[sixties-l] Alices Restaurant

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Thu Mar 01 2001 - 14:53:15 EST

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    "Alice's Restaurant"


    One of the best movies of its era anticipated the end of the
    '60s. More than 30 years later, Arlo Guthrie still doesn't get it.

    By Charles Taylor
    Feb. 1, 2001

    "Alice's Restaurant"
    Directed by Arthur Penn
    Starring Arlo Guthrie, Pat Quinn, James Broderick, police chief
    William Obanhein
    MGM/UA; widescreen
    Extras: Theatrical trailer, commentary by Arlo Guthrie

    Perfectly in tune with a 1967 audience hungry to see something of the
    spirit of the times on-screen, Arthur Penn's "Bonnie and Clyde" announced
    the arrival of a whole new chapter in American movies. The movie shocked
    and excited by reproducing the violence of the ^A'60s and the way that young
    people identified with outlaws. Penn's follow-up, the subdued and elegiac
    "Alice's Restaurant," is almost forgotten now, and clumsy and tentative as
    it sometimes is, it remains one of the loveliest American movies of its era.
    Arlo Guthrie's folk song epic "The Alice's Restaurant Massacree" captured
    the hippie notion of protest as play. Using the song and its characters as
    the basis for the film's screenplay, Penn evokes much of what was best
    about hippies: the generous and spontaneous sense of community, the attempt
    to find some new meaning in otherwise irrelevant traditions like
    Thanksgiving or marriage. And he links it with the sense of community that
    existed in the folk tradition embodied by Arlo's father, Woody. Folk singer
    Pete Seeger shows up in one of the fictionalized scenes of Arlo visiting
    the hospitalized Woody (Joseph Boley). In another, the hitchhiking Arlo
    passes by a tent revival where Lee Hays of the Weavers leads the worshipers
    in "Amazing Grace." The scene ends with a perfect grace note: Arlo's voice
    on the soundtrack saying, "It seems like Woody's road might have run
    through here some time."
    Throughout the movie, Penn captures the divisions between hippie and
    straight that had riven the country without indulging in the same
    divisiveness. As critic Robin Wood pointed out, Arlo's nemesis Officer Obie
    isn't portrayed as some abstracted version of the Man; in fact, the
    real-life Obie, police chief William Obanhein, plays himself in the movie,
    and he walks through the film with the closest thing a big man can get to
    bemused, grumpy grace. And in the wedding that makes up the film's last 20
    minutes, Penn allows a gradually deepening melancholy to take over. The
    party that was the '60s, he was saying, was almost over.
    The DVD is purported to be a "Never-Before-Seen R-Rated Version," though
    for the life of me I can't see what's different. But having seen the film
    on screen just last spring, I can say that the transfer restores the
    delicate fall colors of Michael Nebbia's cinematography that had vanished
    from the appallingly faded existing prints. And Guthrie's commentary is
    fascinating, especially because, on some level, he doesn't get the film. He
    calls it "a valiant effort" to capture the feeling of hippies from a
    director who didn't really understand them, and he takes issue with the
    movie's message that the idealism of its characters couldn't survive the
    realities of the world. That's understandable, especially coming from
    Guthrie: He can't quite reconcile the depiction of events he lived through
    with the added fictionalizations. But Guthrie is a great shaggy-dog
    raconteur. He spends much of the commentary pointing out his friends who
    had parts in the movie, reminiscing about how he got to know them (and got
    to be friends with others, like Officer Obie, whom he affectionately calls
    "Bill"). He's more in tune with Penn's movie than he knows: The sense of
    community it celebrates survives in him.

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