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Commune
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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 20, 2008
Format: DVD
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.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 11, 2009
Format: DVD
Commune is a nostalgic look at the Black Bear commune that began in northern California in 1968. The members of the commune raised the money to buy the land by asking the members of various rock groups for money. Now in late middle age, the former Black Bear residents reflect on the happenings at the commune and what it meant to their lives.

There is a lot of human interest in the film and it provides a nice look at a bygone era. The former Black Bear residents comment on the struggles and personality clashes that inevitably arose as they attempted to live on the land. There is lots of film of hairy people running around nude in the woods. The film also includes interviews with some of the commune's mystified neighbors, who, unsurprisingly, still don't seem to understand the hippies.

Unfortunately, Commune leaves a lot of unanswered questions. We see the former Black Bear members living their largely-conventional lives, but we hear very little about why each person decided to leave Black Bear. Commune generally recounts the stories of the Black Bear residents "back in the day" and then "fast forwards" to the present. The intervening parts of their lives are largely missing.

Most viewers probably will disapprove of the decisions that the Black Bear residents made regarding their children. We learn that a "child worshiping" cult named Shiva Lila moved into the commune in the 1970s. Eventually, Shiva Lila was expelled from the commune. When Shiva Lila left, some of the Black Bear children went with them, even though the parents stayed behind. One can see that the kids of the Black Bear hippies still struggle to understand their experiences at the commune.

For those interested in the 1960s, Commune is worth a look.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2010
Format: DVD
I was moved by the journeys of these people and grew to care about them through this excellent documentary. You owe it to yourself to see this version of the '60's rather than the one you've been sold in mainstream television. I highly recommend this documentary and own it myself.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2010
Format: DVD
Actor and former 60s activist Peter Coyote, narrates this documentary about the Black Bear commune. Black Bear is located in the rugged rural environment, of Northern California. During the 60s and early 70s, several hippies got funding from Hollywood celebrities (including actor James Coburn), to finance the creation of the Black Bear commune. Back then, Hollywood types thought it was chic to become involved with the counterculture.

Those who were members of Black Bear, gave honest accounts of the joys, and also the very real problems, of living in a commune. Their devotion to their progressive ideals, inspired them to make a go at forming Black Bear. Keeping the commune together though, ultimately proved more difficult than they expected. They had to contend with serious issues regarding basic survival, sharing childrearing responsibilities, and how best to express their sexuality, without causing jealousy and alienation amongst themselves. Members came and went to Black Bear over the years. Despite all of the upheaval and changes, the Black Bear commune still exists now. That's pretty amazing. Especially considering how unsympathetic society has become these days, to the hippie values that spawned the Black Bear commune.

This film takes a look back, at when hippies were the avant guard of progressive politics in society. It sheds light on an important era in American history, that many people would like to know more about. So Commune is a very relevant documentary, for those that have an interest in the socio-political changes, that occurred during the 60s and early 70s.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 7, 2013
Format: DVD
It's funny. I was born in 1971, and grew up in rural Maine. My parents and the parents of my closest friends were all apart of the "back to the land" movement that the commune depicted here was only a radical expression of. Keeping gardens, animals, cutting our own wood for heat, all that. Two of my best friends' parents had begun raising them in a commune that broke up before they entered grade school.

All of this is to say that the people whose lives are documented here are very familiar to me, and that their values and culture have been a major influence on my life. Watching this brought back some memories, and was a moment of reflection - on how much I share those values, and again how much I am living in reaction to them. The over all effect was that it elicited a deep welling affection for them, while in many places I had to shake my head and grimace, thinking of how their ideals and the radical actions they inspired so often seemed naive and self referentially monomaniacal to the point of foolishness. I think that my values have been formed by their ethos, negatively in that I am both socially more traditional, but also positively in the sense that what they did has left me with some radical values in terms of economics and war and peace. It seems ironically enough that they may have had the greatest impact upon the culture where I dissent from them, and the least where I find myself in deep agreement. Such is life.

The dark side of the commune life - which my friends who lived it described to me in detail growing up - is not dwelt upon at much length. They only interview two of the children that grew up there, most of the interviews are with the then adults who are now in their dotages looking back upon their youthful adulthoods with glow of fondness. I'd wager some of the children raised there might have some interesting things to say. One of the two former children, now a biochemist with a family - revolted as a child, and sought to live a "normal" life even then; and the other child describes in harrowing detail her experience of being more or less abducted with the consent of her parents by the Shiva Lila cult (google that, it's a trip) who had briefly infiltrated the commune for a while at the end of the 70's. She ended up traveling to India then the Philippines with them, where the group of children she was a part of was struck by a diphtheria epidemic, in which many of them died. Then she was off to Mexico, and then back to the commune, where she was reintegrated very "beautifully and smoothly" and her life flowed back into a very "hippy nuclear" family.. It was the 70's see, behavior that would very likely get you imprisoned now was considered groovy..

We never wore bicycle helmets back then, either. And kids used to play unsupervised outdoors for hours and hours on our own cognizance doing all sorts of crazy stuff. The only computers we knew of were pocket calculators from Texas Instruments and Atari pong. It truly was a whole different gig being played back when I was a kid.. Times really have changed.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 23, 2011
Format: DVD
There are so many stereotypes of "hippie communes"--both positive and negative--it was great to see how one actually operated. In short, I loved that this seemed honest, in particular, the parts on experiments in "free love" were, overall, pretty disastrous. nonetheless, relationships that came out of the commune, and survived that experiment, were impressive and moving.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon June 29, 2012
Format: DVD
Interesting, insightful look at the Black Bear Ranch Commune, one of the many alternative
living situations people explored in the late 60s and early 70s.

By interviewing a diverse number of members, it gives what feels like a pretty accurate
non-biased view of both the strengths and weaknesses, intelligence and stupidity, bravery
and cowardice, generosity and selfishness, openness and didacticism that went into this
rag tag bunch trying to show the world there was another way to live then simply a
`consumers' or `employees'.

Actor Peter Coyote, who was a member, is particularly articulate about the goals, the
successes and the failures. The film also has a sense of humor, which helps. Not a
life changing documentary, but certainly an interesting one.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
This is a strong and thoughtful documentary with footage from the early days of Black Bear Ranch commune and voices from those who lived it today. Don't miss it. It's a mindful project that has me questioning why we've forgotten the lessons and vision of the past...when things were on the edge of real change.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
The host of this interesting look back to the '60s is Peter Coyote, who lived in this commune, was a member of the Weathermen underground, and played the NASA official who enters the house in "ET: The Extra-Terrestrial". A very balanced look of a subject often romanticized.
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on August 1, 2014
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
My parents were a part of this commune in their prime and talked about their experiences there. When I found it on DVD I got it and their stories became more clearer. An educational look at peoples choice of self expression of life styles
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