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The cinematic revolutions that anticipated 1968

Jochen Kürten db
April 16, 2018

While mass student protests were the most visible expression of social and political change in 1968, new film movements had already started to foretell this revolt. Here's a look at the rise of a radical new cinema.

Filmstill "Außer Atem" (1960)
Image: Imago/Cinema Publishers Collection

From the late 1950s, French New Wave film pioneers like Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, Alain Resnais and Agnes Varda – the movement's only female director ­­–  made movies that shook France, Europe and the world. "Nouvelle Vague" was not only innovative but spearheaded a cinematic reawakening that influenced directors the world over.

Film anticipated the protest movements, student revolutions and upheavals that marked 1968 by almost a decade. Godard's 1959 film "Breathless" depicted youth who were turning their back on their parents' generation and the ideals of the past, who were rebelling against authority and would soon re-imagine ideas about sexuality and female gender roles.

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So too in Germany in 1962, a group of young directors adopted the Oberhausen Manifesto that promised that "papa's cinema is dead." Bold films by New German Cinema directors Alexander Kluge, Reiner Werner Fassbinder, Margarethe von Trotta and Werner Herzog soon followed.

In Britain, Mike Leigh and Ken Loach stood for Free Cinema. Back in 1959, almost ten years before the upheavals reached mass culture, British director Tony Richardson chose an apt title for his film drama about a disillusioned young man, "Look Back in Anger."

Italian directors cloaked their dreams of revolution and change as western movies. Sergio Leone's epic "Once upon a time in the West" hit the silver screen in 1968 as a reinvented American western with dark political undertones.  

Eastern Europeans, too, had a hunger for change. East Germans took to the streets in 1953, Hungarians three years later. Directors brought the images of angry citizens and repressive states to the screen.

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And in the US, the New Hollywood cinema presaged the the rebellion of disaffected youth in 1968 with films like "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967) and "The Graduate" (1967) that were created by auteurs and not big movie studios.   

Click through the picture gallery above to explore the radical new film movements that symbolized the changing times times half a century ago.

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