Documentary explores the giddy, clownish madness of Berkeley during the '60s

MOVIE REVIEW

October 30, 1990|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

The festival of politics, mischief, partying hearty and sanctimony known as the Age of Aquarius gets a nice revisit in "Berkeley in the Sixties," an ambitious documentary finishing up a two-day run tonight at the Charles.

It's hardly a tough-minded revisionist work, but, to its credit, neither is it one of those treacly magical mystery tours of a past that never existed except in its participants' self-delusions.

The bias is solidly Old Left, with the emphasis on political action as true cause and concurrent aspects of the phenomenon -- the hippie counterculture, which was both of and yet not-of the left -- viewed as self-indulgent infantilism.

Yet at the same time, the movie encompasses a few right-of-center commentators -- without setting them up for cheap shots -- on the happy madness of the times. One of them, now a professor of philosophy at Berkeley, looks back on the era -- particularly its climactic flashpoint at "People's Park" -- as pure cynicism by demonstrators who'd lost the will to do anything except provoke.

And the film doesn't blur the sense of clownishness that undercut much of the activity. Old Black Panther Bobby Seale, for one, is very amusing commenting on the way the Panthers somehow reflected a media fantasy and became globally famous before they could even pay the rent.

There are disappointments, and the chief one is that filmmaker Mark Kitchell could not convince Mario Savo, who began it all with the Free Speech movement when the university closed down some radical tables outside an administrative building in the early '60s, to cooperate. It would be interesting to see the older Savo discuss the brilliant young ideologue who more or less defined the image of the counterculture rebel for the decade that followed.

It would help too if the filmmakers had widened their inquiry's context: Why was Berkeley the political avant-garde of the '60s? The filmmakers make the series of spasms seem arbitrary; yet there had to be a unique political context for the radicalism to flourish in. This goes unexamined.

'Berkeley

in the Sixties'

Documentary.

Directed by Mark Kitchell.

Unrated.

***

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