Thursday, December 27, 2012

203. REVOLUTION (1968)

I'm a dedicated collector of films about the Haight-Ashbury scene in San Francisco during the 1967 "Summer of Love," but this one somehow escaped me till now. There was a soundtrack album issued, which I've also never heard, featuring tracks by Country Joe and the Fish (maybe this is how some of the kids at Woodstock learned the words to "The I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag"), Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Steve Miller Band and Mother Earth (an all-woman band that subsequently adopted the name Ace of Cups), all of whom are shown performing live in one of the area's famous ballrooms, bombarded by the whirling blobbing projections of Glenn MacKay's Headlights, but the bulk of the film is not about the local music scene. Rather, it's about this new generation of creative, colorfil, experimental, philosophy-minded, free-loving kids and what they are likely to do with the world they're about to inherit. Fair, if not equal time, is given to the more adult, conservative element, who express fear and/or piqued curiosity, while one nun attending some sort of unidentified outdoor gathering compares the life she has chosen -- changing her name, donning special garb, dedicating her life to love and spirituality -- to those of many hippie girls she has met.

The footage is credited to a dozen or more independent documentarists, but the film was organized by director Jack O'Connell and sold to Lopert Pictures, which means it's now one of the neglected vault holdings of Metro Goldwyn Mayer. While the film is understandably unfocused, it does appear to occupy that short period of time before experimentation led to addiction for so many and before the area became overrun, trampled down and commercialized. We meet the managers and habitu├ęs of a free store, a coffee shop (more of a meeting place, taken to task by some broke kids objecting to their introduction of a 50-cent cover charge), an India goods store, a free clinic, etc -- that were experimenting with more socialized and aware approaches to business. If you look close, you can spot people like Daria Halprin (ZABRISKIE POINT), Dan Hicks and (I think) Marty Balin flashing by in the colorful scenery, but the film's protagonist, if any, is a personality among the common folk -- a hippie girl who, to remind herself of the opportunities that come with each day, has adopted the name "Today" Malone. The film shows her at the beach, visiting friends, selling underground papers, tripping and walking against a tide of other rubberneckers asking for spare change. (Haven't heard that phrase in awhile.) For a 1968 film preceding the arrival of the MPAA ratings system, there is also a surprising amount for frontal nudity by men and women, particularly during a choreographed performance art piece staged under the aforementioned Headlights light show and fraught with beautiful bodies.

REVOLUTION appears at first to be very locked into its own time, but there is more here than an opportunity to mock yesterday's quixotic values. In the clips it assembles of conservative and fence-sitting adults, in medical and religious spokespeople spreading fear and (sometimes worse) concern, and also in its proliferating pot use, it's surprising how much of this time mirrors tendencies stirring in our own. I find this somewhat reassuring, because it suggests, as this country becomes more disenchanted with the failure of capitalism, that another renaissance time like this may not be entirely impossible and might even work out better the next time. I miss hippie girls.

Viewed on Netflix.

1 comment:

  1. Tim: I taped this film off one of the Encore channels years ago and have yet to watch it, but I've been listening to its great soundtrack album for decades. For the record, the only woman in Mother Earth was its phenomenal lead singer, Tracy Nelson. - Bob Deveau

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