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Way Back Wednesday - 1965
By: Mickael
What do Ben Stiller, the Pillsbury Doughboy, and the Gateway Arch have in common? All were born in 1965, the year we’ll be looking at in this special feature: Way Back Wednesday. It’s been 50 years since Malcolm X was assassinated. Martin Luther King attempts several marches from Selma to Montgomery, each one ending in the bloodshed of the peaceful marchers by white supremacists. The first of these is known to history as “Bloody Sunday”. Muhammad Ali knocks out Sonny Liston with the infamous “phantom punch”. Winston Churchill, Nat King Cole, T.S. Eliot, and Edward R. Murrow all die. Meanwhile; Andy Dick, Michael Bay, Charlie Sheen, and J.K. Rowling are all born. This wasn’t a year of great historical accomplishments, rather it was a year of turmoil and change as the defenders of the past clashed with the knights of progress.
In the face of obvious radical change, many demonstrated such a stubborn, narrow-minded rigidity to protecting the status quo that they failed to realize the "America" they were protecting had been long dead. I call this the Elmyra Effect. It's when you have such a love for something that you want to pet it and cherish it and squeeze it and lock it away in a cage and never let anyone else love it except for you. It is to hold something so closely that you don't realize you're strangling it. This effet is quite noticeable in the popular culture of the time: while Otis Redding had his 2 breakthrough albums this year, with The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads and Otis Blue, which featured covers of A Change Is Gonna Come, Satisfaction, and Wonderful World. This album was recorded with the legendary Stax-Volt house band, consisting of Steve Cropper, Donald “Duck” Dunn, and Al Jackson Jr., not to mention Isaac Hayes on piano and the horn sections of the Mar-Keys and the Memphis Horns... meanwhile, at #1 on the charts sat Sonny & Cher with "I Got You Babe", a Phil Spector-produced pop waltz with a story of forbidden teenage love. That's a clear example of people stubbornly resisting progress in favor of the familiar, but it's not the only example of the Elmyra Effect this year...
Bob Dylan Goes Electric And Sir Laurence Olivier Goes Blackface
Nowhere is the country's great dichotomy more obvious than in these choices: in one, a young folk artist challenges his audience to accept radical change; while in the other, an aging pretender stubbornly insists old conventions upon his audience. One is socially relevant, the other is an artifact of a lost civilization. At the Newport Folk Festival, extremely popular folk artist Bob Dylan riled up his fans by coming out on stage and playing three songs with an amplified band instead of his usual acoustic style. The point he was trying to make, I suppose, was that the medium was not the message and you could make a political statement regardless of how it's performed. Earlier in the festival, an organiser had made condescending remarks about the Paul Butterfield Blues Band's electric set, so Dylan got it in his head that he would stir the pot by incorporating members of that band into his performance as well. Many at the time felt that electric music was "corporate" or "selling out", and Dylan fearlessly flipped that convention on it's head by playing electric music that was socially challenging, like "Maggie's Farm" and "Like A Rolling Stone".

While this is happening among the youth, aged and respected thespian Sir Laurence Olivier was intending to bring Shakespeare back to the silver screen. Olivier had already brought Hamlet, Richard III, Henry V, and As You Like It to mass audiences successfully, but by 1965 many of the investors responsible for those films had passed away. Despite his recent turns in The Entertainer, Spartacus, and Uncle Vanya, Olivier fails to solicit enough funding to bring his version of Othello to the screen and ends up filming a relatively low budget adaptation of the National Theater's stage production instead... while in blackface. Olivier plays an exaggerated and campy black stereotype complete with a "unique" walk and speaking in a much deeper voice than his own. Mind you, this is at the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the US. In the UK, the film was fairly well received and popular, but in the US it played in theaters for only 2 days and was turned instead into a roadshow attraction.
The most popular film in 1965 was the Clint Eastwood spaghetti western For A Few Dollars More. The western was, in general, very popular that year. Shenandoah, The Hallelujah Trail, The Sons Of Katie Elder, Cat Ballou, and Carry On Cowboy are all among the most popular films of the year. In a way, Western audiences were attempting to relive the country's glory days. A time before the Vietnam War, before the Civil Rights Movement, before radical change threatened America's legacy. The only movie setting more popular than the Wild West that year was World War II. Action films, dramas, musicals, comedies, everything was set during WWII. 1965 brought us Battle Of The Bulge, The Sound Of Music, In Harm's Way, King Rat, Von Ryan's Express, The Hill, The Heroes Of Telemark, and many other 1930's and 40's-based period pieces. It's amazing that 20 years after the war ended we were still setting the majority of our films during its occurrence, but this can also be explained by Americans and Europeans alike escaping to a time when the world made sense. In 1945 there was good, there was evil, and we were actively fighting to preserve our way of life. By the time 1965 came around, the fight seemed to be geared to change our way of life.
Reconstruction Of The Far East
World War II had left each nation that participated a little worse for wear. Germany, as well as most of Europe, was torn asunder by the Allies as they bickered over who had rights to which parcels of land and what areas should be rebuilt while others were left to deteriorate in their own torpid states. Japan had it far worse, however. They had been one of the most dangerous nations on earth, with wealth, pride, and intelligence among the greatest ever seen. When the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima during August 6th, more than 80,000 people were instantly killed. Emperor Hirohito faced more than just defeat, he faced complete humiliation and, realistically, the annihilation of his entire nation. This was his Elmyra Effect moment, when even facing total destruction he resisted. A second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki 3 days later. Imagine losing a fight so badly that all you want to do is surrender, but as you’re on your knees begging for mercy your opponent takes out a shotgun, places it in your mouth and demands that you give him everything. A week later, he moves into your house and starts sleeping with your wife. It would take more than a little while to get over that, right?

