Saturday, 27 December 2008

Why 1958 changed our lives

By Elisabeth Field

Published: December 27 2008 01:39 | Last updated: December 27 2008 01:39

In the 1990s Bob Dylan proclaimed we were “still living off the table scraps of the sixties”. Those scraps are still providing rich pickings, as this year’s abundance of 1968-themed exhibitions and TV programmes attest. The 1960s – and 1968 in particular – are fêted as the birthplace of today’s fluid, permissive, multicultural society. But the blueprint for that era, and our own, was already being drawn 10 years earlier. In plays, books and the films adapted from those books, 1958 was the year of wonders on both sides of the Atlantic. Taboos were challenged and preconceptions smashed, while art forms evolved in startling new ways. This year’s anniversary production at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, of Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party, a product of 1958, is just one reminder.

The poster for Stanley Kubrick’s film of ‘Lolita’, based on Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, which was published in New York in 1958
Some of the most significant films of the 1960s had their genesis in the previous decade. In 1958 Lolita arrived on American bookshelves after three years in exile at Paris’s Olympia Press, banned for its explicitly sexualised underage heroine. It joined Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote’s newly published novella of the same year, featuring Holly Golightly, a waif with questionable morals. The film versions of each appeared a few years later, in 1962 and 1961 respectively. In 1958, too, Boris Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago was enjoying some of the 26 weeks it would spend at the top of the New York Times bestseller list; the film version of 1965 would propel its star Julie Christie on her way to becoming an icon of the 60s... [© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.]

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