My generation

By David Sturm, Copyright © 1996


Almost from the moment it hit puberty, the Baby Boom generation began reshaping America, especially its culture, in its own image. If older generations didn't like the Beatles or bell bottoms or Jesus hair, well, they could just lump it. The only movies about the Boomers and their coming of age that matter are those that capture this air of a destiny perceived (if not always fulfulled). Here are the best movies about the 1960s.

"Darling" (1965), directed by John Schlesinger, portrays the unique ambivalence felt by the British about the revolution in mores going on in the 1960s. The Brits, though irresistibly drawn to the age like their Yank counterparts, nevertheless entertained profound cynicism about it.

"The Graduate" (1967), directed by Mike Nichols, plunks the generation gap down in sweet, perverse suburbia. Every young person who saw this movie understood instinctively who--or what-- Mrs. Robinson was.

"Easy Rider" (1969), directed by Dennis Hopper, is zeitgeist manifest, an outpouring of alienation and rage that had a galvanic effect on audiences. The flaming, flying motorcycle image at the end is as brilliant a cinematic metaphor as ever filmed.

"Medium Cool" (1969), directed by Haskell Wexler, puts a newsman and his girlfriend literally in the middle of the demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Although the movie is dramatically somewhat static, there is an unfiltered quality to the reality because you are, indeed, there.

"Cisco Pike" (1972), directed by B.W.L. Norton, succinctly sums up the drug paranoia of the age, pitting a sometimes dealer and rock musician, Kris Kristofferson, against a frenetic and corrupt cop, Gene Hackman. However, which is cat and which is mouse?

"Helter Skelter" (1976), directed by Tom Gries, is generational finger-pointing, square America scolding its reprobate offspring and exclaiming "See what you did!" In any event, Charles Manson was raised to the status of supreme boogeyman by acclamation.

"Between the Lines" (1977), directed by Joan Micklin Silver, follows the ups and downs of the staff on an underground newspaper in Boston that is so successful it is about to be acquired by corporate media. It may not be audacious or searing, but it takes the trouble to get the details right.

"I Wanna Hold Your Hand" (1978), directed by Robert Zemeckis, may seem like it is goosing up the hysteria surrounding the Beatles' first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 and it is. But just a little.

"Who'll Stop the Rain" (1978), directed by Karel Reisz, illustrates how prophetic was the anti-war chant of the time "Bring the war home!" A bag of heroin is a resonant metaphor for the Vietnam War and it comes home with a vengeance.

"Return of the Secaucus Seven" (1980), directed by John Sayles, is unequalled in portraying the winsome, self-deprecating spirit of the anti-war movement that was the truth behind the stridency portrayed in the media. If you were there you knew these people.

"The Big Chill" (1983), directed by Lawrence Kasdan, wants to pound a round peg through a square hole and, on that level, it fails. However, this movie expertly captures ambivalence, which is the legacy that resonates in the generation now.

"Hairspray" (1988), directed by John Waters, transcends its contrivances through the sheer affection and verisimilitude of its portrayal of the now-quaint-looking trends and travails of pre-Beatles America. It all seemed so desperately important at the time.


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