Hippie Modernism, huh? Even the most nostalgia-besotted Baby Boomer must be thoroughly sick of the relentless procession of Sixties and Seventies rehashes (movies, museum exhibitions, cable TV shows, magazine feature stories, etc.) devoted to all things “counter-cultural” from the third quarter of the century before this one. How many more flower children, Vietnam War protests, crash-pad reminiscences, and photos of Jerry Garcia can we be expected to respond to, each and every time, like a dog who eats his owners’ leftovers every day and reliably salivates at the prospect?
And yet. There’s a show opening this week at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive that looks potentially worthwhile. Tantalizingly titled Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia, the traveling art omnibus — organized by Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center and running from February 7 through May 21 at BAMPFA — ambitiously aims to put the hippie thing into an iron-clad cultural context of media installations and “immersive environments” (wow, man, far out) from which it can never again escape. We’re all for that. Plus, there’s a healthy film component to the show as well.
Now we can finally get a peek at the trippy-dippy midnight movies we’ve heard about but never quite got around to seeing. Like D.A. Pennebaker’s groundbreaking Monterey Pop, with classic performances by Jimi Hendrix, the Who, and Otis Redding, and Pennebaker’s mesmerizing montage of the assembled crowd. It happens tonight (Wednesday, February 8, 7 p.m.), preceded by Agnès Varda’s 1969 doc Black Panthers. Or how about Haskell Wexler’s unique melding of socially conscious narrative and documentary, Medium Cool, shot truly “against the background of” the disastrous 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention and its police riot on the streets? It screens Saturday and Sunday, February 11-12.
Fans of the Rolling Stones may thrill to the two finest docs ever made about the band. Jean-Luc Godard’s Sympathy for the Devil (1968) has priceless inside-the-studio footage showing Jagger, Richards, and company laying down tracks, alternated with Godard-ian political tableaux, including a segment with Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver. Gimme Shelter, a cinema-véritè masterpiece by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, details how the Stones’ 1969 U.S. tour dead-ended at the sinister free concert in Altamont, where hippies met Hells Angels and the hippies blinked. Sympathy plays February 18; Gimme Shelter, February 19.
Rock festivals and student deferments are one thing, but the business of a criminal war of aggression against a determined national liberation insurgency is quite another. Emile de Antonio’s In the Year of the Pig takes us there, in a lacerating documentary indictment of the American adventure in Vietnam, with the original cast. Modern-day anti-war docs are positively anemic compared to de Antonio’s outraged rundown of the skullduggery behind the involvement of the US military-industrial complex, with its emphasis on “containing communism” at any cost. Only “pigs” will be offended when it shows on February 15. Also on tap: Francisco Newman’s 1970 doc Stagger Lee, a jailhouse interview with Panther Bobby Seale, March 4.
The series continues with films by Michelangelo Antonioni, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Howard Alk, among others, and a full slate of museum displays and lectures. April 21 witnesses the world premiere of the restored 16mm print of Steven Arnold’s San Francisco-produced ambisexual stream-of-consciousness pastiche, Luminous Procuress (1971), starring the performance group The Cockettes. Imagine an amalgam of the Kuchar brothers, Kenneth Anger, Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr, the Brothers Quay, and any Seventies porno reel. Arnold’s meandering psychedelia led one YouTube commenter to note: “I bet they used more acid in this movie, from the writer to the janitor, than a Grateful Dead concert.” A fitting exclamation point for the traveling hippie extravaganza (BAMPFA.berkeley.edu).