Long ago I had for a short time a roommate who, while totally conventional in his outlook on things, liked to go to unusual movies. Then he would come back all pumped up to tell about them. One of these was Wise Blood (which I have yet to see; I doubt it is better than the Flannery O’Conner novel), another Return of the Secaucus 7. It seemed from his telling that it was one of those generational movies where old friends get together and come to terms with how they have lived out their goals. A couple weeks ago I saw the DVD for sale cheap, so I picked it up. I expected to be annoyed, but at the same time to have some insights, even if skewed, to kick around a bit.
I got nothing of the sort. The DVD has an interview with the aged filmmakers which shows why. They are inwardly unchanged even now and, bitter about the generations that came after them (when the slogan of don’t trust anyone over thirty became don’t trust anyone under thirty), aspire only to pass on the sixties torch to their new hope, the euro-trash who riot at IMF and world trade meetings, and who they hope will watch the movie.
The characters are university weekend radicals who would get arrested at big well-publicized protests, and in between enjoyed a life of drugs, promiscuity and hedonism, while looking down at all the more conventional people. So this sixties generation thing was mainly a matter of language and lifestyle that made a particularly sharp break with the previous generation–not only of that of their parents but of the student cohort before them. The sixties went from suits and ties to ripped jeans and tie-dyed tops. The radical style change made everyone see themselves as totally transformed. Most students, in fact the great majority, never took their focus off getting grades, graduating, getting a job, and starting out in life. But for the rest who took the sixties pop culture as the definition of their identity, a great bond was formed with those who went through this change with them. This movie is about them.
Ten years have gone by, and these characters are trying to go on being what they were, and feeling the strain a bit. They haven’t learned anything in that time, and have not doubted their fundamental choices, but only whether they dumped this or that boyfriend or girlfriend too late or too soon. Anybody who was of the same type as these characters will feel an emotional response to all this, and there are enough to make an audience for an independent film. It is not as though these people are rare or exceptional like 19th century artistic bohemians. By the end of the fifties riffraff could attend universities and get white color jobs, just because the economy had long before moved away from farm labor and was entering the post-industrial service industry and government leach phase. Five of these characters are government leaches. Two “teach” high school, though as they admit there isn’t education going on, two work as staff for a politician and another is a drug counselor.
The filmmakers, though, are just happy to show the radicals get together, get in tough with their feelings, and keep the commitment to being sixties people. For this they need each other. Apart, without their shared group experience, the memories and the experience seem less real. And that is about all the point there is to this film. But if you weren’t part of that scene, why should you care?