Research in Focus
British Cinema in the 1960s: Youth, Freedom and Permissiveness
Half a century on, the 1960s still hold a special fascination and continue to provoke argument and controversy. For some, the decade is synonymous with the progressive political reform, greater social and personal freedom, artistic innovation and creativity. For others, this was a period of marked by narcissism, self-delusion and a slide into immorality and disrespect that undermined traditional values and social cohesion. But for the British cinema the 1960s was undoubtedly a period of profound transformation. Despite facing a continued decline in cinema-going, British films achieved an unprecedented level of international success and visibility, bankrolled by Hollywood and spearheaded by James Bond, the Beatles and the cinema of swinging London. Underpinning all of this was a revolution in cinematic style as film-makers drew upon developments in other creative spheres including theatre, television, fashion, pop music and advertising. At the beginning of the decade three quarters of films were still being made in black and white, by the end colour was ubiquitous.
In this talk, derived from a three-year research project, Duncan will explore the phenomenon that was 1960s British cinema. In addition to considering some of the key films and individuals who gave the decade its distinctive style and impact, he will also focus on some of the most interesting and enduring themes. Firstly youth: increasing numbers of films featured young aspirant protagonists facing new opportunities, challenges and conflicts that marked a generational shift from the world of their parents. This created a new generation of film stars whose appeal was particularly to the young people who formed the most loyal demographic within a changing cinema audience. Secondly freedom: 60s British cinema charts the opening up of British society with greater social and geographical mobility (often a journey from the provinces to London), the exploration of new ideas, experiences and sensations (sex ‘n’ drugs ‘n’ rock and roll) and the affirmation of individuality (sowing the seeds of neo-liberalism in the process). Thirdly permissiveness: the loosening of censorship went hand in hand with a greater frankness in the depiction of sex and sexuality which from a 2017 perspective is both liberating and problematic - particularly in terms of gender.
But despite the contradictions and tensions, what is undeniable is the sense of vibrancy underpinning British cinema during this iconic and influential decade, a virtue that would inspire subsequent generations of British film-makers and which half a century on remains undiminished by the passing of time.
This talk will be followed by a free drinks reception (with 1960s-themed cocktails), music from local musician David Ward Maclean and an interactive installation in the 3Sixty space.
Speaker biography: Professor Duncan Petrie is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh where he completed an MA (First Class Hons.) in Sociology in 1986 and a PhD thesis, ‘Making Movies: The Structuring of Creativity in Contemporary British Cinema’ in 1990.
His first job on leaving Edinburgh was as Research Officer at the British Film Institute in London where he worked between 1990 and 1995. This was followed by eight years in the School of English at the University Exeter where he established and directed the Bill Douglas Centre for the History of Cinema and Popular Culture, a public museum and research collection including some 50,000 books and artefacts.
In February 2004 he moved to the University of Auckland in New Zealand as Professor of Film and Head of the Department of Film, Television and Media Studies, where he remained until arriving at York in January 2009.