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Like some of you, I can now remember five decades, start to finish.  It got me thinking about changing societal attitudes and mores.

This isn’t a particularly religious post, if at all, but decades start and finish in dramatically different places.  When you consider the first decade of the new century, you think of the dotcom boom and 9/11 in 2001 then of recession and appeasing our enemies in 2009.  The Left made further inroads into our society and laws were passed (with more proposed) which encroach on our personal liberties.  The state is ever-intrusive.

That aside, I went back to the 1960s to see what type of films were released.  Film is a good barometer of social change.  This is what I found:

1960 – the top 10 includes:


– Spartacus

The Magnificent Seven

Swiss Family Robinson

The Time Machine

House of Usher

Although this was before universal film ratings came into being, only Psycho had what would have been an ‘R’ rating today.  Three of the films listed would have had a ‘G’ rating today.

Now, let’s look at the end of the decade.

1969 – the top 10 includes:

The Wild Bunch

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Easy Rider

Midnight Cowboy

True Grit

A Boy Named Charlie Brown

Of the top 10 listed, three had an ‘R’ rating, two were rated ‘G’, one ‘PG’, and the others had no rating. But, look how the themes had changed. We now had anti-heroes in the movies.  Directors explored more controversial, sexually-oriented themes.  The clear-cut morality had gone, and we had started to slip into relativism.

So, what happened and how did we come to accept these changes?  Ed Driscoll thinks that the late New Yorker film critic, Pauline Kael, had a significant part to play.  In his article, ‘How Bonnie, Clyde and Pauline Gunned Down Middlebrow Culture’, he explains:

Leftwing historian Rick Perlstein recently told Reason that “Bonnie and Clyde was the most important text of the New Left.” It certainly foreshadowed the radical chic that runs through the liberalism of the late 1960s, from the Black Panthers sipping Martinis in Leonard Bernstein’s salon to recurring parodies such Michelle Obama in camo and combat boots clutching an AK-47 on the cover of this week’s New Yorker.

Speaking of the New Yorker, how much did Pauline Kael’s championing of the movie impact the rest of culture?

Driscoll cites an article from The National Post which addressed the subject, focussing on the 1967 film.  It’s funny, but at the time, Bonnie and Clyde just seemed like a gangster movie kids weren’t allowed to see.  Yes, it was interesting and engrossing the first couple of times, but after that, it got a bit samey.  I didn’t watch it the last time it was on a few years ago.  Apparently, I’m not alone.

Most critics found Bonnie and Clyde empty and trashy. The crusty old New York Times guy, Bosley Crowther, then one of the most influential American critics, decided that Bonnie and Clyde failed to meet his narrow, simple-minded, painfully respectable standards. It was too violent, and he thought the love story of its doomed, hare-brained title characters was “sentimental claptrap.”

Kael, whose critical reputation was in its early stages, used Bonnie and Clyde as the opening shot in what turned out to be a war against middlebrow, middle-class, middle-of-the-road taste. Her New Yorker piece began: “How do you make a good movie in this country without being jumped on? Bonnie and Clyde is the most excitingly American American movie since The Manchurian Candidate. The audience is alive to it.”

Mmm-hmm.  Well, my mom was pretty open-minded when it came to new genres of film, and she’d lived during the Depression, so she knew Bonnie and Clyde’s story.  She thought the film version was okay, but not what the reviews made it out to be.  The best part for her was Michael J Pollard’s character, who, unfortunately, doesn’t appear that much in the film.  It’s a launchpad for Faye Dunaway, whom my mom didn’t particularly for, and Warren Beatty didn’t thrill her to bits, either.  But, the Pauline Kael sentiment made the rounds of all the national newspapers.  The critics — from towns and cities — across America largely echoed what she’d said.  Those glowing reviews were what drove my mom to the cinema.

Anyway, back to Kael.  Having seen the original of The Manchurian Candidate twice and having compared that to Bonnie and Clyde makes me wonder what she was doing at the time she wrote that review.  There is no comparison between the two.  The Manchurian Candidate wins every time.

See if this doesn’t sound pomo:

She announced no less than a revolution in taste that she sensed in the air. Movie audiences, she said, were going beyond “good taste,” moving into a period of greater freedom and openness. Was it a violent film?

Well, Bonnie and Clyde needed violence. “Violence is its meaning.”

… She liked the raw energy in the work of adventurous directors such as Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese. She trusted her visceral reactions to movies.

Yes! The ‘freedom’, the ‘openness’, ‘the violence’.  ‘Violence is its meaning’.  Give over!  I had a teenage cousin who picked up all these stock phrases and bandied them about at family gatherings.  Ugh!  ‘Oh, well, what would you know?  It takes sophistication and knowledge to appreciate film.  Film.  Not movies.  Anyone can watch those.’

But, I digress.  Our Ms Kael came a cropper.  The new films she lauded became the mainstream.  There were no more Doris Day movies or melodramatic romances or proper westerns.  Done, finito, kaput.  Kael’s mistake was that she (emphases mine):

assumed she was safe to defend the choices of mass audiences because the old standards of taste would always be there. They were, after all, built into the culture. But those standards were swiftly eroding … She and her admirers won the battle but lost the war. Acceptable taste became mass-audience taste, box-office receipts the ultimate measure of a film’s worth, sometimes the only measure. Traditional, well-written movies without violence or special effects were pushed to the margins.

She herself said shortly before her death:

‘When we championed trash culture we had no idea it would become the only culture.’

Yes, Churchmouse, and ..?  Try substituting ‘church’ for ‘culture’ and maybe you’ll see where I’m going with this. The odd bit of modernity for ‘the kids’ or ‘just this once’ soon became the only type of church service or Mass our children know.  And the authority of our denominations has been declining since the 1960s.  We always assumed ‘church’ and the ‘Church’ we knew would be there whenever we wanted, for us and future generations, but is it there today?  No.  And it may be too late in some cases to turn back the clock.  So, let’s try to reclaim what’s ours in orthodoxy and tradition whilst we still have a chance.  Complain about substandard services, point out the watery sermon, take a role that allows you to influence change … for the better.

Let’s not end up like Pauline Kael, who found the rug pulled out from under her entirely by accident.  She lost her culture.  We’re in danger of losing our churches.

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