The Sixties: A Film History of America's Decade of Crisis and Change

The decade of the 1960s was the most turbulent, perhaps the most memorable, and no doubt the most controversial in the twentieth century. The debate over its legacy has by no means been resolved; it continues to generate emotional reactions, an extraordinary mix of memories, and a wide range of interpretations as to its origins, content and consequences.

Format: VHS

Most observers agree that the seeds of the sixties were planted in the conformist soil of the postwar period. Many of the events and nascent movements of the 1950s helped set the stage for what followed, particularly the United States' deepening foreign involvements, the growing tensions over civil rights, and the cultural stirrings that found expression in rock and roll and the Beat movement.

As the sixties progressed, causes for rebellion increased, shattering what remained of the consensus and complacency of the postwar era. At times, the very survival of American society seemed threatened, not as in the previous decade from nuclear holocaust, but from the violent disaffection of segments of America's own population. The scenes remain vivid in the collective memory - the horrifying succession of assassinations, urban rioting, masked police in fogs of tear gas, campus buildings under siege, masses of sprawling youth at rock festivals, and the haunted faces of the Vietnam war, soldiers and civilians alike. The United States appeared to be experiencing a massive breakdown, a breakdown of faith in its ideals, its institutions and its prospects.

The ongoing stream of memoirs, novels, films, and songs depicting the decade attests to its continuing importance and the grip it still retains on the national imagination. The events of the time were so dramatic, the moral commitments so compelling and far-reaching that they still engage us, although interpretation of them shifts over time.

Clearly, Americans experienced the decade in strikingly different ways. The majority of students and the vast majority of Americans did not engage in protest, and many were offended by the rhetoric and actions of the activists. The sixties, moreover, fell far short of becoming the total political and spiritual revolution some believed it to be. But the explosion of creative energy that defined the decade was more than an adolescent outburst or an orgy of permissiveness. It was a clarion call to change. Whatever its failings, the sixties remains a remarkable moment in the history of American reform, and its impact persists. The decade opened up a range of experience and a new skepticism about the nation's leaders and institutions; it also encouraged new attitudes toward race, sex, gender roles, bureaucracy, and the physical environment - issues which continue to challenge us forty-five years later.

Session 1: The Politics of Reform

Films. 1960-1964: Poisoned Dreams from The Century and LBJ, Excerpts

Session 2: Freedom Bound: The Struggle for Civil Rights

Film. Freedom On My Mind

Session 3: Vietnam: The Lengthening Shadow

Films. LBJ, Excerpts and Vietnam: A Television History

Session 4: The Counterculture

Film. Making Sense of the Sixties, Episode 3, Breaking Boundaries

Session 5: The War At Home

Film: Making Sense of the Sixties, Episode 4, In a Dark Time

Session 6: 1968: Rage And Reaction

Film: Nixon