As I graduated from high school in 1970, I was at the latter part of the "student movement" days. In my late 30s, I married a woman who's one of eleven kids, none of whom ever "rebelled," or were part of that era. My spouse now regrets it, envies what I may have experienced. (And I still describe her siblings as "1950s consumers.")
I have a little of a cynical view toward the whole era. I think people often either romanticize it, "The world just changed so much," or they despise it. "The world would be a better place if those kids had learned to respect authority more." While I lean more toward the former, I think both are inaccurate.
The University of California, Berkeley is seen at the beginning of that "era." In fact, the film begins with a guy who was at Harvard. When he saw what was going on in Berkeley, where students were protesting HUAC, he decided to head west.
An interesting little observation: the demonstrators were singing "God Bless America." That's a sample of what one of those interviewed commented on in the film, that they believed so much in the American system, it's that on which they were so passionate.
One of the interviewees referred to it as a "political awakening" that was taking place then.
There was some name calling in those days, a remnant of the McCarthyite 50s. Someone called activist Mario Savio a communist. Well, to this day such absurdities occur, if you note that Barack Obama has been called that by some right wing zealots!
Some of those interviewed in this portion of the film admitted that it was some of the most privledged of Americans who were among the "radicals" of that era. I often point that out to many who make too much out of the era. Anyway, Clark Kerr, the university president, at this point was doing his best to undermine the student movements. After his presentation for a major meeting, Savio attempted a rebuttal and was arrested. If nothing else, I suggest Clark Kerr was a political failure!
Then, of course, the Vietnam war became the issue of the day. The students attempted to close the induction center in Oakland, CA. One day they were encountered by the police, and the next day but the police and the Hell's Angels!
I find here that I'm following my notes, but that gets dry. So I'll cover more highlights.
Reagan was an issue in the film twice. During the 1968 GOP convention he "pandered" to those who didn't have any understanding of what was going on at Berkeley. He used the Berkeley situation to cater to those most turned off to, in the final analysis, submission to authority.
Next, after a "People's Park" incident at UC Berkeley, he confronted the university administration, some of which had at least become more sympathetic with the student movements.
Suffice it to day, at neither time was I any more impressed with Reagan that I ever was.
One interesting dichotomy occurred in the film too. There were several distinctions made between the student movement and the counterculture, the center of which was not far from Berkeley, just across the bay. Most, including myself, usually see the two as the same. But at least one person interviewed said that the counterculture thought of the others as more "establishment." Those of the counterculture really wanted little to do with politics.
Another interesting element, related to the civil rights movement which gave much of the student movement its original impetus, was the Black Panthers. Bobby Seale was one of the founders of the Panthers, and one interviewed for the film. I've always been skeptical of the Panthers. While I've never opposed them, in some ways I found them to be more akin to the mob than activists. As it turned out, there were conflicts between them and the movement, with some cross over, especially of "revolutionary" idealism. In any case, at one point, one person interviewed said that the Panthers came out looking even crazier than they were as they used their more extreme elements for their media appeal. And that both attracted and scared the media and the police.
A real highlight of Berkeley's student movement--or "low"light, if you like, occurred after the establishment of a "People's Park" to which I already referred. It seemed to be a "fusion" point between the counterculture and the student movement. But one of those interviewed said it was "cynical" in a way in that it was set up to evoke a reaction and it did. It was closed, then the students tried to reopen it. Reagan called in the National Guard and they occupied the city for a month or so. At one point, students were allowed onto a portion of the campus, then the Guard wouldn't let them leave. Eventually helicopters flew in and gassed the area of campus with a nausea gas. That was the straw that broke the camel's back for some of those interviewed--and is something all of us should know more about especially if "the media" lean as left as some right wing zealots would have us believe.
All in all, it's a good film. As I said, I tend to be a little skeptical of some of the "movement." So I'm glad the film ended with a frame of each of those interviewed on what they're doing now. Some, on either side of the political spectrum, seem to think that 60s activists are all now insurace co. executives. All but one of those interviewed are still activists. So the "movement" really is something that affected them.
I wish I had space to say more. The film is inspiring, truly. It brings back to me memories of an era where idealism prevailed, not jingoism and consumerism by which we're obsessed today. Watch it, and see if you can inspire anyone else to "get involved" again!