The 1960s was known as a time of social revolution and counterculture. It was a time when irresponsible excess, radicalism, and subversive events became pop culture trends. From political changes to flamboyant means of self-expression, it became an era of cultural and political boldness and aggression. These developments were reflected in the period's diverse themes and stories for many films, including controversial documentaries that experienced some sensational attacks, explicit criticisms, and bans during their releases.
"Titicut Follies" (1967)
"Titicut Follies" is an expose of the cruel treatment of the patients at a state mental hospital in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. It provides a no-holds-barred look at inmates suffering in unlit cells, being force-fed and stripped naked in public, and being bullied by institution staff. Using home movie style filming to show sights of human life made cheap and betrayed, it takes viewers inside the graphic horrors of how people get trapped in their madness.
This disturbing documentary is notable for being a rare film banned from release for reasons outside of obscenity or national security. The Massachusetts government sued the filmmakers, and the court banned the film for being an invasion of inmate privacy. After decades of being subjected to worldwide bans, this film's impact has not diminished in time. After watching "Titicut Follies," most people would probably find it hard to shake off the shockingly overwhelming and horrible conditions of the people locked up and abused inside the asylum.
"Mondo Cane" (1962)
"Mondo Cane," by filmmakers Paolo Cavara, Franco E. Prosperi, and Gualtiero Jacopetti, caused a stir during its release. This exploitation documentary showcases a series of unrelated clips showing strange customs and ritual practices in different parts of the world, including savage and barbaric acts, nudity, and weird erotic practices in the eyes of the modern people of the West. It has an undercurrent of racism in its tone and the way the filmmakers strategically place the camera to record gratuitous and shocking scenes.
The manipulative shockumentary treatment of this pioneering mondo film received attacks from conservative groups and individuals because of its disturbingly dim view of humanity and racism. Ironically, it piqued the interest of the Cannes Film Festival, where it was nominated for the prestigious Palme D'Or Award. "Mondo Cane" also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.
"I Am Curious (Yellow)" (1967)
"I Am Curious (Yellow)" by Vilgot Sjoman is a Swedish film that revolves around the story of a female sociologist working on a sex survey. It features a woman who is at a stage when she is interested in learning and experimenting more about life, particularly when it comes to relationships, activism, and meditation. This leads her to detailed explorations of controversial politics and explicit sex.
Blending striking documentary with fictional footage, "Yellow" became a huge scandal in Sweden and even in the United States because of its frontal nudity, liberated sexual play, staged sex scenes, and frank portrayal of very sensitive sexual issues. Some U.S. states considered it obscene or pornographic, which resulted to debates on whether it should be banned or not.
"Primary" features John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey participating in the 1960 Wisconsin Primary for the Democratic nominee for president. This cinema verite feature from Robert Drew utilizes mobile cameras and other production equipment available during those times to follow the candidates on the road. The shots allow the audience to intimately see Kennedy and Humphrey prepare for speeches, interact with cheering crowds, and wait for polling results. In 1990, this film was chosen for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.
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