Saint Misbehavin’: The Wavy Gravy Movie -- Film Review

Loving if scattershot portrait of the famed ‘60s counter-cultural figure

NEW YORK — Best known today as a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor, Wavy Gravy is a minor but ubiquitous 1960’s counter-cultural figure who is still going strong in his mid-70’s. While Michelle Esrick’s "Saint Misbehavin’: The Wavy Gravy Movie" is not a particularly deep portrait of its iconoclastic subject, this loving documentary should be of interest to aging baby boomers with long memories.

Born Hugh Romney in 1936, Wavy began his career in the cafes and clubs of Greenwich Village in the early ‘60s, performing poetry and stand-up comedy and opening shows for such musicians as John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and Peter, Paul & Mary, among many others. He briefly roomed with the young Bob Dylan, who supposedly wrote the lyrics for “A Hard Rain is Gonna Fall” on Wavy’s typewriter.

He soon found his way, like many others of his generation, to California, where he joined up with Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters to form a commune known as the Hog Farm.

Eventually foregoing his artistic aspirations in favor of social activism, he became a constant figure at anti-war protests, donning a clown outfit to avoid further beatings by the police. Given his current moniker by B.B. King, he is perhaps best known for his role as the MC at the Woodstock music festival.

Since then, in between conducting satirical campaigns for president, he has been active in charitable causes, including organizing benefit concerts featuring his all-star gallery of friends and founding a performing arts camp for children dubbed Camp Winnarainbow.

Loaded with laudatory comments by such contemporaries as Ram Dass, Odetta, Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne among many others, the film, co-executive produced by D.A. Pennebaker, makes enough use of archival footage and period songs to warm the hearts of ‘60s nostalgists.

While Wavy himself does not prove particularly illuminating in his comments here, his longtime (45 years) wife Jahanara helps fill in the gaps, as does his son Jordan, whose name was initially Howdy Do-Good Gravy Tomahwak Truckstop Romney (no wonder that he changed it).

As freewheeling and irreverent as the man himself, Saint Misbehavin’ is that rare documentary whose flaws seem appropriate for its subject matter.

Opened Dec. 8 (Ripple Effect Films, Argot Pictures)
Director: Michelle Esrick
Producers: Michelle Esrick, David Becker
Executive producers: D.A. Pennebaker, John Pritzker
Director of photography: Daniel B. Gold
Editor: Karen K.H. Sim
Composer: Emory Joseph
Not rated, 87 minutes