The year 1968 did to film what the Enola Gay did to the world when it dropped ‘Little Boy’ on Hiroshima. This is the powder keg, watershed moment in cinematic history where things began to change. There was a fresh sense of unrest in America after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, and the Vietnam War was growing more unjust by the hour. Filmmakers took note and these outside horrors began to bleed into their art. Gone were the days of Hollywood spectacle; audiences’ mindset became “we want realism and we want it now!”
Grindhouse cinemas and Drive-ins were the rage, and it became the norm to travel to shady neighborhoods to see a foreign or arthouse film. Anger was seeping into film; and, in many ways, it’s easy for today’s youth to relate to that bygone era. By the end of 1968, violence in film was about to have its breakthrough moment, thanks to Arthur Penn and his flawless Bonnie and Clyde. In the years to follow, violence would escalate both on screen and in real life as well.
Horror films have always been attributed as reflecting the sign of their times, and George A. Romero did just that. Casting an African-American actor as his lead, Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was littered with social and political messages, and from that moment onward, cinema has never been the same. These ideals and foundations would help influence what was about to happen in the upcoming year of 1969.
The introduction of film schools in America brought light to foreign filmmakers who would otherwise have gone unnoticed. These foreign filmmakers helped dictate where American film was headed and inspired the upcoming Director’s Era of the 1970’s. These artists across the pond showed American directors that films should be created by filmmakers, not studios. Filmmaker control was the key to allowing cinema to flourish, and studios took to the shadows, relinquishing the control they previously held. Foreign directors Roman Polanski, with his monotone classic Rosemary’s Baby, Sergio Leone, with his spaghetti western epic Once Upon a Time in the West, and Pier Paolo Pasolini, with the French New Wave and German Expressionalism-inspired Teorema, were foreign entities who shaped the year of 1968 and the subsequent decade to come.