Like their previous DVD release, The Sensational Seventies (please click here to read that review), MPI's four-disc, ten-hour documentary The Fabulous Sixties is a kaleidoscopic trip through the most tumultuous decade of the 20th century. Produced by the same team of Canadian filmmakers who made The Sensational Seventies, The Fabulous Sixties, produced in 1970 for Canadian TV, again utilizes old newsreel footage linked by narration (this time by Peter Jennings), to give a year-by-year look at the tempestuous 1960s.
Nothing beats newsreel footage for getting a sense of what a particular time or period looked like; that's what I really like about both of these documentaries from executive producers Philip S. Hobel and Douglas Leiterman. You get a true view of what people looked liked, how they dressed, how they sounded, and of course, what they thought and felt, when you see these old newsreels. It's particularly valuable that the decade covered, the 1960s, was before many people became so blase, and rehearsed, around film cameras. And make no mistake: the original source material is film footage, not video. It's grainy, it's washed out, it's scratched up, with often times marginal sound. But those visual anomalies add an indefinable nostalgia and verisimilitude to The Fabulous Sixties that makes it just as much a product of its time, as the subjects it explores.
And naturally, it covers its subjects in a subjective way. Like many documentaries do (but they're loathe to admit it), footage may not strictly be from the time period being discussed (Perry Mason co-star Bill Talman's famous anti-smoking commercial was filmed in 1967, but it's inserted here for 1963). More troubling, there's a definite overshadow of doom and gloom to The Fabulous Sixties's script, a sense of foreboding that wasn't present in The Sensational Seventies. One may make the case that the 1960s were a far more chaotic, violent decade than the 1970s, and therefore the darker mood of The Fabulous Sixties is justified. That may be true, and lighter moments (the miniskirt, athletic events, world fairs) are profiled to balance the segments. But there's no denying there are certain strains of condemnation towards western society in general in The Fabulous Sixties's script, a hectoring return, again and again, to the "waste" and "consumerism" and "violence-loving" of the West, that eventually gets a little annoying ("The American gross national product has never been grosser."). As well, obvious favorites of the producers are given kid gloves treatment (most notably, the Kennedys), while other subjects are subjected to a mocking tone (religion, what else?), which further slants the viewpoint of the piece. But that's to be expected with most documentaries, regardless of their claims of objectivity. Ultimately, it's the footage that counts; it really doesn't matter how it's linked - you can judge for yourself the importance of each selection, and filter out the dogma. That's more than half the fun with a collage documentary like this, and The Fabulous Sixties is most definitely an entertaining, enlightening trip back to the 1960s.
Here are the yearly highlights for the four-disc, ten episode documentary, The Fabulous Sixties:
1960: Be a Man -- Sell Out
End of the Eisenhower Era, Charles Van Down and the quiz scandals, Francis Gary Powers and the U-2, U.S./Russian summit, Albert Camas and Carl Chessman die, racism in America, new African nations, marriage in America, Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon, movie stars, Pop Art, anti-nuke protests, beginnings of the peace movement, JFK's election.
1961: Victory Has A Hundred Fathers...
JFK's trip to Europe and Canada, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra, Brigitte Bardot, the space race, Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard, JFK and Khrushchev's summit, the Berlin Wall, Eichmann is hanged, the civil rights Freedom Riders, Castro visits the U.S., Che Guevara, the Bay of Pigs, Daj Hammerskjold of the U.N..
1962: Morality and Brinkmanship
Strippers, Winston Churchill is 88, JFK vs. Big Steel, Jackie Kennedy in Asia, Jamaican independence, racism in England, Malcolm X, drive-in churches, Sunday school, the Pill, Thalidomide babies, fallout shelters, the Cuban missile crisis, Seattle's World Fair, John Glenn, Marilyn Monroe dies.
1963: End of a Thousand Days
Smoking, health clubs, surfing, Hugh Hefner, swinging London, Profumo scandal, Pop Art and Andy Warhol, Birmingham and the civil rights movement, England's Great Train Robbery, Pope Paul VI, unrest in Latin America, the Peace Corps, Vietnam begins for America, Diem's assassination, radioactive fallout, JFK assassination.
1964: From Liverpool with Love
The Beatles, Hello Dolly! on Broadway, Marshall McLuhan, comedians, Vietnam escalates, Chairman Mao, Khrushchev overthrown, Nehru dies, Martin Luther King wins Nobel Prize, white college students train as civil rights fighters, Carol Doda: topless dancer, Cassius Clay, Peru soccer massacre, the Panama Canal, the Alaskan earthquake, LBJ vs. Barry Goldwater.
1965: (no title)
Drugs, Selma and the civil rights movement, astronaut space walks, Pope Paul VI visits America, Albert Schweitzer and Winston Churchill die, the miniskirt, Salvador Dali's "happenings," LBJ's "Great Society," the Dominican Republic crisis, Ed Murrow, Malcolm X, and Nat King Cole die, summer race riots, Vietnam further escalates.
1966: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Violence
Gun violence, the Boston Strangler, the Warren Commission, Twiggy, Ralph Nader, co-op and retirement communities, credit cards, bottomless dancing, pornography goes mainstream, Billy Graham, The Beatles claim they're more popular than God, the Age of Aquarius dawns, the California grape pickers strike, Ronald Reagan as California's governor, racial segregation, Indonesia violence, Mao's Great Cultural Revolution, Vietnam boils, Joan Baez rejects violence of peace demonstrations.
1967: Love is in the Air...
Haight-Ashbury and the hippies, Jackie Kennedy in Cambodia, Greek independence, Montreal Expo, Russia's 50th birthday party for Communism, space race deaths, daredevil sports, World Series, the Pan-Am Games, America's Cup, Bobby Kennedy defends U.S. involvement in Vietnam, counter protestors against Vietnam protestors, riots and black violence, Che Guevara dead, Camp Art, the Six Days War.
1968: Up Against the Wall
New York City garbage strike, jogging, heart transplants, Tiny Tim, Dr. Spock, Julie Nixon's marriage, Jackie Kennedy is now Jackie O, USS Pueblo, Columbia University riots, Paris riots, Czech repression, the World Series, auto racing, Martin Luther King killed, the Tet Offensive, LBJ is out, RFK killed, the Chicago Democratic convention.
1969: The Eagle Has Landed
Woodstock, Moratorium on the war, John and Yoko, Prince Charles, squatters, Art Linkletter, Mets win the World Series, Joe Namath, Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick, Hollywood, population explosion, Ike dies, Japan riots, Apollo 11 and Neil Armstrong
The full frame DVD transfer is okay, but the original source materials are rough, so don't expect Star Wars.
The English mono soundtrack is adequate for the presentation.
There are no extras for The Fabulous Sixties.
The four-disc, ten-hour 1970 Canadian TV documentary The Fabulous Sixties is a fantastic trip back to the 20th century's most turbulent decade. Through grainy, scratchy archival newsreels -- and some questionable narration by Peter Jennings -- we get an entertaining, kaleidoscopic view of that chaotic decade. I recommend The Fabulous Sixties.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.