Of Woodstock and Hippies

Of Woodstock and Hippies

Ervell E Menezes sketches the period of Hollywood history that was marked by the hippie culture, which later travelled to India and put Goa on the...

Ervell E Menezes sketches the period of Hollywood history that was marked by the hippie culture, which later travelled to India and put Goa on the world map

So, after a fortnight’s hiatus in the “muluk” it’s back to the drawing board (read tottered, yellowed scrapbooks) for the classics of yesteryear and what a wealth of them connected with the nostalgia of those distant decades. We will therefore start with “Woodstock,” the three-day music festival in August 1969, a month after the moon-landing, that got together thousands of youngsters who shed their middle-class values in a search for their new identity. This documentary was captured live by producer Bob Maurice and director Michael Wadleigh for Warner Bros’ replete with interviews with the rock singers and their performances live, when “live” was rare.

Joan Baez, pregnant and pointing to her unborn child, is among the big names along with Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, The Who and John Sebastian, It was the “make love, not war” mantra that changed lives of thousands forever. Long-haired hippies in skimpy attire revolted against the System represented by their materialistic parents in one of the greatest shows of protest in the twentieth century. It is a three-hour drama, taut, thought-provoking, and quite unforgettable.

Another film linked with the hippie era is Peter Fonda’s “The Hired Hand”. Actually it is a Western, but only for its locale as the hero Peter Fonda works as a hired hand at his ex-wife Verna Bloom’s farm after having deserted her and her unborn eight-month child. Having co-written the script of “Easy Rider” with Dennis Hopper, “The Hired Hand” is his debut movie which came quite unheralded much like Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Rain People” in the first part of this series.

Son of Henry Fonda and brother of Jane (for the benefit of Gen-Next), he turns in an impeccable performance rightly underplayed and ably supported by an unknown Verna Bloom and veteran cameo player Warren Oats. That the same hippies came down to Goa and changed this tiny haven of peace forever by putting it on the world map is now history. Incidentally, “Woodstock” found an echo in India, Lonavla to be precise where our own young folk did the same. This writer too underwent a change and his reviews soon shed that moralistic flavour.

Let’s leave the hippies and pick a hilarious comedy called “Cactus Flower” centred on amorous bachelor-dentist Walter Matthau and his sexcapades with his patients, including debutante Goldie Hawn (who picked a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in the process). But to save face Matthau has to make his staid, no-nonsense receptionist and nurse Ingrid Bergman pose as his wife. It is a clever plot and a host of accomplished performers make the fare quite delightful with Ingrid Bergman soon changing into a blooming cactus flower and running away with the honours. Jack Weston plays another good cameo.

The fourth one is “Irma La Douce,” a delightful comedy of a cop falling in love with a hooker but made more popular by the India version called “Manoranjan” which was released earlier. It took years to pass the Censors so our Indian plagiarisers worked overtime to convert Zeenat Aman to Zennie la Douce almost overnight. Nestor Paton (Jack Lemmon) is the honest cop who falls in love with Irma (Shirley MacLaine), an age-old subject, but given a fresh new flavour by director Gene Saks with MacLaine hogging the honours (Irma the Sweet) as only she can with poor overworked Lemmon, to keep the girl to himself. A close second, Lou Jacobi too is memorable as Moustache the receptionist.

The last place must go to William Freidkin’s “The French Connection,” memorable for its car chases alongside the subway. Till then it was Steve McQueen in “Bullitt” who held pride of place alongside Jacqueline Bisset, one of the most beautiful and prolific actresses of her time. It also gave Gene Hackman the star status he so richly deserved though it was the usual cop story with Roy Scheider in a supporting role. But it just made the grade; had to leave out some really good films. These include “Out-of-Towners” with Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis in the lead roles and “The Odd Couple” (Lemmon and Walter Matthau) both based on Neil Simon’s plays and “Deliverance” about a not ride down the rapids with Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds in the lead roles; because the sum total has to be five that’s it. But they all are excellent viewing, a good mix of art and commerce. Take my word for it.

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