Two films took on the ’60s this weekend at the Cannes Film Festival with radically different perspectives. For Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman directors of “Soundtrack for a Revolution”, the decade was defined by the quiet heroism of the civil rights movement. For Ang Lee, director of “Taking Woodstock” the real revolution was internal as old social strictures gave way to exuberant self-expression. So, twice this weekend I walked away from the movie thinking “Did that really happen? Were we really like that?”
“Soundtrack for a Revolution” showed how the songs of the civil rights movement shored up the courage those who insisted on equality for black people in the face of beatings, lynchings, hosings and arrests. Interpreted by modern artists such as Joss Stone and John Legend, the old marching melodies “We Shall Overcome” “We shall not be moved” evoke an era when non-violent protest finally dragged the American South out of apartheid. The scenes of police turning dogs on black children, the photo montage of murdered civil rights workers, Martin Luther King speaking as if possessed: we’ve seen the images before but the emotional intensity seems to reach across the decades demanding respect for the aging heros of America’s ‘revolution’.
Ang Lee looks on the lighter side. In “Taking Woodstock” the famous festival serves as a catalyst that propels the hero, Eliot, out of his parents’ suffocating embrace and into acceptance of his own homosexuality. Eliot Tiber was a main player in bringing Woodstock to Bethel, NY and was one of the writers of “Taking Woodstock” recounting the whole behind-the-scenes effort. There are some hilarious scenes and a pitch-perfect rendering of the period dialect: “far out”, “that’s very cool”, “groovy”. Jonathan Groff as festival organizer Michael Lang is dead-on as a 60s hustler. Lee even captures the spaciness and wonder of an acid trip.
And at the end of this delightful movie, you can’t help but ask yourself, “How did we get from there to here?” How did the Woodstock generation elect George Bush? How did the spontaneous sexuality and unselfconscious nudity mutate into porn and plastic surgery? What happened to hairiness? How did we get so fat? Why couldn’t the “three days of peace and music” last a lifetime?Follow me!