Friday, January 09, 2009

Berkeley in the Sixties

Berkeley in the Sixties (Mark Kitchell, 1990) [6]

While it may be well-researched and informative of a certain era, Berkeley in the Sixties smacks of so much self-centered smugness that it's hard for anyone to really appreciate what these people did. And this is from someone who while not born till much later, has a strong affinity for the political and social ideas of the 1960s counterculture. The interview subjects range from pragmatic and critical to those who are blowing hyper-inflated nostalgia out of their asses. It's these type of people that make others think of baby boomers as self-absorbed and entitled. That shouldn't cloud the fact that what went on at Cal in the 1960s is important in American history. There's no denying that Berkeley was one of the main hubs of radical and countercultural activity in the 60s but there were plenty of other universities that cultivated the same movements and ideas. Yet some of those interviewed take the view that what they were doing in Berkeley is somehow more special than what was happening at other places. For all its pomposity, the film still does a good job of explaining the origins of what became the student movement and how the anti HUAC and Free Speech movements at Berkeley were catalysts for greater things throughout the decade. What did occur at Berkeley offers a nice little window into the greater issue of what the counterculture and student movement wanted and what little they gained. The one thing that can be said about the people involved is at least they felt it was important enough to become engaged, something that is all too lacking in young people today (myself partially included).

2 comments:

Richard Beban said...

"The interview subjects range from pragmatic and critical to those who are blowing hyper-inflated nostalgia out of their asses. It's these type of people that make others think of baby boomers as self-absorbed and entitled. That shouldn't cloud the fact that what went on at Cal in the 1960s is important in American history."

It DOESN'T cloud the fact. There are blowhards and egoists in every movement, and there's no larger share of them represented in this ESSENTIAL historical film than in any other.

The great thing this film gets right was how transformative the events in Berkeley were, and how many of the activists portrayed are STILL community organizers, teachers, local elected officials, etc. Their ideals were forged in this crucible, and they continue to successfully live them.

GOOGLE Michael Rossman, for example, who unfortunately died last year of cancer, to find how he became a respected teacher, political commentator, and put together, as a hobby, one of the great collections of political posters in the world.

Or Jackie Goldberg, now a lesbian activist, who served as a Los Angeles city councilwoman, and in the California State Assembly.

Or Susan Griffin, or Robert Scheer, or Bettina Aptheker, or any of the other "featured" folks.

I think Kitchell did a remarkable job of capturing an era, giving it its historical due, keeping it locally oriented (It's called BERKELEY IN THE SIXTIES; not Columbia, or NYU or Michigan State, or UCLA), and showing how the ideals and ideas are still relevant to activists of your generation, too.

A few blowhards, so what? I lived in the area and participated in some of the events, and may be a blowhard myself. I give it a 10.

(Public disclosure; I first saw and loved the film in 1992, well before I met, then married, Mark Kitchell's cousin. Call it serendipity.)

mescking said...

Perhaps I should try to explain what I mean a little better. I personally agree with most of what these people stood for and still stand for. My issues stem more from their filmic representation more than anything from an idealogical standpoint. It is my view that the film mythologizes and diefies too easily.All of this creates an opportunity for viewers of a different political persuasion to form a basis of attack based on superficial means such as smugness or nostalgia.

I would have much rather preferred to have been a child of the 60s rather than of the 90s/today where political and social apathy is the norm. I admire the accomplishments of those portrayed/interviewed in the film and would still recommend the film to anyone interested in viewing it.

I also want to thank Richard. This site has operated in obscurity for over two years and your comment was the first real serious critique/rebuttal I have gotten. It's nice to know you took the time to propose a discussion.

Anthony