Hi Fans, couldn’t pass this up. Scott reminds us all of the spirit of the 60’s and the use of film as a form of poetic dialogue that spoke to a generations and enabled “meet ups” all over the world before there was an Internet. Let’s also remember the the spirit of the net has its roots in Berkeley and Stanford in the 60’s. You know the 1st LSD experiments were done using computer scientists in Palo Alto , to see if their creativity could be enhanced, guess it worked!

April 27, 2008


The Spirit of ’68

AT least according to
legend, the “events of May” — the strikes and disturbances that
convulsed France in the spring of 1968 — began at the movies. On Feb. 9
Henri Langlois, president of the National Cinémathèque Française in
Paris and a shambling, revered godfather of the French New Wave, was
removed from his post by André Malraux, the minister of culture in Charles de Gaulle’s
government. Young cinephiles reacted with outrage, and their angry
protests flowed into a tide of political and social discontent that
quickly reached the flood stage.

Three months later the country was engulfed in riots, work stoppages
and mass demonstrations. Some of France’s most venerable traditions and
institutions seemed to be under assault, and the Cannes Film Festival,
the nation’s glamorous and exalted cinematic rite of spring, was hardly
immune. The festival came to a halt on May 19, after a group of
filmmakers, including Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut,
professing solidarity with insurgent students and workers, rushed the
stage at the Palais des Festivals and held down the curtain, preventing
the scheduled screening from taking place.

Next month some of the entries from that aborted 21st Cannes
festival will be shown, belatedly, at the 61st. This is just one of
many film-world commemorations of the 40th anniversary of a singularly
tumultuous year.

New Yorkers can mark the occasion with two rich and wide-ranging
programs that aim to capture, on screen, the spirit of that bygone age.
One, at Film Forum
(Friday through June 5), is devoted to Mr. Godard in the 1960s, when he
was at the height of his influence, productivity and creative power.
The other, at Lincoln Center
(Tuesday through May 14), stretches across geography, time and genre:
from Paris and Chicago to Hungary, Japan and Brazil; from journalistic
documentaries to agitprop and experimental theater; from defiant
in-the-moment statements of revolutionary zeal to somber post-mortem
contemplations of ideological exhaustion and political defeat.

Such commemorations offer an opportunity to brush up on history and
revive perennial debates: about Western imperialism and third world
resistance; about the counterculture and consumer capitalism; about
sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. But there is more going on than a global
“Big Chill” moment. To rediscover 40 years later some of the cinematic
experiments of 1968 is to be amazed at how raw, how urgent, how
disarmingly alive these films are.

More than any other art form, cinema captured the energy, the truth,
of the times. To an extent rarely matched before or since, filmmakers
did not simply record the upheavals and crises of the time; they were
participants and catalysts. None more so than Mr. Godard. It seems apt
that the Film Forum and Lincoln Center programs share “La Chinoise,”
one of a flurry of films he began, completed or released in 1968, and
one in which he indulges his fondness for epigrams and proverbs. One of
his slogans proclaims that with vague ideas, we need clear images.

Contemplating 1968 after 40 years, it seems we have plenty of both:
an increasingly blurry and sentimental (if also sometimes cautionary)
notion of “the ’60s” accompanied by sharp and dramatic images of
exemplary events. Start with the Tet offensive at the end of January;
segue into the assassinations of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in April and Senator Robert F. Kennedy in June. Between them, the French événements and the student uprising at Columbia University.

In the summer, a glimpse of the massacre of student demonstrators by
Mexican soldiers at the Tlatelolco Plaza, a bloody prelude to the
Mexico City Olympics where Tommie Smith and John Carlos offered black
power salutes from the medal stand. August brings the Democratic
convention in Chicago, overwhelmed by anti-war demonstrations and a
police riot.

