Audio

Over on Clifton Street in Harpendon, a town located just outside of

People serve tea between cars.

The paperboy.

The postman delivers mail.

Mrs. Stacey's car.

London, it's still saturation point. No use offering anyone here a tow home.

This jam started three weeks ago, and it still hasn't moved an inch. Now that abandoned cars are liable to instant destruction, these drivers have decided to stay put. And most of them actually prefer their home on wheels. The women volunteers cope magnificently with morale, and early morning tea is the brightest spot of the day.

The jam may not suit everyone, but the paperboy is delighted. With everyone so close, he can get through his rounds in a fraction of the time.

The postman had a hard job at first coping with the number plates instead of name plates, but now the traffic-jam community is easing his task.

It's been a long weekend holiday for Mrs. Stacey. Now her fifteen horsepower home is the smartest in the street. The kitchen is in the back;

there's a telephone, and the television works off the car battery. At teatime, Mrs. Stacey links up to the exhaust, lights the fumes, and pops on the kettle for a quick cup of tea.

It's marvelous stuff, and once again it shows what wit and imagination can do for a subject.

One film that continues to strike deep chords within me is Berkeley in the Sixties. The film is not only very good but also brings back nostalgic memories of being a graduate student at Stanford in those turbulent years. While preparing the second edition of this book, I ran into one of the authors of BITS, Steve Most, in Berkeley. Steve had been brought in to write narration for the film and, over dinner, told me of the tremendous problems involved in trying to find a shape for the finished work. As the problem of form and structure is one of the key topics of this book, I asked him if he would mind jotting down a few of his thoughts. The extracts below come from Steve's subsequent letter to me:

Berkeley in the Sixties was the seven year odyssey of filmmaker Mark Kitchell. He collected archival film and interviewed participants of events that marked the generation that came of age in the sixties. What unified the material was the subject; the order that Mark followed was chronological. However these events—the Free Speech movement, the Anti-War Movement, the Black Panthers, the appearance of the hippies, the rise of Reagan, People's Park— were very different in kind and in feeling.

The rough cut that I first saw when Mark asked me to consider writing the narration lacked characters who could provide a link, other than reminiscence, between the episodes in the film. There was no storyline, no unifying theme. And unfortunately the emotional sequence of the episodes had a depressing effect, for one went from the exhilaration of the Free Speech victory to the defeat over People's Park, which resulted in one death and a great success for Governor Reagan. Why let the audiences feel that the "sixties" ended in failure—although there were failures—and that perhaps nothing was gained from that decade of activism except for illusions which did not stand the test of reality? Who would see such a film, and what would one have to gain from it?

I gave this critique to Mark Kitchell, Kevin Pena, the associate producer, and Veronica Selber, the editor. They listened and at the end, agreed. And because I had a solution to this problem, I took the job.

As I saw it, this was the story not so much of the events that occurred in Berkeley in the 1960s as of a generation that came of age in those years. The narrator then needed to be someone who was there, and who could also speak as a representative voice of her (and our) generation. Susan Griffin's double role, as an actor in the Free Speech movement and as narrator, also pointed to a solution to the problem of the ending. For the political experience gained during the 1960s had enduring and positive effects, some of which did not become evident until the 1970s: namely the growth of a women's movement, among others, and a sense of freedom and power that she and others carried through their lives: a sense that the world can change and that anyone may play a part in those changes.

Here, then, was a theme that the film could communicate from one generation to those to come. We tried—and still try—to change the world for the better. We have done what we could, falling short of what we hoped to accomplish. No generation can do it alone; it is for others to learn from our experience and to carry the work forward. . . .

Generally speaking, when I work on a film I apply the craft I have learned as a playwright—how to tell a story dramatically—to the documentary medium. One thing dramatists learn to do is to begin in medias res. While Mark Kitchell had wanted the film to begin with an illustrative narrative about the 1950s, or later, with Clark Kerr's lecture about the multiversity, I advocated something more effective, like the anti-HUAC protesters being hosed down the steps of San Francisco's City hall in 1969, thereby receiving their "political baptism." That become the opening after Kitchell tested his ideas in front of an audience and, to his credit, recognized the need for a dramatic, rather than didactic beginning.

The narration of BITS was a three way collaboration. Sometimes the producer wrote the first draft; in every case, he critiqued what I wrote. The narrator, Susan Griffin, joined us after the picture was locked to choose the words and phrases that best conveyed her voice as a poet and sense of things as a witness to history. The editor was indirectly a collaborator, joining in the discussions that advanced our thinking. I think that we are all pleased with the result.

Like Steve, I faced a similar problem with form in a film I did a few months before I met him. In December 1992, the Israeli Foreign Office put out a call for a film on the Middle East after peace. This was long before the Oslo agreement between Israel and the PLO, or the return of Jericho and Gaza, and the film's topic was obviously a highly optimistic act of faith. I decided to submit a proposal but had to support my entry with a fairly detailed statement of approach and treatment.

The problem was that one had to make a film about events that had not yet happened. My first move was to research several subjects: economic development, agriculture, tourism, water sources, arms control, and refugees, just to name a few. That was the easy part. The hard part was to come up with an imaginative framework for the film, one that wouldn't just rely on experts talking and pontificating.

The solution was to set the film in the future, actually in the year 2004, and have a reporter looking back on ten years of peace. The reporter would actually be on assignment in the desert to cover a ten-year anniversary meeting and celebration of the first peace signing. As he waits, he recalls everything that has happened in the last ten years — events that are "re-created" on screen by a fusion of documentary, faked newsreels, and dramatized segments. Below are excerpts from the first treatment.

Film Making

Film Making

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