Tuesday, July 28, 2009

TIME AND CHANGE


Today I'm thinking about change -- personal, global and every kind in-between. As the '00s come to a close (where did the time fly?) and seque into the second decade of the century, there will be countless Top 10 lists, essays and requiems for dreams left unfulfilled, all trying to put the '00s into some kind of historical context (the latter pursuit is kind of pointless, as it normally takes until the end of the next decade to figure out the previous one -- the '90s only now are starting to cohere for me in the big-picture sense).

Of course, pundits will be analyzing the movies, music and TV of the decade to death. I've gotten a head start on that one, thinking about history and where it brought us in the first decade of the 21st century. I'll start with movies and TV. In the 1960s, both were in a sort of holding pattern. On TV, many of the top programs, from The Dick Van Dyke Show to The Beverly Hillbillies to Bewitched to I Dream Of Jeannie, were either holdovers from the previous decade, or shows that would not have been out of place on 1950s TV.

It wasn't until the 1970s that shows like All In The Family, Maude, Good Times, and later, Soap, revolutionized the genre and made us laugh while bringing contemporary issues -- racism, feminism, poverty, sexuality -- to the fore on TV for the first time. Something similar happened on the silver screen. Consider several Best Picture Oscar winners from the 1960s: The Apartment, West Side Story, My Fair Lady, The Sound Of Music, Oliver! A pretty impressive group of pictures, but like the most popular TV shows of that decade, many of them seem to belong to an earlier era; they wouldn't necessarily have been out of place onscreen in the 1950s.

By the end of the decade, 1969, to be exact, the Best Picture winner, Midnight Cowboy, heralded a new development that would revolutionize film in the following decade. The 1970s was the decade of the auteur, when Martin Scorcese (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver), Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather films), Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind) and George Lucas (Star Wars) changed filmmaking forever. The former two presaged the emergence of indie film, while the latter two foreshadowed the event movie, the modern blockbuster. Today, both styles of film, for better and for worse, dominate the screen format.


Music, however, followed a very different course. Unlike movies and TV, for music, the 1960s had very little in common with the 1950s. Music has always mirrored the times more closely than film and TV, and with the dominance of Civil Rights, Vietnam and the Cold War in the headlines, music reflected the global and social unrest of the time. Black power was on the rise, and so were Motown stars like The Supremes, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. The Summer of Love and psychedelic rock were reflections of counter-culture politics, which vehemently opposed the Vietnam War. And the British invasion could be seen as an indirect result of the U.S., for the first time since World War 2, really looking beyond its borders and seriously considering its place in the world.

Three steps forward, four steps back. As much as I love '70s music -- more so than the '80s music that most of my friends as well as Argentines obsess over -- it was a step in a different direction: backwards or sideways, however you want to look at it. But with the exception of disco, which combined the further advancement of blacks with the nascent gay movement, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, whose lyrical content began to look outward at a society on the brink of imploding, there was little that was controversial or revolutionary about much of the music from the 1970s. You say you want a revolution? Been there, done that, many of the top artists of the time seemed to be singing. From Elton John to the Bee Gees to Linda Ronstadt to the Eagles, '70s music was pure entertainment and would remain so until the rise of punk late in the decade.

Today, music, movies and TV are all alive and, well, kicking. I can take or leave (preferably leave) the sci-fi blockbusters and event movies that Lucas and Spielberg spawned, but the indie movement inspired by the Scorceses and Coppolas of the 1970s continue to elevate cinema to higher levels of artistic achievement. On TV, cable has injected new creativity into the format, putting it on an artistic level that rivals the best of film. As for music, well, for every throwaway, hopelessly commercial pop star (Britney, Gaga and Rihanna), there's an M.I.A., a Cat Power, a Yeah Yeah Yeahs crafting fresh, uncompromising music.

Right here, right now, there is no other place I'd want to be, but that doesn't make me any less excited about the future, eager to see where the next decade leads.
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