The year 1969 is getting a lot of attention.
I grew up in the sixties. It’s easy to go all nostalgic, forgetting the rate at which boys my age were coming home feet first from ‘Nam. But if I let go of that sad fact for a second, I can remember the first time I heard Abbey Road on a friend’s turntable (“because the world is round...”), the drift of pot smoke through the projector’s beam at the Esquire Cinema on Ludlow in Cincinnati, where we’d gone to watch Elvira Madigan or revisit Knife in the Water. Other nights, there was Two for the Road or A Man and a Woman, if you wanted all pretty, no violence.
I was surprised to read in the Sunday New York Times that not only are New Yorkers going out to the movies again, but the late sixties are actually hot.
Glynnis MacNicol, who wrote the Times article, admits she’s been to La Piscine, a 1969 French psychodrama/swimming pool flick starring Romy Schneider and Alain Delon, four times! So, apparently, have a lot of other people. Film Forum has held it over since May. It has, apparently, become the go-to of the summer for that theater. The earlier Times’ review, “Pretty Rich People Behaving Poorly.” seems to sum up what’s got people coming back. Without giving away what happens. these characters behave fairly darkly. Don’t miss the trailer, if you want a taste: Romy’s tits were admirable and Alain’s navel not to be beat.
In other words, a little voyeurism, a dash of sadism, may be just what we need on summer vacation from the pandemic. Who can resist a splash?
Going from the ridiculous to the sublime, friends turned me on to another movie, Summer of Soul, a documentary that came to The Nitehawk in Brooklyn a few months ago. It was also filmed in 1969, the only thing it has in common with La Piscene. I was in New York City that summer, when the Harlem Cultural Festival, preserved by this documentary’s footage, took place. Headlining Sly Stone, Fifth Dimension, Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and I could go on and on, the festival drew standing room only crowds. I had just moved to New York City that summer from Ohio. Being white and ignorant, I had no clue this series of events was actually taking place just a subway ride away, when Woodstock — which we couldn’t get to on account of bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Thruway — had gotten all the media attention. Mostly white twenty-somethings, some naked, many in an altered state, trumped a well-behaved 99-percent-Black crowd, apparently. The Harlem footage languished in its canisters, in a garage for fifty years. Rescued finally, intercut with interviews from surviving audience members and performers, and released this year, it reminds us that Black lives do matter. And that there was life, a lot of it, before the pandemic, and will be again.
How can I close without a brief reflection on the St. George Theatre in 1969? One torrid afternoon, not long after arriving in New York, we were patrons in what would be, just seven years later (and briefly) our theater. We bought tickets not because we wanted to see the movie, but to get cool; we had no air conditioning in our garden apartment. Although The Sterile Cuckoo, starring Liza Minelli, was a bit of a doggie, unwatchable by today’s standards, we could sit in the dark and recover from the unbearable heat of our first New York summer. 1969. The world hadn’t grown up quite yet. Was Liza Minelli ever that young? Was I?