Customer Reviews: Berkeley in the Sixties
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on January 14, 2005
This is a superb, valuable documentary.

Berkeley was at the epicenter as the counterculture politics of the '60s emerged. And revisiting the political ferment of '60s Berkeley can offer an unusually helpful overview of these interwoven political currents. This film does that very, very well. It rises far,far above films which simply recount the intense experimentation with sex, drugs & rock 'n' roll that eventually characterized the counterculture. This film focuses on the often-less-understood, and fascinating, politics of the time.

The fascinating footage (including early glimpses at Reagan as a
relatively new "pol"), the deft editing, the years-later retrospective reflections of "now-grown-up" participants in the Berkeley "FSM" (Free Speech Movement) -- these are all very engaging, and beautifully assembled. But what makes the film great for me is its clarity in reflecting the interplay of counterculture themes: the movements for free speech and for civil rights, the movement against the Vietnam War, and assertion of the new feminism. Along with the energetic pursuit of "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll," these elements - blended into one 'tsunami' of a movement -- were experienced by us all coming of age during that time, throughout the US and throughout much of the world. But as a young person during that era, who became very swept up in the self-proclaimed "dawning of the Age of Aquarius," I recall also feeling unclear on how these ideological components -- which otherwise seemed to me distinct and substantively unrelated - became intertwined in the social politics of that era.

Whether the film is slanted, and whether "The Movement" was positive or negative, seem to me besides the point. The Movement was; like it or not, that reality is indisputable. From varying perspectives, our entire culture experienced it, and was affected by it. Most of the many millions of us on college campuses during that time were forever changed -- for good, for ill, or both. This film presents the most coherent depiction I've seen of how this happened, what it's "logic" was - and manages to do so engagingly, without becoming pedantic. That's a whole lot for one film to do, even for someone who respects and loves film as our culture's greatest current art form.
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on April 16, 2002
As a student of American History, this is certainly one of the most interesting films I've had the opportunity to view. From the footage of Mario Savio's arrest at the Regents' forum to the interviews with former Black Panther leaders and also Vietnam draftees, there is a lot of raw human emotion and reaction captured on tape. Truly an excellent documentary that seeks to be more than a documentary-- and succeeds in becoming a true reflection of life.
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on February 28, 2000
Berkeley in the Sixties is a well done documentary which does an excellent job of communicating the issues and events of one of the most pivotal decades of the twentieth century. Berkeley was the center of the social upheaval which defined the sixties and understanding what happened there helps us to understand the change and chaos which woke up America. Although a documentary, this video is amazingly easy to watch. While its appeal is no doubt greatest to those of us who were part of the events depicted, I think it would also interest anyone who would like to better understand what really happened during that time. It would be equally useful in an American history class or as an evening's entertainment. We have seen in several times in our home and it remains a favorite.
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on May 31, 2008
This truly is an exceptionally well researched and presented documentary concerning the events at USC Berkeley in the 1960s.What comes across is that the collection of former students/activists interviewed are intelligent,erudite and committed to social causes:their social zeal did not die with the decade(as is revealed in the "where are they now" segment).However, the documentary is not a total celebration of their experiences;mistakes made and the success/impact of their actions is discussed,with a variety of conclusions being drawn.A small disappointment is the non-appearance of Mario Savio in the interviews:apparently he refused to participate and the documentary is poorer for this.The viewpoint of the "establishment"(university leaders,police,the conservative middle America)would have rounded the documentary out;but these are small quibbles.What remains is a superb piece of social history,with fantastic archival footage,both b/w and colour,accompanied by a soundtrack that complements the action nicely.I highly recommend this to anyone interested in the 1960s,social activism and the search for a better America.My review is dedicated to Michael Rossman,one of the FSM leaders who sadly passed away in May 2008:I applaud your efforts Michael.
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on January 21, 2013
Back in the 1960's, things were different: we all know that. We've seen enough film footage from that decade to know that it was a time of profound social tension, of strong disagreements among different sectors of American society regarding the direction that the nation should take with regard to issues both domestic (civil rights) and foreign (the Vietnam war). Mark Kitchell's 1990 documentary "Berkeley in the Sixties" provides a careful anatomizing of the reasons why that decade of protest began and the ways in which it progressed.

As Kitchell recounts it, the Sixties at Berkeley really begin in the decade's first year, in 1960, when students from the University of California at Berkeley went to San Francisco City Hall to protest the House Un-American Activities Committee, that emblem of 1950's repressiveness. But the conflict truly begins when UC president and chancellor Clark Kerr's vision of the university as a "knowledge factory," a center for the "growth of the knowledge industry," comes into conflict with the perspectives of students who are concerned about larger "off-campus" issues like civil rights, apartheid, and the nuclear arms race. The university's ham-handed attempts to squelch student dissent lead to the Free Speech movement that unites students from across the ideological spectrum. And while conservative forces within UC seek to dismiss the Free Speech Movement as a "civil rights panty raid" -- at one point, Ronald Reagan is shown denouncing "the so-called 'free speech advocates' who have no appreciation for freedom" -- the viewer can see in the images and testimonials that Kitchell orchestrates a profound cultural shift in progress.

