The Changing of the Guard
In 1965 the film industry stood on the threshold of yet more far-reaching changes. Some of these bore directly on outdated industry practices and could have been foreseen; others related to seismic cultural shifts that Hollywood was as slow to recognise as the rest of America. In any event, in the mid-1960s Hollywood seemed more becalmed than in crisis. The new post-Paramount order had established itself; the studios were not generally in financial meltdown, although much was staked on each year’s crop of big roadshowed blockbusters; the influx of TV talent – most recently Sam Peckinpah, whose second film Ride the High Country (MGM 1962), a luminous elegiac Western, announced the arrival of a major talent – proved there was life yet in the Hollywood hills. Yet overall there was little sense of dynamism or innovation. The films of the European New Waves were causing enormous excitement at festivals and art houses, but how such radical departures from convention could be imported into the American commercial film industry was unclear.
The facts of postwar life remained unchanged. Audiences continued to shrink: the last decade had seen admissions halve again and in 1966 annual attendances would dip for the first time below the symbolically important 1 billion mark. Movies had lost three-quarters of their audience in just 20 years and had still not touched bottom. Movies continued to be America’s favourite single spectator pastime, outstripping theatre and professional sports, but by mid-decade this statistic too was reaching a symbolic tipping-point: in 1966–7, for the first time since records began, movies attracted less than half of American spectator expenditure. All of the studios (except Disney, which throughout the early 1960s continued to dominate the family market with animated features such as 101 Dalmatians (1961) and live-action family films such as Swiss Family Robinson (1960), capping this with the vastly successful Mary Poppins, the top-grossing film of 1964) persisted in the strategy with