Most helpful positive review
41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
Building the new in the shell of the old
on July 20, 2008
What do you do when you become convinced that your country is unchangeably repressive and that efforts at reform at best tinker around the edges of it? For thousands of people in the 1960s, the answer was to build alternative communities--"communes," as they were called then, "intentional communities," as they're called today. One of the longest-lasting of these 1960s-era communities, Black Bear Ranch, is explored by director Jonathan Berman in his fascinating "Commune."
Founded in 1968 on 80 secluded acres in northern California, Black Bear is still up and running, although with a different generation of residents. Berman tracks the commune from its early days through the present with generous interviews of some of its founders, many of whom--actor Peter Coyote, Osha Neumann, Herbert Marcuse's stepson--have since "gone respectable."
One of the best features of Berman's film is its balance. Like all communities, Black Bear had its ups and downs--youthful idealism and youthful naivete, sexual freedom and sexual jealousy, tolerant earnestness and dogmatic zealotry--and Berman goes to some pains to make sure that his audience is exposed to both. His interviews with the commune's residents also reveals, without hitting the viewer over the head, that communal living can bring out the best as well as the worst in individual personalities.
One of the more touching interviews in the film was with the dying Richard Marley, co-founder of Black Bear. Marley's transformation during his years at the commune, from a rather authoritarian type to one who gradually learned to embrace "open-heartedness"--is one of the individual success stories from the experiment, and in many ways it symbolizes the general transformation the community went through (one of the most obvious of these is the change of attitude towards women as equal partners).
Black Bear's motto from the very beginning was "Free Land for Free People." There are hazards, of course, when one embraces freedom, but there are also great possibilities. Berman's "Commune" is a testament to both. But it would've been good to hear a bit more than Berman delivers about the nature of the alternative society that Black Bear residents hoped to build--their values, their hopes, their vision.