Yet Kitchell does not romanticize or idealize what happened at Berkeley in the 1960's. The film offers an argument that the initial successes of the Free Speech Movement caused protest-minded young people to gravitate to Berkeley from all over the United States, fostering the development of a culture of protest for the sake of protest, just as the focus was shifting from the civil rights movement to the war in Vietnam. The development of a counterculture oriented around drug use only adds to the volatile nature of this social ferment.

In contrast with the tightly organized and clearly focused protests of the early 1960's, the later protests seem amorphous and dangerously directionless. For example, with regard to the creation of a "People's Park" on what had been a parking lot at UC Berkeley in 1969, it is hard to argue with the assertion of one community leader that "the issue is, we must have a confrontation. As soon as you give them a park, they'll dream up another confrontation." At the same time, it is distressing to see a helicopter flying above the campus of an American university, preparing to deploy tear gas against student protesters below. It is easy to see here the tensions that erupted on college campuses across the United States during the 1960's, and that led to the tragedy at Kent State University in 1970.

The movie does spend considerable time on civil-rights and anti-Vietnam War protests in nearby Oakland -- important and interesting, though it takes focus away from what the title promises: a look at Berkeley in the Sixties. I would have liked to have seen more of what was happening to collegiate culture at the University of California during this period. Not *everyone* was protesting, after all; there were those who wanted things to go on as they always had, with fraternity and sorority parties and football games (the Golden Bears participated in Pac-8 football throughout the period), and it might have helped to talk more about those tensions on the university campus.

While one does see 1960's luminaries like Martin Luther King Jr., Joan Baez, and Allen Ginsberg, the bulk of the testimony from "Berkeley in the Sixties" comes from people who were leaders of the protest movement. Perhaps the film should have been called "The Culture of Protest at Berkeley," though that title sounds better suited for an academically oriented history from, say, the University of California Press. Nonetheless, Kitchell provides a powerful and thought-provoking look back at an extraordinary time in the history of American higher education, a time that seems unimaginable today. Walk around the college campus that is nearest to the place where you live, and try to imagine tensions like those of the 1960's unfolding there. Nowadays, on the 21st-century college campus, if there's not an app for protest, or a popular Facebook page dedicated to protest, or someone whose clever tweets about protest are drawing lots of followers, I don't think there's likely to be much protest.
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on March 18, 2004
I would like to tell you a little bit about the documentary by Mark Kitchell entitled Berkeley in the Sixties. This film is a great synopsis of the 60s civil rights and counter culture movements based out of UC Berkeley. The film was released in 1990 and contains interviews with everybody from members of the Black Panthers to Country Joe and the Fish. It starts at the beginning of the sixties with the events that would eventually lead to the first protest to the hippies and Peoples Park and so on, interviewing people even into the late 80s. The film kept my attention and was very educational.
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on September 2, 2008
For those us of the Generation of '68 the political actions of the 1960's were essentially a youth-led effort. To the extent that anyone though about the situation as a separate political matter young students, mainly from the traditionally elite campuses, were the vanguard of those youth. And the vanguard of the vanguard? At least until 1969 a very strong case could be made, and is made in this documentary under review, that the University of California at Berkeley held that role. The whys and wherefores of that role are what makes this above-average documentary, complete with the inevitable `talking heads' that populate this kind of film, a very good source for what actually happened in the 1960's there for those who were around at the time and a primer on radical politics at the base of society for those who were not.

The disruption of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) meetings in San Francisco in 1960, various antiracial discrimination actions in support of the growing national civil right movement in the early 1960's, the historic and well-known Mario Salvo-led Free Speech Movement of 1964 along with its trials an tribulations, the early anti-Vietnam War and anti-draft actions of 1965 and 1966, the drift toward an apolitical counter-cultural experience in 1967, the romance with the next door neighbor Black Panthers and the Free Huey Movement in Oakland and ending with the militarily defeated People's Park efforts in 1969. They are all resurrected here. All these events are, moreover, discussed from various later viewpoints by participants, adversaries and flat out ill-wishers. If you want a two hour capsule commentary of the highs and lows of the political and counter-cultural struggles as they occurred at Berkeley and spread east this is a very good documentary to bring you up to speed.

