LowComDom Performances Presents
Film Review - Berkeley in the '60s
Berkeley in the 60's chronicles how a very small group of students who wanted to explore politics ballooned into the Free Speech and Anti-War Movements.
Starting early in the decade as the Administration of the University of California at Berkeley decides to ban tables where clubs passed out leaflets, the Free Speech Movement was a small group of people interested in defending the first amendment of the Constitution. The University Administration took this as an affront to their authority, and as the Administration attempted to flex their muscles, their actions just seemed to fan the flames of the movement.
The irony is that if the Administration hadn't made this core very small group mad enough to stand up for their rights, the large scale societal changes that occurred in the United States and one could argue in western civilization, probably wouldn't have happened for quite a long time. Maybe never at all. These protests proved what a grass roots movement could do. It helped the civil rights movement (although it did not start it) and spawned the Anti-War and Women's movements. All because the President of the University of California couldn't bend a little.
Most of the film narration is performed by people who were actually instrumental in the movements. They appear to be very open about what was wise and what wasn't. Not everyone who participated were of a single mind. Some were more radical than others. Some saw the movement degrading into a pointless mob and left to get involved in the main body of American politics.
If all movies have characters the movement itself was one. It started out very focused. The people involved were mostly upper middle class white kids. They were very idealistic. When they protested, they approached the demonstration from a set of ideals. Any restriction on speech was protested. Later, as more and more people joined, the idealism started to degrade. Not everyone in the crowd was simply there to defend the first amendment. Some decided they had the power to re-organise the world to their liking. Issues like People's Park had nothing to do with free speech, but where more a flexing of the protesters' own political muscle.
As this occurs we see the tone of the film change. It's easy to get behind someone who was tossed in a police car for talking, it's harder when you see them turning over cars and essentially stealing land. This degeneration from the core ideals into a rabble seems to shadow many of the modern protests. People like to claim the label "Grass Roots" without actually earning it. (I would argue that a Grass Roots movement is spontaneous, not planned.)
What is missing from the film is the other point of view. The view of the Administration. Anyone in a position of authority (including Governor Ronald Regan) is painted as an enemy of democracy. The film makers piecing the movie together 25 years after the movement, appears to not have made the attempt to interview the opposition. If they had, they did, they made no mention of it.
However, as a documentary of a point of view of an era, Berkeley in the 60's succeeds. If you weren't there, you would at least understand the students' point of view. This maybe slanted in the students' favor, but it is informative, and does keep your attention the entire time. This is a great way to teach history.