Friday, February 22, 2013

Berkeley in the Sixties

I've seen this excellent documentary half-a-dozen times, I suppose, but never watched it more intently, more intimately, than today on the Fire. It's the antidote to the bulshit pop culture view of the era, a documentary driven by the articulate, smart and fair recollections of the political activists being interviewed. Everything good about the sixties is here, and so too the fantasies and conflicts that compromised the movements' better angels. This is what good documentary filmmaking is all about.

I used my admiration of the film in my novel Sodom, Gomorrah & Jones.

Nostalgia, 1990

A NEW DOCUMENTARY film, Berkeley in the Sixties, opened for one night only at the campus theater. CJ and Helen arrived early, expecting a crowd, but found themselves taking seats in a half-full movie house. Most of the audience were their colleagues at the university.
The documentary affected CJ strongly and early. He was not expecting this. On screen Joan Baez was singing to a group gathered around her, many sitting on the ground at a building on campus, Berkeley students who were part of the Free Speech Movement in 1964, and as Baez sang, “all my sorrows, soon forgotten,” students sang along, such expressions of innocence and hope on their determined young faces, “all my sorrows, soon forgotten” and Baez's angelic voice rising to heaven itself, and CJ couldn't help himself, he started softly weeping.
Helen leaned close and whispered, “Are you all right?”
All my sorrows, soon forgotten.
CJ excused himself and went to the men's room. Looking in the mirror, he experienced a moment of shock when he saw himself as an old man, not all that far away now. His best years were behind him.
When he returned to his seat, Helen took his hand and kissed him on the cheek. They watched the rest of the film in silence.
In the lobby after the film, they ran into George and Mary, colleagues in history.
“Boy, that brought back memories,” said George. “Those were the days, hey?”
Mary added, “Would you like to join us for a drink?”
“I'm under the weather,” CJ said quickly.
Helen drove home. Before they arrived, CJ said, “It was a good film. It captured the moment pretty accurately.”
“I thought so.”
That was the end of their discussion of Berkeley in the Sixties.
A few years later CJ was renting a video cassette when he ran across Berkeley in the Sixties on the shelf. In a yellow circle on the box cover was a blurb from the New York Times: “A potent blast from the past!”
“Jesus Christ,” CJ muttered under his breath. The sixties had joined the ranks of panty raids and eating goldfish.


Pip said...

March '68: My big brother was shot out of the skies over Hanoi. I remember my sister's haunted embrace upon learning the news. I can still see the freckles on her shoulders.

Charles Deemer said...

Tragic ... moreso because we learned nothing and continue misguided wars in the Middle East ... but today there are few who care enough to protest.