Some of the rhetoric may seem odd to today's cyberspace-driven youth. Some of the costumes, especially during the height of the Haight -Ashbury era and the Summer of Love in 1967 may be perplexing to today's fashion conscious youth. Most of the politics may seem obscure. But know this- it may have not lasted long, we may have made every mistake in the political book, we certainly went off on more tangents that one could shake stick at but there was a fight going on then to change that nature of the way we do business in this society. Call us utopian, if you will, but we fought. A little of that spirit would come in very handy right about now. Many of the lessons of that time may be lost now. However, I sense a little of that same 1960's breeze starting to blow again in 2008 so look here.

I would not be a proper leftist politico if I did not mention that of all the scenes presented, all the discussions taped, all the `talking heads' giving their, seemingly sincere, takes on meaning of those times there was virtually no commentary on one very fundamental problem. Students, from elite universities or otherwise, cannot independently without joining up with some other social agency create the kind of just society that students were fighting for then. In no instant that I can recall during the course of this documentary did anyone attempt to draw the lesson that the working class, whatever its then current organization (or more correctly lack of it) and political consciousness came into play as a factor in history.

The closest anything came to understanding the need for an additional agency was the unequal, uncritical `alliance' with the Black Panthers. That is why, in the end, after the military defeat of the People's Park experiment Berkeley fell off the political map. But, my friends, the story did not end there for the 1960's. Some youth, although not nearly enough, drew that lesson about the lack of political power of students if left to their own devises and got serious about political theory and the working class. Some of us are still at that fight. From the later careers of the Berkeley interviewees described at the end of this film that did not include most of them. That tells the tale.
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on January 22, 2010
This documentary, focuses on the turbulence of the Berkeley student demonstrations, during the volatile 60s. There's plenty of interviews, with former Berkeley student radicals. Also included, is commentary from members of the Black Panthers, the Berkeley Mayor, local police, and concerned Bay area citizens. Berkeley, and the San Francisco Bay area in general, were the epicenter of political and social unrest, for young people in the 60s. The chaos of the student movement that began at Berkeley, spread to other campuses throughout the nation. Never before, had college students in America been so thoroughly dedicated to positive change, as they were during the 60s.

I lived in the Bay area, just two years ago. And it's undergone a 280-degree turn from its enlightened, progressive character, that was its signature zeitgeist in the 60s. It's become positively inhumane! It's been overtaken by affluent Yuppie WASPs, who have driven the price of housing to astronomical levels. As a result, homelessness is at epidemic levels there. So is unemployment. Even the most highly educated people, have to beg for low-wage jobs there. Racism, and even gay-bashing, now plague the once warm and tolerant Bay area too. High tech geeks are the new gods of the Bay area, and everyone else there is regarded as useless. Bohemians of all stripes, are no longer welcome there. They can't afford to live there anymore, anyhow.

This film is very informative, about how Berkeley students fought valiant battles for social justice in the 60s. It's a real shame, that the Bay area has become a haven for the Capitalist pigs, that the Berkeley students railed against over 40 years ago.
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on May 12, 2012
Somewhat interesting. I found myself concentrating on looking for faces I recognized, which is something of a distraction, but it is a historical review of a pivotal time at a pivotal place. The commentators are all people who were involved in the 1960s; there are no independent voices of historians or journalists or whatever. The story is told by those who were there.

Actually, it's a series of stories: the civil rights movement, which led to the free speech movement when the university administration reacted badly to the civil rights movement. The free speech movement eventually won its point for the most part, then turned its attention to ending the war in Vietnam, and specifically to disrupting the draft board. The hippies from San Francisco made common cause on the issue of peace. Then the Black Panthers reacted to the failure (or at least the limits) of non-violence. The women's movement was at first a reaction to the second-class status of women and girls in the anti-war, anti-draft movement, but took on a whole package of issues of its own. Finally, when things started winding down and lost their focus, People's Park provided a new focus.

To what extent were the participants manipulated by forces they did not understand? How many hidden agendas lurked in dark corners? To what extent was it a social movement almost more than a political one? How did it relate to the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago? All these questions are asked, and many more, but the answers are very much those of the individuals involved.

Remember that they came back together to make this movie in 1990, after they had developed a variety of new lives for themselves. At the end, each of the participants' history between 1970 and 1990 is summarized. It's an interesting mix that includes an executive for Sun Microsystems in Silicon Valley.
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This documentary does a nice job of recounting some of the major events in the development of the student protest movements in Berkeley in the sixties. It is stronger on the early years and its highpoints than on the end of it and its ongoing influence, but nonetheless you get some great video footage. I wish there had been more analysis of how the student protest movement altered America and how it left the country a different place.

There are a host interviews with people actively involved in the protests. As a former philosophy grad student I was especially interested in those with John Searle, whose work I have read. Also Susan Griffin, who I have also read.

But apart from the interviews, I especially loved the vintage footage. There are great extended cuts covering many of the key events of the period. All in all, definitely a film worth seeing.
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