1968: A Cinema Odyssey
While Goatdog and Nathaniel and I are tip-tapping away privately on the next Best Pictures... installment, this one about 1937’s The Life of William Shakespeare and 1998’s Zola in Love (or something like that), I find myself invited into another, shorter-term project in cinephiliac listmaking and the fetishization of chronology. My gracious host in this case? None other than Encyclopedia Britannica, which has asked best-selling author, film historian, and James Bond expert Raymond Benson to craft a list of the Top Films of 1968, to be unspooled day-by-day over the next two weeks. EB invited a few other writers, including yours truly, to serve as formal commentators on Raymond’s entries. The list has not been revealed to we merry band of respondents, so I have no idea whether Raymond’s thinking will veer toward the iconic (2001? Rosemary’s Baby? Planet of the Apes) or the popular (The Green Berets? The Thomas Crown Affair?) or the boundary-pushing (Flesh? Teorema? The Killing of Sister George?), or how far he’ll leap out of the feature-narrative box (Monterey Pop? The Horseman, the Woman, and the Moth? Winnie-the-Pooh and the Blustery Day?). Ought to be a lively occasion, and I hope you all will read, comment, and enter the prize contest for the first movie fan to successfully predict Raymond’s top choice.
Meanwhile, a note to my teenage readers. Back in 1906, when I was in elementary school, and I didn’t know a single person who owned a home computersomething like the offspring of a typewriter, a TV, and a milk crate, with lime-green text radiating from a dark screenEncyclopedia Britannica was part of a Fantastic Four with Collier’s Encyclopedia, the yearly World Almanac, and the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature as my favorite tools and, frankly, my favorite toys. Even for those of us who were there: remember what it was like to have a factual or historical question and look it up in a book, which sometimes meant not knowing the answer until the next day or the next weekend when you could get to a library? And remember what it was like to flip through all the adjacent, "unrelated" information on the way to what you were looking for? I hated "SHAKESPEARE, William" for much of my childhood because I always had to flip through so many pages and catalogue cards to get to the "SHARKS"... although, obviously, some seed of curiosity was planted.
I am not so luddite as to pine for the days before the internet, and obviously Encyclopedia Britannica has changed shape and kept up with the times just like everyone else: I don't mean to fossilize my image of it or yours into its old, strictly leather-bound image. But as excited as I am to accept this invitation to write for them, I cannot help thinking of my 7- and 8-year-old self, who would have literally flipped a switch over this opportunity. This would have felt like a direct solicitation to the White House or, better, Oz, or, better than that, the Hundred-Acre Wood. Yes, in my mind, the analogy and the connection would have made absolute sense. So thanks, Encyclopedia Britannica, on behalf of myself and my inner child, and let’s move onward and backward to 1968! The door is now open for early statements of your own favorites...