Cinema Art From 1968 For Today

For me, 1968 was the most consequential year in American history since the end of World War Two. It was a year filled with uplifting superlatives like: the explosion of fierce creativity and variety in popular music and the arts generally, including the premier of that revolutionary television program for as yet unconditioned humans, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood; and it was a year filled with disastrous superlatives like: the meat-grinder crescendo of the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy, and the urban riots sparked by anger over King’s murder and America’s stubbornly embedded racism.

I think that in the fifty years since, the U.S. has regressed socially, culturally and intellectually (except in a few important areas regarding the treatment of women and LGTB people) while simultaneously advancing technologically. But, so much of that technological advancement has been skewed and debased with wasteful profit-seeking and idiotic consumerism. We are a country of lowered imagination, aspirations, expectations, hopes and economic opportunities, awash in highly advanced electronic technologies diffusing stupidity and disinformation for continuous mass distraction and disempowerment.

So, I found it bracing and reinvigorating to recently see three movies — playing in theaters this summer of 2018 — that are each masterpieces of or about that time half a century ago, and remain fresh and compelling today.

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?, a superb and touching documentary about Fred Rogers and his long-running and revolutionary children’s television program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, is actually a film of 2018. Its very existence begs the question: why is such television programming no longer being broadcast daily as a government-funded public service? (I know, commercialism über alles). Among the many amazing stories in this film is that of the overt and explicit anti-war message of Fred Rogers’ TV show in its first week of broadcast, in February 1968, which was during the height of the Tet Offensive of the Vietnam War and also the month of the highest rate of fatalities of US soldiers in that war (it was far worse for the Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians all the time).

Remember, Fred Rogers aimed his messages against war, against bigotry, about facing death, about dealing with your parents’ divorce, and about many other real world experiences both big and small, to children in the toddler, pre-school, kindergarten and very early grammar school years; amazing!

In being free of the macho insecurities so closely guarded and secreted by so many of America’s outwardly manly men, and with his strength of character and absolute commitment to love and to the respect of children, he remains for me “the strongest man in America.”

“Love is at the root of everything, all learning, all relationships, love or the lack of it.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhwktRDG_aQ

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY premiered 50 years ago. Now, it has been gloriously reprinted as a 70mm six channel soundtrack Cinerama spectacular, and is once again being shown in selected theaters this summer. We saw it today (17 August 2018). Not only is this a movie masterpiece, it is one of the great works of art of the 20th century, and it remains an advanced work of conceptual, philosophical and cinema art today, and is likely to remain as such for quite some time to come.

This film conveys a visceral experience of encountering utterly alien intelligence in the unbounded expanse of unworldly space-time, by use of expansive and profound visual imagery combined with lush, majestic and enveloping music — classical music! — and by the use of deep silences and grandly unhurried pacing, which is so alien to our cacophonous myopic zero attention span hamster wheel earthly circus.

This movie rewards whatever exercising of your intellect you engage in as a result, by resonating with your own pondering and speculations on ultimate questions. It was grand immersing myself in this masterpiece again, on the big screen with the big sound, my eyes filled with wonder, my mind abuzz with transcendence.

“Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oR_e9y-bka0

YELLOW SUBMARINE premiered 50 years ago. Now, it has been gloriously restored and is once again being shown in selected theaters this summer. We saw it last month, a wonderful experience. See it if you can, on the big screen with the big sound: Beatles music with imaginatively unrivaled animated imagery.

Now more than ever we need the spirit of Yellow Submarine to permeate the populace, because the Blue Meanies are out there in force devastating our world with their dour dumbfounding deadly doofusness. Revolution is first and foremost a matter of heart — many revolutionary good, strong and happy hearts — and this movie has a lot of heart. It also remains an advanced work of art, given the sad reality of our decayed, stagnant and backward culture.

“All you need is love.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOlwwoZLoKE

I don’t want to come across as an old fogy disparaging today’s youth by complaining that “things were better when I was a kid than they are today.” What I do wish to encourage is that people look back with appreciation to the real gems of the not-that-distant past, to both learn from and be heartened by them, and to help today’s vibrant (young!) people to infuse their now-time with heart, love and revolution, and thus help create both artistic and material advances of real human value to our shared national and world societies.

Enjoy!

<><><><><><><>

Why I Am Leftist (Vietnam War)

Tet Offensive
Phase 1: 30 January – 28 March, 1968
Phase 2: 5 May – 15 June, 1968
Phase 3: 17 August – 23 September 1968.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
assassinated in Memphis, TN
4 April 1968
Riots broke out in about 100 US cities and towns over many weeks.

Robert F. Kennedy
assassinated in Los Angeles, CA
6 June 1968
RFK had won the CA primary election for DP presidential nominee that day.

Richard M. Nixon
elected US president
5 November 1968

In the fall (October-November) of 1968 during his election campaign as the Republican Party’s nominee for US president, Richard Nixon sabotaged the Paris Peace Talks between the Johnson Administration and the Communist Party of Vietnam (“North Vietnam”), by using Anna Chennault (of the deposed Nationalist Chinese regime) as a secret agent to contact the South Vietnamese regime of Nguyen Van Thieu and have him renege on his commitment to send a delegation to the scheduled Paris peace negotiations (Nixon promised Thieu a better deal, if Nixon became President), so the peace talks failed by not even starting.

This was an act of treason by Nixon during a time of war.

Nixon used the “failure” of the Johnson Administration to either “win the war” (militarily) or bring the four combatants (North Vietnam and the ‘Viet Cong’ versus South Vietnam and the U.S.A.) into serious armistice and peace negotiations, as an electoral issue justifying voting for him. Nixon won (over the DP’s Hubert Humphrey) by less than 1% of the popular vote.

Nixon and Henry Kissinger (National Security Advisor, then Secretary of State) then expanded the war (into Laos and Cambodia), and only in 1973 – 5 years later – were they able to get the Hanoi government (the Communist government of North Vietnam, and their allied popular forces in South Vietnam: the ‘Viet Cong’) back to the negotiating table in Paris, with the Communists finally agreeing once again to the concessions they had originally made in 1968.

During the interim, 22,000 additional Americans had died in the war, and perhaps a million more people of Vietnam (north and south) as well as Laos and Cambodia. This is all described in Episode 7 of Ken Burns’ 10 episode TV series, “The Vietnam War” (2017).

It was 50 years ago this month (during Phase 1 of the Tet Offensive) that I registered for the draft. My college deferment was cancelled at the end of 1968, and I was 1-A all of 1969. Bureaucratic delaying tactics and luck kept me from being inducted, and I drew a very high number in the Draft Lottery of December 1969, and so was passed up.

A tense time, and one that ensured I would forever be some kind of leftist.

The Lyndon Johnson tapes: Richard Nixon’s ‘treason’
http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-21768668

<><><><><><><>