In the fall, Soviet tanks arrive in Prague to smash the human face
of Czech socialism. And in November, the “silent majority,” recoiling
from the spectacle of anarchy and disorder in the streets, elects Richard M. Nixon
president of the United States. Swirl it all together with a soundtrack
of slogans and classic rock songs. The whole world is watching! Be
realistic: Demand the impossible! There’s something happening here;
what it is ain’t exactly clear.

And neither is “La Chinoise.” By turns heady, charming, infuriating
and impenetrable — a Godard film, in other words — it represents its
moment with an authenticity that is both undeniable and hard to
specify. The political passions of the young characters contribute to
this feeling, of course, but Mr. Godard is not simply dramatizing a
chapter in the lives of good-looking people in the throes of militancy.

To the extent that a narrative can be discerned, it is fractured and
oblique. The cast members — including the exquisitely pouty Juliet
Berto, a fixture of Godard’s universe at the time, and Jean-Pierre
Léaud, the perpetual male ingénue of the nouvelle vague — quote from
literary texts and declaim didactic speeches, their exchanges
interrupted by archival and contemporary documentary footage of war and
disturbance. Moments of unvarnished, appropriated reality alternate
with sequences of arch and self-conscious theater. (The same methods
inform “Le Gai Savoir,” which also stars Mr. Léaud and Ms. Berto, and “Un Film Commes les Autres.”)

The series at Film Forum is called “Godard’s 60s,” and the
possessive seems entirely appropriate. Mr. Godard, now 77, was surely
the most widely imitated and ferociously debated filmmaker of the
decade, and a strong case can be made that he was the era’s single most
influential artist in any medium. From “Breathless”
in 1960 to “Le Gai Savoir” in 1969, Mr. Godard was a cinematic
perpetual-motion machine, completing 23 features and contributing to a
number of omnibus and anthology films. This rate of production was not
just a result of a uniquely accelerated artistic metabolism but also,
and more decisively, the enactment of an aesthetic principle. Cinema,
for Godard in the ’60s, was an art of the present tense, which meant
that an individual film was not a framed and finished work but rather
something more like an essay: provisional, disjunctive and almost by
definition incomplete.

Mr. Godard was hardly the only filmmaker of the era who embraced an
open-ended, experimental conception of the medium. A speech at the end
of “Le Gai Savoir” suggests that he saw himself as part of a loose
international fraternity of iconoclastic filmmakers, including Bernardo Bertolucci in Italy and Glauber Rocha, the father of Latin American cinema novo, in Brazil. A strong cumulative impression left by the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s
“1968: An International Perspective” is that the political and cultural
paroxysms of the time were accompanied by and refracted through a
revolution in cinematic form and technique, one that leapt over
boundaries of language and nation and fed on similar impulses in the
other arts.

In the avant-garde theater, for instance, the distinctions between
spectacle and audience, between ritual and performance, were coming
under sustained and lively assault. In the world of letters, books like
Norman Mailer’s
“Armies of the Night” trampled conventional distinctions between
fiction and reportage, as well as those between subjective exploration
and the objective analysis of events.

American movies, partly because of the conservatism of the Hollywood
studios, lagged behind their counterparts in other countries. Perhaps
the most famous collision between life and art in an American film is Haskell Wexler’s “Medium Cool,”
in which the unscripted violence of Chicago during the convention
erupts into the fictional tale of a journalist chasing down breaking
news. As the billy clubs and tear-gas canisters start to fly, the
microphone picks up a warning from off camera: “Watch out, Haskell.
It’s real.”

But in Chicago and elsewhere, real events frequently contained
elements of spectacle and performance. Some organizers of the antiwar
protests, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin in particular, explicitly
conceived of their actions as a kind of self-conscious improvisational
theater. This traffic between politics and theatrical performance is
explored from the other direction in “Dionysus in 69,” Brian De Palma’s split-screen filmed record of the Performance Group’s production of “The Bacchae” by Euripides.
Some of the audience is pulled into a mock orgy with members of the
cast, who periodically shed their roles along with their clothes. At
the end everyone bursts out of the theater into the street in a
travesty of political ardor, proclaiming Dionysus, god of wine and
mischief (played by William Finley, Mr. De Palma’s future Phantom of
the Paradise), to be their standard-bearer in the 1968 presidential
election. (In Chicago, the Yippies would try to nominate a pig.)

