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Another important school of noncommercial filmmaking was the New American Cinema, a loosely knit group of artists who made experimental or underground movies in 16 mm on nonexistent budgets. These movies nevertheless profoundly influenced the language of cinema, in everything from MTV videos in the 1980s to television commercials, as well as the editorial and visual style seen in such televiperimental film was pioneered in the 1940s and 1950s by the independent filmmaker Maya Deren, whose Meshes of the Afternoon (co-director, Alexander Hammid, 1943) and Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946) first introduced audiences to an authentically American avant-garde filmic vision.

On a more commercial front, the boundaries were also being tested. Russ Meyer’s Vixen! (1968) pushed soft-core pornography to new extremes, while Roger Corman, who began the decade with a series of inventive horror films loosely based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, such as The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), ended the decade with socially conscious (and highly profitable) youth films such as The Wild Angels (1966), centering on the exploits of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang, featuring real members of the club as extras in the film, and The Trip (1967), the first Hollywood film to seriously explore the use of LSD.

The documentary film that set the pace for the new decade was Primary (1960), which covered the 1960 U.S. presidential race, made by four men who would become the key players of the new, handheld, sync-sound documentary tradition: Albert Maysles, Robert Drew, D. A. Pennebaker, and Richard Leacock. Working as Drew Associates, the four created a new style of documentary production that simply observed their subjects with an almost constantly running camera, following them everywhere. The key principle was not to interfere, to keep shooting even when things got dull (you never knew what might happen next), and to stay with your subject all the time for total emotional and physical intimacy. In addition, there was no narration, and the resulting films had a rough, raw look, which made them seem like newsreels more than anything else. This new method of cinéma vérité, known as “direct cinema” in Britain, became the dominant documentary style of the 1960s, films that were unvarnished reports of events rather than interpretations of them.

Another interesting aspect of Psycho was Hitchcock’s insistence to exhibitors that absolutely no one be admitted to the theater after the film had begun. By exerting this degree of control over his audience, Hitchcock managed to dictate not only every aspect of the film itself, but also the conditions under which it was viewed. Finally, Psycho marked, in a very important sense, the beginning of the end for the Motion Picture Production Code. Contemporary audiences are by now accustomed to the current rating system of G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17 to classify the content of a film; when Psycho came out in 1960, the Production Code was theoretically still intact, all films were subject to the code in a supposedly uniform manner, and films were not individually rated. Many traditional reviewers, accustomed to Hitchcock’s intricately plotted thrillers of an earlier era, reacted violently to the film, dismissing it as a cheap shocker of no distinction. But younger audiences embraced the film for its visual daring, its unexpected plot twists, and the brutality of its mise-en-scène.

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In Italy, Federico Fellini made his first color film, the beautiful Giulietta degli spiriti (Juliet of the Spirits, 1965), again starring his wife, Giulietta Masina, this time as a woman who is alone and unloved in her marriage while her husband is off having an affair. Juliet of the Spirits is deeply sympathetic to the powerlessness of women in 1960s Italian society, but perhaps for this reason it was not well received critically or commercially and failed to make Giulietta Masina (right), as Juliet, comes to terms with her fantasies in Federico Fellini’s back production costs, nearly bankrupting its producer. 



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