Monday, April 29, 2013

From the vault and worth seeing: Gessner & Hurwitz's LAST SUMMER WON'T HAPPEN

A remarkable testament to a time and a movement delivered in a manner which I have not seen anywhere else, LAST SUMMER WON'T HAPPEN, the hour-long, 1968 DIY documentary by Peter Gessner (shown below) and Tom Hurwitz shows us some of the leading players in the protest movement of that era -- from Abbie Hoffman to Paul Krassner to Phil Ochs and others -- in an almost offhand, fly-on-the-wall way that brings them to life quite differently from how we usually have seen and experienced them.

The war in Vietnam was raging at the time and so were the protests. The movie will make you wonder at how involved so many young people seemed to be back then, and how little so they seem to be now.  Inter-cut between what looks like black-and-white newsreel and TV footage, these color sections bring to life the place, the people and the situations in a way that places you smack in the center of things.

In addition, this odd and very homemade piece of filmmaking offers up interviews with denizens of Manhattan's East Village in that time period -- a runaway young girl (below), a drug-dealing young boy (further below) -- that capture the bruised spirit of the day in a style that is simultaneously spectacularly immediate and intimate, yet very off-the-cuff.

We so often saw (and still see), whenever this subject is addressed, people like Hoffman and Krassner "speechifying" and/or clowning around (particularly Abbie), rather than questing and questioning the way they do here. In this film they seem so much more like real people rather than performers, and the ideas that they and others offer up and then toss around and disagree with show the protest movement's very real conflicts that were not so easily settled.

The movie calls itself a "partisan look at these times," and indeed it is. But it not uncritical or simple-minded. It's a kind of time capsule that gives us everything from fashion and art to advertising and conversation of the day, and little of the music, too: Procol Harem and Country Joe and the Fish. (In one interview you'll notice a poster for the Broadway musical, Illya Darling, then playing at the old Mark Hellinger theater.)

There is no narration per se but plenty of people either speak (in public or in private) or are interviewed. It's interesting to see certain sacred cows of the left being mocked ("I have the feeling that Che Guevara used to kid around a lot, too," notes our favorite Yippie.) Listening to Hoffman (above and below) tell an assembled audience of mostly middle-aged and older folk how America's kids are going to keep coming to places like NYC East Village and San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury, looking for "a different America, a free America, and a revolution that's a threat to middle class American society," you can't help wonder what the guy, had he lived longer than his 53 years, would have thought of youth today. He's also funny and satirical about the Madison Avenue idea of revolution.

"This can't go on much longer," he notes, referring to society as it was then. Well, that was 45 years ago (when pollution and global warming were but whispers of what they have now become), and many of us are still saying the same thing, with no hope in sight.

The final discussions between, I believe, Paul Krassner and a couple of others, is something quite special. They talk of the thrill of beating up cops (who themselves had been doing plenty of beating up on protesters), of flying over America and realizing that the vast majority are not us, of this summer of protest set against last year's summer of love, and of whether Abbie will have burned himself out in two years -- all this is so fraught with bruised idealism, tamped-down hope and sadness that it is worth the entire movie.

Last Summer Won't Happen, from Icarus Films and running just 60 minutes, is available now on DVD, with some very good "extras": the excellent Time of the Locust, a 13-minute, award-winning, early documentary by Mr. Gessner that shows us the Vietnam War in a manner that had not yet been seen in America; and interviews with the two filmmakers from 2012 (which TrustMovies has yet to watch. He will as soon as a few more deadlines disappear). Finally -- be absolutely certain to scroll through the Photo Gallery in the EXTRAS section. This will let you know the identities of all those folk you've just seen, and in some cases what happened to them over the years. For more information on this little video treasure, click here.

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