1968: A Filmmaker’s Muse
On Monday, March 5, to pay homage to the fiftieth anniversary of 1968, film director and professor of film analysis Vito Zagarrio recreated the climate of a year of revolt, liberation and immense social change.
Zagarrio’s lecture, part of a La Pietra Dialogues event series titled Year of Revolt: 1968/2018, served as an introduction to the two films, The Dreamers and The Strawberry Statement, screened at 7 p.m. this Saturday, March 10 at Cinema La Compagnia, Via Cavour 50/r, in the center of Florence.
Zagarrio characterized 1968 not as a singular calendar year, but a symbol of one of the most important time periods in recent history. The year 1968 is particularly important because it was the year of the student riots in France that resulted in radical change and education reform. The most infamous date in this period is May 3, when students at Sorbonne University conducted a protest that escalated, causing hundreds of students to be arrested and injured as the riots were broken up by the police.
This date serves as a central point in a much larger plane of social revolution; it is a widely understood reference to hope and anger and to the rejection of social norms, the accepted way of life and the treatment of powerless people at that time. Gender and sexual revolution dismantled the rigid idea of the family and the repression of free sexuality. The Civil Rights Movement worked to liberate African-Americans from the chokehold of racial segregation and discrimination laws. Political music celebrations catalyzed the artistic revolution that criticized "The System."
Zagarrio provided the audience with a series of film titles spanning several genres and an analysis of their importance to the concept of revolution at the time of their creation and today.
For the majority of his presentation, he identified a number of prominent films which he grouped into separate categories.
Zagarrio began with U.S. films including The Strawberry Statement, The Dreamers, Zabriskie Point, Easy Rider, The Graduate and more. The main theme of these films was the rejection of the Western way of life, but also a reverence towards it. This contradiction is a complex characteristic of this era of film--scenes like the end of Zabriskie Point, when there is an explosion of a building and items such as Wonder Bread, newspapers, televisions and various food products go flying while Pink Floyd plays in the background, represent an “anti-Yankee,” anti-Western view of America and it’s commodity-based culture. It can be seen as excessive, exploitative and corrupt--but at the same time, it can be seen as a Utopia, a symbol of freedom and prosperity.
He then presented the category of Vietnam War films, a genre that symbolizes the time period perhaps more than any other. Much of the activism of the time was anti-war, and this ideology is represented in several films. Among them are Apocalypse Now, Gardens of Stone, Hair, and Full Metal Jacket. These films, as interpreted by Zagarrio, were meant to show not just the horrors of the war, but the concept of sacrifice: young people of this generation were willing to sacrifice their existence for an idea. They believed their sole purpose was to change life and the course of history.
Next he explored 1968 in Europe and Italian cinema, offering a different perspective of the period, namely surrounding the existence of and resistance to fascism. Among them was Morgan!, a 60s cult film about a Marxist British man that foreshadowed 1968 and started a new wave of “free cinema.” Another film that “prepared” for 1968 is All’armi siam fascisti, a re-reading of fascism consisting of real footage like photographs and newsreels. Prima della rivoluzione is a very important critique of communism and the upper middle class--it involves a man caught in a love triangle, both literally and metaphorically. He is caught between two women, but is also caught between his desire to be a revolutionary fighting for communism and his existence as part of the upper middle class. A similarly-themed film that represented powerlessness but an internal fight is I pugni in tasca, meaning “fists in the pocket.” The idea of fists in the pocket represents a desire to fight for something but being restricted from actually doing so, or choosing not to. It follows a man who murders his family as he believes they are representative of a society he hates; he lacks legitimate power but wants to change things, and follows the delusion that exterminating his family will give him the power he so longs for.
Among others were feminist films set in the time period and films made after 1968, including modern films like Across the Universe. He also presented Italian “political Western” films that depicted a view of America from a stereotypical standpoint, often following a Yankee vs. Mexican narrative.
Zagarrio focused especially on the two films that were screened at Teatro la Compagnia on Saturday, March 10 to provide context and interpretation.
The Dreamers by Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci is set during the student riots in Paris in 1968. A young American boy studying abroad in France meets two twins, a boy and a girl, who open their home to him. First seeking a friendship, the boy soon becomes entangled in an erotic love triangle. The film is significant to the idea of liberation, both in sexual and social terms, as Zagarrio stressed the metaphorical aspect of sexual content in these films rather than the literal.
This film and its counterparts represents the link between private life and the external political environment. He referred to it as the “private revolution”; the influence of public matters on sex, children, the family, the relationship with the church and more.
The Strawberry Statement by Stuart Hagmann is a film that depicts the fight against “The System,” a term used to refer to the police, social repression, and the Western way. Young people of the time made The System the object of their opposition, displaying the police in a fascist light.
It follows the story of an apolitical college boy who joins a group of campus protesters to meet women but becomes engulfed in the cause, leading him to violent measures. In this film, his relationship with the police and their eventual domination of him is indicative of the anti-system, anti-police mindset of the time.
Through the extensive list of films Zagarrio provided to the audience, the concept of 1968 as a year that will never die in the minds of people worldwide was clearly stressed. Films are one of the most influential parts of many cultures; for them to still be made about this period in time, and for so many to be made during, before and just after the revolution, is something unique that cannot be said about many other times in history. The intrigue revolving around social, political, racial, sexual, spiritual, familial and artistic revolution is an quality of humanity that continues to serve as a muse for artists who wish to represent the human condition and our intrinsic desire for freedom.