Imagine what it feels like for a superstar athlete to retire at 32-years-old due to an injury and to wake up every morning, shaving in the mirror to the visage of a lesser version of who he remembers being. A supermodel who is told at 28 that she is being replaced by “new, youthful talent”. She wakes up every day with little hope of who she will be tomorrow, instead realizing that the best possible version of herself is in the past, relegated to a few forgotten pictures. For many of us who have to fight and claw our way to some modest success over the course of decades in our careers, we always have tomorrow, next month, next quarter, next year to look forward to. We know that if we continue to work and grow, we’ll be a little better then than we are now. For those who peaked early, the majority of their adult lives are spent being less important than they used to be. Less noticeable. Less respected. Their “value” is less today than it was decades ago. This is the sort of ennui the entire nation of Japan was experiencing in the mid-1960’s.
Twenty years hence, and the Japanese were attempting to reclaim their lost glory. Samurai films became the superhero genre of their day. Zatoichi, the blind swordsman, was already an established franchise by this time, but in 1965 moviegoers were treated to THREE Zatoichi films: Zatoichi's Revenge, Zatoichi and the Chess Expert, and Zatoichi and the Doomed Man. This blind gambler wasn't the only representative of Japan's collective mid-life crisis, however, as classic Samurai Assassin and Criterion member Samurai Spy were also released. While samurai epics may have been a way for audiences to identify with their past, some filmmakers sought a way to cope with the present through daikaiju films. In Japanese, kaiju means "monster", and daikaiju means "giant monster". Though Gojira had obviously created many of the genre tropes a decade earlier, by 1965 their dominance was irrefutable. Gamera, the giant, fire-breathing, flying tortoise was the most popular creation of the year. The largest would be Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, which is essentially a flying hydra from outer space. The strangest daikaiju of the year might just be Dogora, a giant space jellyfish that comes to Earth to attack Japan.
Construction Of The Arch
After 2 years of construction, the Gateway Arch opened in St. Louis during October of 1965. It was built as a symbol of western expansion, indicating the gateway between the eastern and western United States, and memorializing the start of the journey that Lewis and Clark’s expedition took to explore the land acquired during the Louisiana Purchase. It’s meant to be a symbol of bold progress and the pioneer spirit. This arch is meant to inspire people to look past the known world and discover new frontiers. It’s fitting, then, that Missouri is the birthplace of the most pioneering triple feature of the year.

Mudhoney is a black-and-white film about a traveler who gets stuck in Missouri working for some lunatic rednecks. Like many of Russ Meyer’s early films, it’s frought with symbolic clashes between city slickers and country folk, sexy women and abusive men, and most of all with a theme of youth in revolt against archaic lifestyles. Nowhere is this theme more prevalent than in the next film of the triple feature, Motor Psycho. This movie stars a small motorcycle gang, lead by a crazed Vietnam veteran, terrorizing and raping women. It’s sort of like a white trash version of the first act of A Clockwork Orange. The third film in Meyer’s epic breakout year was the classic and brutal tale of female empowerment that is Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!; a story of thieving go-go dancers racing across the California desert and dominating any man that gets in their way. The female protagonists in this movie are such an unstoppable force, they come across as analogues for the entire counterculture movement.
It’s easier for society to accept a symbol of the pioneering spirit than it is to recognize an actual, but divisive, pioneering spirit in action. While constructing an arch to stand tall over the horizon and inspire us to travel ever deeper into the wilderness is a fine attempt at inspiring a community, it’s looming presence often becomes the destination instead of the origin of a new journey. Russ Meyer’s films were seen as a variation of exploitation filmmaking, but much like many of Roger Corman’s early works, they actually hold artistic merit. Russ goes out of his way to challenge audiences with themes of conflict that were very relevant in 1965. He pits youthful exuberance against antiquated morality. His films showcase bombastic females versus the subservient roles society expects them to occupy. Tourists flock by the thousand to reach the top of the Gateway Arch every day, but how many take Russ Meyer’s approach and walk through it, beyond it, and march fearlessly into the future?
Traditionalists Are Anti-Progress
The federal government, state police, and white supremacists were all entangled in the Elmyra Effect when they refused to alter their values in the face of Dr. King's marches. Emperor Hirohito felt the Elmyra Effect when he nearly allowed his pride to destroy his country. Don't allow legacy, pride, or tradition impede the path of social progress. We all know and agree that the world is an imperfect place, we merely disagree about what specifically should change. However, you can't merely stand aside and let the world pass you by, as the folk music organiser who disagreed with Bob Dylan's electric rock masterpieces was doing. Embrace change. Promote progress. In doing this, you can honor the past while still moving into the future. As a society, if we stagnate, we die.

On August 6th of 1965, precisely 20 years after Truman’s bombing of Hiroshima, President Lyndon Johnson reacted to the harassment of Dr. King's marchers by signing into law the Voting Rights Act, which fully protected the rights of African-American voters. On August 30th, just over a full month after being booed onstage for going electric at the Newport Folk Festival, Bob Dylan released Highway 61 Revisited, his first electric album, which was universally acclaimed and remains his highest rated work. If 1965 taught us nothing else, we learned that even though it's been a long time coming, a change is gonna come. It's your choice whether you're on the side of progress, or deperately clinging to the past.
Are you fixing to pitch a bitch fit over what I had to say?
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