What is most striking in retrospect — what seems oddest and in a way
most touching about these evocations of revelry and riot — is the
spirit of asceticism, of earnest and passionate seriousness, driving
the wanton experimentation. To return to Mr. Godard for a moment: His
’68-vintage films are playful, to be sure (“Weekend”
in particular is full of barbed jokes and apocalyptic satire), but they
are also a lot of work to watch. And the same can be said of many other
films in the Lincoln Center program, from “WR: Mysteries of the Organism,” Dusan Makavejev’s anarchic sexual-political tour de force (inspired by the maverick psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich), to “Antonio das Mortes,”
Glauber Rocha’s ferocious populist folk epic, to “It Is Not the
Homosexual Who Is Perverse, but the Society in Which He Lives,” Rosa
von Praunheim’s deliriously campy, painfully serious critique of gay
life in bourgeois society.

To watch these films requires a kind of focused, self-denying,
active attention that might best be described as revolutionary
discipline. The experience is a rigorous and sometimes punishing one
that seems meant to put the viewer in the position of sharing, rather
than merely witnessing, what is happening on the screen. Watching “La
Chinoise,’’ “Un Film Commes les Autres” and “Le Gai Savoir” in sequence
is like sitting through an endless series of cell meetings whose
agendas are as inscrutable as they are pressing.

A lot of the action in these movies turns out to be talk. Mr. von
Praunheim’s movie, an educational documentary in the guise of a
sexploitation picture (or vice versa), ends with a scene that seems at
once to celebrate and to parody the radical politics of the time. A
bunch of men sit around naked, chain-smoking and patiently criticizing
both traditional morality and homosexual behavior, proposing alliances
between gay activists and factory workers as a substitute for the
pursuit of pleasure and declaring an ideal of being “erotically free
and socially engaged.”

A laudable goal, and one that, it might be argued, its proponents
achieved since the ’60s to some degree in spite of themselves. Many of
the idealistic impulses of the time, that is, bore fruit even though
the larger utopian schemes to which they attached themselves failed.
And some of the most moving films in the Lincoln Center series (as well
as some of Mr. Godard’s recent work, which falls outside the purview of
the current Film Forum retrospective) reckon with that failure, with
the letdown that followed the stillborn revolutions of 1968.

One of these is Alain Tanner’s “Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000”
(1976), which captures a pastoral moment in the lives of former
radicals. In Geneva and the surrounding countryside, they teach school,
work the land, make love, drink wine and argue, all the while clinging
to the conviction that another way of life is possible. And the
characters in “Milestones”
(1975), made by Robert Kramer and John Douglas at around the same time,
find themselves in similar situations, trying to navigate between
political commitments and personal desires and to figure out which is

Being European, the characters in “Jonah” express their subjective
longings in a Marxist (or at least Hegelian) language of impersonal
historical forces and dialectical movements. The Americans in
“Milestones,” by contrast, use the Emersonian idiom of the self to give
voice to their understanding of history. And both films demand, from
present-day audiences, a degree of indulgence. They are long, slow and
full of heavy conversation. “Milestones” in particular, with
nonprofessional actors alternating between scripted scenes and
real-life moments (including a long scene of natural childbirth), can
feel endless and sometimes pointless.

But that is what history can feel like too, and I have the sense
that any attempt to grasp the essence of the ’60s will have to pass
through “Milestones,” as sad and compassionate a movie as I have ever
seen. And also as difficult, because it doesn’t seem to want to be a
movie at all, but rather an attempt to keep alive one of the noble,
impossible promises of its time, which was to abolish the distinction
between art and life.