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Celebrating the Counterculture: The Films of 1969
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Celebrating the Counterculture - 6/4, 6/11 & 6/18


By 1969, the counterculture's anti-establishment attitudes were having a great influence on the mainstream Western world through music, film and other fields of art. Now in their adulthood, some of the baby-boomers of WWII were anti-war, pro-civil rights and experimenting heavily with psychoactive drugs while pushing forward a message of peace and love. The ideals and lifestyle choices of the counterculture were cemented in films made during the time, and TCM highlights these movies through a three-week festival featuring some of the best and oddest additions to the counterculture. Here are a few highlights:

Angel, Angel, Down We Go (1969), also known as Cult of the Damned, is shown in its TCM premiere. This seldom-seen exploitation film, released through American International Pictures, is the only directorial screen credit for playwright/scenarist Robert Thorn. Its story concerns an emotionally troubled debutante (Holly Near) who, along with her parents, falls under the seductive influence of a decadent rock singer (Jordan Christopher) and his hippie followers. Rather amazingly, the debutante's strident mother (an ex-porn star) is played by former mainstream actress and Oscar-winner Jennifer Jones! Leonard Maltin called this one an "awesomely dated tale of sex, corruption, drugs and fame."

Easy Rider (1969), an instant classic of the counterculture movement, had enormous impact upon not only audiences but the movie industry at large. Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper (who also wrote the script with Terry Southern) star in this low-budget film about two alienated motorcyclists on a quest to find the "real America." Jack Nicholson enjoys his star-making role as a drunken lawyer, which earned him his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. The other outstanding elements include the cinematography of László Kovács and a memorable rock score featuring The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Steppenwolf and The Byrds.

Medium Cool (1969) features the work of another great cinematographer -- Haskell Wexler, who also wrote and directed this slice-of-life account of a TV cameraman (Robert Forster) covering the explosive 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Wexler convincingly blends actual footage of the convention with scenes enacted by his cast, which includes Verna Bloom as the cameraman's girlfriend. This film has been called "the most politically radical" film produced by a major Hollywood studio (Paramount Pictures) at the time.

The Wild Bunch (1969), director Sam Peckinpah's Western epic, was controversial in its day because it took cinematic violence to a brutal new level. But the film won much critical praise including Vincent Canby's description of it in The New York Times as "very beautiful and the first truly interesting American-made Western in years." This study of a gang of aging outlaws finding themselves passé and planning one last robbery earned Oscar nominations for its screenplay by Peckinpah, Walon Green and others, and its score by Jerry Fielding. The crackerjack cast is headed by William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Edmond O'Brien and Warren Oates.

Woodstock was filmed in August 1969, when the Woodstock Festival took place, and originally released in 1970. The Director's Cut, which TCM is screening, was released in 1994 and contains 40 minutes of footage that had previously been unseen. Director Michael Wadleigh's film of the definitive outdoor rock festival of its era, held near Bethel, N.Y., earned an Oscar as Best Documentary Feature. The film was also nominated for Best Sound and Thelma Schoonmaker's editing. Performers include such legends as Joe Cocker, Sly & The Family Stone, Grateful Dead, The Who and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Entertainment Weekly called this movie "the benchmark of concert films and one of the most entertaining documentaries ever made."

by Roger Fristoe
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