How I learned to dig the Sixties

As kids, we grow up with the relics of our parents’ generation. In the background of my Eighties childhood were The Beatles and The Rolling Stones on the radio, with repeats of Batman and Get Smart on TV. A much older cousin gave me a stack of vintage MAD magazines full of jokes about hippies and Timothy Leary. Even when I didn’t get it, I absorbed it all.

Coming of age in the Nineties, the connections became more explicit. My favourite bands embraced the past, dropping cool references in their music videos and pointing me towards relics worth uncovering. Suddenly the past wasn’t just the olden days when my parents were kids. There was plenty there for me too, and I started to discover my own favourites. I would dig through video stores and record shops for cult films, TV shows and albums, desperate to fill the gaps in my self-education.

The defining moment came at a midnight session at the Carlton Moviehouse, an old single screen theatre which showed arthouse films and has long since been replaced by another café. The film was A Clockwork Orange and it was the Holy Grail of my must-see list, with even its director obstructing me from seeing it.

On finally seeing the film, it was inconceivable that A Clockwork Orange had been recommended to me in the same Greatest Films lists that included Charlie Chaplin and Gone with the Wind. Even 25 years after its initial release, every element was startlingly inventive and provocative, from the costumes, sets and music to the lens choices and use of fast- and slow-motion. To top it off, the story was wickedly subversive, suggesting that even good and evil might not be as clear cut as we like to think.

That screening crystallized my tastes in movies, music, television, books and everything else since. I wanted to find that kind of flair and daring wherever I could, and the era of the late Sixties and early Seventies was my epicentre. The artefacts I’ve found there have their own predecessors and descendants, but there is a spirit of defiance and inventiveness in them that resounds still. They might be subtle or brash, profound or shallow, but they continue to both challenge and colour my view of the world. I continue to dig.

Trailer for A Clockwork Orange (1971), directed by Stanley Kubrick.

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