Looking back to Berkeley in the '60s


The trouble with the past is that it changes and re-changes as you move away from it, eventually becoming merely a collection of images seen through an accumulation of memory filters.

Thus, the decade of the '60s is remembered for hippies and Black Panthers, student protest and Free Love, anti-war marches and B-52s bombing the bejabbers out of Vietnam (eerily, just as they recently bombed Iraq).

But where did it all start? "The Mecca for a generation" was the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, asserts "Berkeley in the Sixties," the latest edition of the PBS series "P.O.V." The two-hour film is at 11 tonight on Maryland Public Television (channels 22 and 67), and at 10 p.m. on Washington's WETA-Channel 26.

Director Mark Kitchell's 1990 feature-length documentary (which played here briefly at the Charles last year) was nominated for an Academy Award, and with good reason. It brings into focus -- and certainly far sharper focus than was possible at the time -- one of the centers of the decade's political unrest.

We see some names of the nightly news of the '60s, including student leader Mario Savio, Berkeley president Clark Kerr, President Lyndon Baines Johnson and Black Panther Bobby Seale. (Now working at Temple University, Seale reveals he and his comrades bought guns with the profits from selling Mao Tse Tung's "Little Red Book," although none of them ever read it.)

But more interesting are some principals of the Berkeley scene whose names do not resonate any longer, including Jackie Goldberg, Jack Weinberg, John Gage and John Searle. These were students or faculty members at the time who sat down in front of Kitchell's camera to recollect the way things were.

In a fascinating sequence, for instance, we hear the middle-aged Weinberg describe his 1964 arrest during the Free Speech Movement protest, then see black-and-white footage of him sitting in a police car during the incident that became a cause celebre. Arrested for protesting, he sat there for 36 hours while hundreds of protesters surrounded and made speeches form the roof of the police car.

And Goldberg, who is seen in news footage during a campus press conference, persuasively challenges the notion that '60s radicals were cynically alienated from the American dream, asserting, "we believed in it so much."

Given that the title "P.O.V." stands for a filmmakers' point-of-view, there is no surprise the film has a leftish lean. But it is a nicely revealing recapitulation of both the sincere ideals and the foolish illusions of the times.

Those who remember may find their memories revised, and for those too young, "Berkeley in the Sixties" could perhaps be a fundamental text.

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad