'Berkeley in the Sixties' is as stunning as the era itself

March 12, 1993|By Scott Hettrick | Scott Hettrick,Los Angeles Times Syndicate


(PBS, $79.95, not rated, 1990)

If there is a single place most associated with the counterculture and the anti-war demonstrations of the 1960s it has to be Berkeley, Calif.

Producer-director Mark Kitchell has assembled an amazing collection of black-and-white and color news footage and student home movies of seemingly every significant sit-in, rally and protest coordinated by the students at the University of California and the more militant Black Panthers in nearby Oakland.

Expertly interwoven are interviews with 15 of those activists who recount in chronological fashion the beginnings of the movement -- a demonstration in 1960 against the House Un-American Activities Committee, through the symbolic end in 1969 when police destroyed People's Park, a student-developed Shangri-La on an undeveloped part of the campus.

This 117-minute documentary works well on several levels: first, as a stunning visual record of the events themselves and, second, as a summary of one of the most tumultuous periods in our country's history. One can feel the sense of urgency and unbridled enthusiasm in the recollections of the activists as they reflect on the early stages of the movement, and as it blossomed from a single-issue protest into a national revolution for civil rights, free speech and lifestyle in general. Most say the protests were a subconscious rebellion to the growing conservatism and censorship of the 1950s.

It's also fascinating to watch the declining mood of the interviewees as they recount the failings and miscalculations of the movement as it became bigger than any of them could imagine and began to unravel as the focus became more blurred. With the benefit of 20 years of hindsight and maturity, the former students and faculty are able to pinpoint where they used poor judgment, but most still take great pride in affecting changes in social and political attitudes.

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