Sunday, April 29, 2012

Who Hasn't Heard of Alice's Restaurant?

Who hasn’t heard of Alice’s Restaurant, either the movie or the 18 ½ minute song/rant by Arlo Guthrie?

Apparently the Millennial Generation.

13 students came by Tuesday to ask questions that were confusing them in studying Torts – questions like slander per se, proximate cause, licensees and invitees – in short, the usual suspects.

One student asked a seemingly off the wall question. How did I choose the names of the police officers in the exam questions? The answer was simple: if one officer, it’s Officer Porke Ellwood; if it’s two officers, then they're Officers Obi and Kanobi.

I explained that Parke Ellwood was the police chief in Ada, Ohio during my three years at Ohio Northern University. In the spirit of the time, and because he appeared to have visited the donut shop too many times, I renamed him Porke Ellwood.

It’s bad taste.

The suspected answer for Obi and Kanobi was Star Wars, but that’s only half right. Officer Obie (William Obanheim who played himself in the movie) was the officer who busted Arlo Guthrie for illegal trash disposal in Alice’s Restaurant. I rhymed Kanobi with Obi when Star Wars appeared.

So I asked,” How many of you have heard of Alice’s Restaurant – the song or the movie?” A sea of blank faces responded, a mirror image of the proximate cause and intervening cause faces. The baker’s dozen of students was clueless.

You can’t blame them. Alice’s Restaurant doesn’t even show up on cable, and there’s no airplay for the song on today’s commercial AM and FM radio - so much for the legacy of the underground FM stations. Several versions are available on YouTube. Indeed, I’m listening to one as I type this blog.

If America’s youth is unfamiliar with Alice’s Restaurant, then even less can be expected with the genre of movies depicting student unrest of the 60’s-70’s, some with leading actors of the time and incredible music. Hollywood rushed to the theaters a series of campus rage movies. They were not The Graduate.

A classic was Getting Straight (1970), starring Elliott Gould and Candice Bergen with a then unknown Harrison Ford. Gould, a graduate student, was bedding Candice, an activist student in his class. One of the more inane comments directed at Candice in the movie is “We never should have given library cards to women.”

The Strawberry Statement (1970), based on the riots at Columbia, was set in San Francisco in a fictional version of San Francisco State, which had witnessed a series of riots (One of my classmates at USF Law School joined the demonstrations. He tuned in, turned on, and dropped out), resulting in the election of interim President S.I. Hayakawa to the United States Senate. The movie featured Bruce Davison and Kim Darby. Bob Balaban’s long career in Hollywood apparently was not ended by the bomb. The music included songs by Thunderclap Newman (the poignant “Something in the Air” as the tear gas was blowing in the wind) Buffy Sainte-Marie (“The Circle Game”), Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young.

Michelangelo Antonioni directed the quixotic Zabriskie Point, starring Daria Halprin and an unknown Mark Frechette in his first acting role. Frechette learnt the wrong lesson from the movie. He was subsequently arrested for bank robbery and died in prison. The music was more memorable than the movie, featuring Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, The Rolling Stones, The Youngbloods, Patti Page, and Roy Orbison.

Let us not forget R.P.M., directed by Stanley Kramer and starring Anthony Quinn, Ann-Margret, Gary Lockwood, and Paul Winfield.

None of these movies were as bad as Billy Jack, which is best viewed while stoned, but whether stoned, drunk, or sober, will probably be turned off unless you fall asleep first. The sequels bombed at the box office, while the star Tom Laughlin, unsuccessfully ran for President in 1992, 2004, and 2008.

Let us also not forget that the most successful student movie of the era was the truly forgettable Love Story with Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw. She was much better in the earlier Goodbye Columbus, which really had nothing to do with Columbus, Ohio.

Love Story was written by Eric Segal, who also gave us R.P.M.

The Millennials have probably heard of Vietnam and Watergate; some may have studied a little about them in a history class, and most know some of the music of the era, but the knowledge of the critical cultural clashes of the era is Greek to them. A few may understand that the riots at Berkeley, Santa Barbara, and San Francisco State elected Ronald Reagan Governor of California, but I bet that even fewer know they also resulted in the firing of Clark Kerr as President of the University of California. One of the greatest university leaders of the 20th Century paid the price for the lack of leadership of the Chancellor and other administrators on the Berkeley campus.

Let us finish not with Alice’s Restaurant, but with the quote of President Kerr upon his termination. He said he ended the job as he entered it “Fired with enthusiasm!”

No comments: