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In honor of ‘Last Night in Soho’: Let’s revisit the Swinging 60s on film


Country singer Roger Moore proclaimed in his 1965 blockbuster hit that “England Swings.” And swing it did in the 1960s. First was the British Invasion which saw the domination of such English performers as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Animals, The Dave Clark 5 and Petula Clark on American pop charts.

Music wasn’t the only cultural influence of swinging London. Everyone wanted to look like they had bought their clothes on the trendy and mod London Carnaby Street. Miniskirts, Courreges boots, Mary Quant cosmetics, newsboy caps and granny glasses became just as popular in the U.S. as they were in England.

And the British film industry went through a Renaissance with the rise of such directors as Tony Richardson, John Boorman, Peter Yates, John Schlesinger and Richard Lester, who was actually from the U.S., exciting new talent such as Julie Christie, Rita Tushingham, Terence Stamp, Michael Caine, Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave and Diana Rigg who embodied the free-spiritedness and smashingly good time of the era.

Three of those icons of British cinema — the late Rigg, Tushingham and Stamp — appear in Edgar Wright’s psychological horror flick “Last Night in Soho,” starring Thomasin McKenzie as a young fashion designer studying in England who is obsessed with the swinging London of the 1960. One night, she dreams of traveling back to the era where she encounters a young woman (Anya Taylor-Joy) who wants to become a singer.

There are many classic films from that era including Lester’s Beatles films — 1964’s “A Hard Day’s Night” and 1965’s “Help! — and Schlesinger’s 1965 “Darling!,” for which Christie won the Oscar; some of the most influential and daring productions were released in 1966. In fact, Stamp starred in the kitschy comic book film from that year “Modesty Blaise,” Tushingham appeared in “The Trap” and Rigg was become fashion and coolness icon as secret agent Emma Peel in the hit TV series, “The Avengers.”

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Here are four of the top Brit hits of 1966:

“Alfie”
What’s it all about, Alfie? The Swinging ‘60s may have been rad, but the era also had a dark, self-centered side as embodied by Caine in this classic comedy-drama adapted by Bill Naughton from his play. Caine had been in movies, theater and TV since the late 1950s, but didn’t start to gain international attention until the 1964 war action-adventure  “Zulu” and as well as the superb 1965 spy flick, ‘The Ipcress File.” But it was “Alfie” that put him on the cinematic mat. He was perfectly cast as a self-centered young cad, who seduces many women while casting them aside like yesterday’s trash. (Stamp had starred on Broadway in Naughton’s play in 1964-65 where it only ran 21 performances.)

“Alfie” was one of several films of the year that challenged the production code and in fact was the first film in the U.S. to be released with the “suggested for mature audiences” rating. The box office hit was nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress for Vivien Merchant, who was heartbreaking as one of Alfie’s one-night stands who has an illegal abortion, and for Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s title song. Though Dionne Warwick hit the charts with her cover, it was Cher who introduced the tune in the film.

“Blow-Up”
Award-winning Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni (“La Notte,” “L’Avventura,” “Red Desert”) made his first foray into the English-language world with this mod, stylish and cryptic murder-mystery. Red-hot actor David Hemmings played a cooler than cool London fashion photographer who believes he has captured in a photo a murder in the park during a shoot. The film also stars such up-and-coming actresses including Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, Jane Birkin, as well as supermodel Veruschka.

Jazz artist Herbie Hancock supplied the unique score.  And just as “Alfie” it ran into problems with the MPAA because of its then daring sexual content. The Catholic Church even condemned it. Still, it became a hit both critically and commercially “Blow-Up” was nominated for two Oscars — director and screenplay — Antonioni won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and the film and the director won the top prize from the National Society of Film Critics. And the film has influenced several filmmakers most notably Brian DePalma with his 1981 mystery “Blow Out.”

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“Georgy Girl”
Lynn Redgrave and her big sister Vanessa were the toast of cinema in 1966. The younger Redgrave, who had appeared in the 1963 Oscar-winning “Tom Jones,” shines in this comedy-drama based on the 1965 novel by Margaret Forster. She plays a naïve, virginal, plump young woman living in groovy London where she finds herself being wooed by a much older man (James Mason) and her former roommate’s (Charlotte Rampling) husband (Alan Bates).

The ad-line for the movie was the tantalizing: “This is Georgy Girl. This is Georgy Girl’s roommate. This is Georgy Girl’s roommate roommate.” The film earned four Oscar nominations: Best Actress for Redgrave, Supporting Actor for Mason, black-and-white cinematography and for the catchy title tune penned by Tom Springfield and actor Jim Dale. Redgrave also won the New York Film Critics Circle Best Actress and the Golden Globe.

“Morgan!”
Vanessa Redgrave found herself in competition with her baby sister Lynn for at the Oscars for this quirky comedy-drama directed by Karel Reisz and adapted by David Mercer from his 1962 TV play “A Suitable Case for Treatment,” Redgrave plays an upper-class Londoner in getting a divorce from her failed artist husband (David Warner) who was raised as a Communist by his parents. Though she is divorcing him, Redgrave’s Leonie still harbors feelings for him. Especially when their marital problems cause him to descend into madness especially in his increasingly outlandish attempts to win her back before she married her fiancée, a stiff-upper-lipped art gallery owner (Robert Stephens).

Not only did she earn her first Oscar nominations, Redgrave also won Best Actress at Cannes. (Both Redgraves lost the Oscar to Elizabeth Taylor for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”) And “Morgan” changed the life of actress Morgan Fairchild; born Patsy Ann, she took her new name from Warner’s character in the classic.

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