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Jean-Baptiste Thoret’s enthralling documentary We Blew It tackles the riddle of the 1960s head-on — a riddle that has been the subject of lively debate virtually since the day the decade ended. How, after that heady upsurge of youthful idealism and revolt, did we get to where we are now? What happened to the dreams and visions of the peace-and-love generation? What were the twists and turns that brought us from Easy Rider to Donald Trump?
Shot during the height of last year’s presidential campaign, but before the result was known, the movie presents a kaleidoscope of divergent points of view of the ‘60s from those who were around at the time: Almost all the interviewees are senior citizens. As a result, its biggest appeal is likely to be to filmgoers of the boomer generation, although it has undeniable relevance in the current political climate.
We Blew It travels widely between the east and west coasts, and although it has some of the elements of a road movie — roads, and one road in particular, play an important role in the film — it is in reality something very different: a thoughtful intervention in the culture wars that have come more sharply into focus in recent times.
The movie takes its title from the campfire scene in Easy Rider where Dennis Hopper rejoices in the success of a recent drug deal, chortling, “We’ve got it made,” while a sombre, more reflective Peter Fonda contradicts him: “We blew it.”
As a Frenchman born just as the ‘60s were closing, Thoret takes no sides and provides no answers, but throws out a number of leads as to where best to look for them. He remains offscreen without comment, allowing his interviewees, like his images of ghost towns in the desert or the mushrooming office blocks in the financial centers in the cities, to speak for themselves.
The speakers come from all walks of life, though given his main vocation as a film critic specializing in American cinema, Thoret gives pride of place to figures from what became known as the New Hollywood: Bob Rafelson, Jerry Schatzberg, Peter Bogdanovich and Michael Mann, who came to the scene in the 1980s.
The overall effect is choral, with the majority viewing the ‘60s favorably but discordant voices providing counterpoint. Among the individual voices that stand out is that of Angel Delgadillo, an 89-year-old barber from Seligman, Arizona, located on the legendary Route 66. His experiences since the opening of the I-40 interstate highway a few miles to the south on Sept. 22, 1978 — “the day the world forgot us” — are the story of globalization in miniature.
Also prominent is veteran filmmaker Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep), who visits the Watts district to explore the scene of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Like other parts of America, he finds that gentrification has passed that way, with house prices having risen to levels well beyond the reach of most of his fellow African-Americans.
We Blew It is far from being a routine run-through of a decade whose legacy continues to divide. Elegiac at times but never nostalgic, it pays tribute, via Denis Gaubert’s Cinemascope lensing, to the magnificence of the country’s wide open spaces and also to the diversity of its citizens. Thoret punctuates the movie with sequences of head-shots of ordinary citizens who face the camera silently, some of them half-smiling, some not, as if to say: This is America, these are the people who, one way or another, made the ‘60s what they were and continue to make America what it is today.
Naturally, the movie has a musical score to die for, featuring, among others, Jefferson Airplane, The Band, Simon and Garfunkel, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Sam Cooke, Led Zeppelin and Bruce Springsteen. The latter’s song “Devils and Dust,” about the power of fear to “turn your heart black,” is the nearest the movie comes to making an overt comment on the ethos of the ‘60s and, unequivocally, of the present time.
Thoret ends on a cautionary note. His closing shot is of a long straight road seen from the back of a moving vehicle. Following a short distance behind is another car. Gradually, to the backing of Terry Kath’s “Tell Me,” and as all color drains from the picture, the second car falls further and further behind until it is a spot on the horizon. The message could hardly be clearer: The ‘60s are history, and you can’t live in the past.
Production company: Lost Films
Cast: Michael Mann, Bob Rafelson, Charles Burnett, Jerry Schatzberg, Peter Bogdanovich, Lisa Law, Angel Delgadillo, Carl Brownfield, Peter Hyams, Paul Schrader
Director-screenwriter: Jean-Baptiste Thoret
Cinematographer: Denis Gaubert
Editor: Marc Daly
Producer: Julien Dunand
Venue: Deauville Festival of American Cinema
Sales: Content Media Corp.
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