szabo, Hungary)
  10. The Round-Up (Miklos Jancso, Hungary)
    HM: A Man and a Woman (Claude Lelouch, France); Django (Sergio Corbucci, Italy); Seconds (John Frankenheimer, USA); After the Fox (Vittorio De Sica, Italy/USA); Cul-De-Sac (Roman Polanski, Britain); Alfie (Lewis Gilbert, Britain); Navajo Joe (Sergio Corbucci, Italy); Here’s Your Life (Jan Troll, Sweden); Closely Observed Trains (Jiri Menzel, Czechoslovakia); The Fortune Cookie (Billy Wilder, USA)

That is a damn fine list in my opinion — better than the year on each side of it. But look how little is labeled “USA.”

Now, my unquestionable correctness aside (and stunning modesty too), one man’s list shouldn’t be considered too definitive. Also, numerous of these films wouldn’t be released in the US until a year or two later than the IMDb years I use (and even later in some cases). So apples and apples.

Nevertheless … in a list of 20 films that I graded 7 or higher, there’s only three indubitably wholly American ones. There’s also an Italian co-production, and then the sticky issue of three spaghetti Westerns, which I list as wholly Italian but which obviously stole more than Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds from Hollywood. Every caveat aside, that’s shockingly few for an Anglophone.

However, when I look around friends’ lists and the Oscar nominations, I see only a few major American films I’ve not seen and could have the slightest hopes for (EL DORADO, GRAND PRIX and RUSSIANS x2).

So even accepting the epistemological limits of my Top 10 and HMs, the dominance of non-English films is so overwhelming that it’s hard to deny that 1966 was some kind of low point for Hollywood. You can see why in retrospect … the Old Hollywood (the studio system) had collapsed except for the edifices but the New Hollywood was still a couple of years away from maturing. BONNIE AND CLYDE would point the way when it came out in 1967. But in 1966, they were mired in a rut.


February 16, 2021 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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