Alice's Restaurant (1969) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna
|In this case, I started with Tuna's review on built on it, so it's a joint effort. Some words are mine, some his, but it stands as a position I will defend completely, even if it isn't completely mine.|
|You can get
anything you want, at Alice's Restaurant (1969). So
begins Arlo Guthrie's autobiographical song, The Alice's
Restaurant Massacre, which was adapted into a screenplay.
It is explicitly the story of how Arlo (son of legendary
Woody Guthrie) got out of the draft by having been
arrested and convicted of dumping in an unauthorized
place (aka littering).
The film goes into more detail about Ray and Alice, the church they live in, and the assortment of late 60's hippies that Ray and Alice call family. Contrary to popular myth, you can remember the 60s even if you were there, and this film is complete nostalgia for me. The attitudes, language, dress, and public reaction to those who looked a little "funky" really bring those moments back.
|It isn't a
great movie even now, but in many ways this is a better
film now than it was in 1969, because it has now
additional value as a historical record written
contemporaneously. Back then, we didn't need anybody to
pictorialize popular culture for us. We knew about it
already. We were there. So the movie was just a movie.
Now the movie works both as a movie and as a
documentation of the customs and mores of a sweet,
Most of us old farts, like me and Tuna, have great nostalgia for the gentle idealism of that time. When I look back on it, I regret that the whole thing turned into an exploitation fest for the media, or for people who were just hanging out for the sex and drugs, but it is good to remember the idealism of one's youth, and there was genuine idealism. There were plenty of people in The Movement who just wanted to build a better, less commercialized world, one with greater and more genuine equality among its population. And even now, the sound of an acoustic guitar strummin' those gentle 60's folk tunes evokes powerful memories and feelings.
It isn't a real slick movie. Production values can be shabby and acting can be poorly timed. But you have to realize that a slick movie would have been insincere. It would have been everything that this generation stood against at the time. To his great credit, the Hollywood director Arthur Penn made a decidedly un-Hollywood movie with a starkly powerful ending that will leave your eyes misted over, and you won't really know why, except maybe that you saw, like Alice, how something which could have been beautiful came to the wrong conclusion. The ending is completely inconsistent with the lighthearted storytellin' tone of the narrative.
|Arlo Guthrie played
himself in the film, as did his antagonist, Officer Obie.
Obie said "if somebody's gonna make a fool of me, it
might as well be me".
Arlo Guthrie also did a full-length commentary, and he mentioned that his duet with Pete Seeger in this film marked the first time they had ever sung together, and they kept their act up for thirty years. (The scene was supposed to be re-enacting a scene at Woody Guthrie's bedside, which never really happened.)
That scene was a real treasure, even with Arlo playing the harmonica off-key (they gave him the wrong harmonica, and they just left the scene as is). Hell, I would have watched an entire 90 minutes of Seeger and Arlo singing Woody's songs!
If you lived the 60s, or are curious about them, get in your red VW microbus and head to Alice's - not the restaurant, the church - for a Thanksgiving dinner that can't be beat.
Steer clear of Officer Obie.
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