This is more than a mere documentary of the history of political activism at the University of California at Berkeley; it’s an oral history of a struggle (the good and the bad and the downright foolish) that has never gone away, but has merely metamorphosed over time into different forms. It’s as relevant today as ever.
And more, it illustrates — possibly unintentionally — that the opposition to this sort of struggle never really changes. The names and faces change, but the rhetoric remains the same: Marginalize the protestors as a “handful” of malcontents, pander to fear, overstate the “threat,” make things seem utterly abominable by referring to things in vague terms. Consider the footage of then-gubernatorial candidate Ronald Reagan crying out against a Berkeley assembly without any real substance, other than remarks about a thing so “horrible” that he can’t speak of them, and then compare with any footage you’ve ever seen from earlier years of Sen. Joe McCarthy boasting of — but not revealing — all manner of proof of the “Communist conspiracy” in America. (You can also bring fast forward to the present day.)
It’s this relevance that makes this documentary — a surprisingly unbiased and non-hysterical one — so compelling. As history, it’s an amazing — and entertaining — document. But as a kind of ongoing history, it’s invaluable. Not rated.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke
[Berkeley in the Sixties is playing for one show at 9:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 29 at the Fine Arts Theatre.]