Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Decades of Film-Part 4: First Runner-Up
As we're closing in on what I think is the Greatest Decade of Filmmaking of All-Time, we find ourselves just one spot away with the Silver Medalist Decade, the First Runner-Up, Second Place, whatever you wanna call it, to the Grand Prize. So what do I think the Second Greatest Decade of Filmmaking of All-Time is? The 1950s.
The '50s were the high point of the Golden Age of Hollywood. In no other decade did Hollywood have so much influence on the public. Actors were larger than life figures; this was a time of legitimate, untouchable movie stars. Average Joe Americans wanted to be John Wayne, to be Marilyn Monroe, or to be as awesomely cool as James Dean. Not to mention, this decade was where the paparazzi soared into popularity and entertainment magazines chronicling actor's personal lives gave rise and became uber-popular. Of course, this is only a very small fraction as to why the '50s is one of the finest decades of filmmaking to ever exist, the films were of an astounding quality that is rarely seen to this day.
The Hollywood films from the '50s were astonishing spectacles, large and grandiose in scope and scale. I just sit in awe each time I watch something like Ben-Hur and the epic chariot race. For starters, the set was the size of an entire football field, and all those thousands of extras weren't CGI, they were real. Then the actual race itself, my goodness! It's just fascinating. This was before the days of green screen or big computer FX. Nowadays a sequence like that would be so easy, much of it being done through high tech trickery, but back then it was all done in camera, and for me as a filmmaker, that's just astounding filmmaking on a scale that has rarely been seen since! But scope and scale aside, and looking past all of the fabulous glitz and glamor of this decade, the films were actually well made and extremely entertaining.
The '50s was a thriving decade for Hollywood, most notably for early day auteurs like Billy Wilder, Cecil B. Demille, Alfred Hitchcock, and John Ford. Films like: Sunset Boulevard, The Ten Commandments, Rear Window, and The Searchers. Not only that, this was a decade where I think the actor could almost be considered an auteur, in some cases, as was the case with Gene Kelly and his level of control on one of the shining pinnacles of the Hollywood musical, Singin' in the Rain. This was a decade of fabulous musicals, astonishing epics, tense thrillers (something Hollywood has forgotten how to make), and fascinating comedies and dramas. I mean, Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront or Julius Caeser, just amazing! Plus, this decade saw the sharp rise of foreign film.
Italian cinema bled over to America in the late '40s with The Bicycle Thief and it thrived throughout the '50s with folks like Fellini. In Japan, auteur Akira Kurosawa made a name for himself in the '40s and then came over to America, winning one of the first foreign language film Oscars for Rashomon in '51, leading to probably Kurosawa's greatest decade of filmmaking with stuff like Seven Samurai and Throne of Blood. Even France had a ressurgence in the late '50s when countless film critics for the film magazine Cahiers du Cinema, like Jean Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut, decided they were tired of the current state of French cinema, and they developed the auteur theory, leading to The 400 Blows in '59 and then the rise of the French New Wave that was experienced throughout the '60s (which I'm not a huge fan of the New Wave, but still, it's significant).
So there it is, the 1950s in all of its fabulous glory. There probably wont be another decade where filmmaking will be on such a grandiose scale, and for that I truly feel as if I missed out on these Golden days.
The Ten Best Films of the 1950s:
10. The 400 Blows
9. Throne of Blood
7. Sleeping Beauty
6. Seven Samurai
4. North by Northwest
3. The Hidden Fortress
2. Rear Window
1. Singin' in the Rain