Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Riot in Bridgewater (but not really)

Recently -- thank goodness -- film festivals have added some diversity to the cinematic output of our adoptive hometown. The Bridgewater, Massachusetts location link on IMDb currently lists 11 films, most of them recent and under 20 minutes. Of the four feature-length films, all involve mayhem of some kind. One of these, of course, is the notorious 1967 documentary Titicut Follies, which had to be filmed here because it was of actual atrocities taking place on the southern margins of our fair town.

But in the other three full-length entries, it seems directors have chosen Bridgewater only when faced with the need for a venue in which to do some serious damage. When we first learned that the 1980 film A Small Circle of Friends -- which focuses on a love triangle set at Harvard during the late Vietnam era -- was filmed in Bridgewater, we assumed it was because the real Harvard was too busy for filming there. So when we watched it a few years ago, we scrutinized every scene for familiar landmarks on our own campus.

We searched in vain for the first hour, when finally we saw Boyden Hall -- our icon and main administration building -- in a chaotic, late-night scene involving police assault on a student. Clearly this was something the production team could not get Harvard to allow.


That evident refusal by Harvard ca. 1980 illustrates a major theme of the film, which is the intrusion of war on the gentility of Harvard ca. 1969, when the character Haddox -- a radicalized student from small-town Texas whose name sounds like a cross among a fish, a bovine, and some kind of weapon -- advises that it is "time to say good-bye to middle class."

It is interesting, in fact, that so much of the film was shot at Harvard, given the critical positions it occasionally takes. The film insinuates, for example, that admissions policies were slanted against Jewish students in an effort to weaken radical movements. Perhaps unintentionally, the film highlights my pet Harvard peeve -- its elimination of geography in the 1950s. A major character admits not knowing where the DMZ was -- and in fact not knowing that it was irrelevant in Vietnam -- and then later suggests that Egypt is in Europe.

The film as historical fiction worth watching, as it captures an era just a few years before our own coming of age. It portrays a political left that has not yet consolidated around war, race, and sexism, so that one of the characters who is most radically opposed to the war is tone-deaf on race and an absolutely misogynist boyfriend to the supposed love of his life. His ignorance in the bedroom(s), in fact, caused me to ask, "When was Our Bodies, Ourselves published, anyway?" It turns out it was not published until 1971, and probably did not reach male audiences for some time after that. The film clearly shows feminism as a nascent and very separate part of campus radicalism in the years leading up to that publication.

As a librarian, Pam is always interested to see how libraries are portrayed in popular culture. This film had three library scenes, but no librarians, even while one of the library scenes involved some actual "shushing". Other scenes included theft of library property (with the thief insisting that the "ends justify the means"); and a  
small library inside the bunker where the a group of radical student terrorists live. Haddox says he never read
as much as a student as he does as a terrorist. Some say reading is a dangerous thing.

Bunker Library
Non-spoiler alert: We will not describe the two major plot twists in the final 15 minutes or so, but they are worth waiting for. Oddly enough, we both thought that the sound track in the final act sounds very much like an orchestral version of Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" -- Turn around, bright eyes! 

We will give this much away -- the very last frame is foreshadowed in a discussion earlier in the film.