Icarus Films // 1968 // 68 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // May 18th, 2013
Something happened in the summer after the Summer of Love
The 1968 Democratic Convention is Chicago is one of the landmark moments in twentieth century American history. With the Flower Children in full bloom after the Summer of Love in '67, the Democratic Convention was the first real opportunity that the youth movement had to flex its political muscle. While the Republicans were a hopeless case -- too full of conservatives and other squares -- the hope was that the Democrats might be swayed by the concerns of the liberal youth. Instead, corruption and brutality were the order of the day. Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley authorized a violent police response to the protesting youth, and the beating and tear-gassing reached epic proportions. It was hoped that the heavy handed police action would bring attention to the politics of the movement (much like Martin Luther King Jr.'s tactics earlier in the decade), but there was no outcry. The results were twofold: the majority was dispirited and largely turned apathetic (and were barely rallied for George McGovern four years later), and the minority became radicalized (including a young journalist, Hunter S. Thompson). Among those in the latter camp were Abbie Hoffman and Paul Krassner. Last Summer Won't Happen is a documentary on their political maneuverings in the Summer of '68 and is a worthwhile document for anyone interested in the politics of the late 1960s.
Last Summer Won't Happen takes 58 minutes to explore the politic scene in New York during the summer of 1968. In parts it's a verite-style document of the East Village, including lots of scenes of stuff that was happening on the streets. It's also a series of portraits of famous players in the scene: Abbie Hoffman, activist extraordinaire; Paul Krassner, editor; and Phil Ochs, folk singer. Together, these halves paint a compelling portrait of an important movement.
We like to separate art and technology, but the two are so mutually dependent that it's impossible. One of the prime example of this is the proliferation of 16mm cameras and sound technology. Once 16mm cameras became small and affordable they could be couple with cheaper mobile sound recording (like the trusty Nagra), which allowed independent productions to lower costs and film on location. Perhaps most famously that led to films like John Cassavettes' Shadows, but its most revolutionary application was probably in the world of documentary. Suddenly filmmakers could take their cameras out into the world without eight people to carry stuff. Last Summer Won't Happen is a product of that revolution. Co-directors Peter Gessner and Tom Hurwitz are able to take his camera to the streets and film the activities of the movers and shakers on the street. While I doubt his camera ever completely disappeared in his subjects' minds, its smaller size means that the proceedings feel more natural and we get a sense of what it might have been like to be there during those heady days.
Beyond its interest as a cinematic artifact of the 1960s documentary movement, Last Summer Won't Happen is an important historical document as well. Its subjects are significant figures of the '60s, all of whom are due for a reappraisal in the wake of twenty-first century political movements (like Occupy). In that context Last Summer Won't Happen is a valuable document for political activists, as we get a boots-on-the-ground approach to politics that is rarely presented. Perhaps Primary and War Room are similar, though their election-focus separates them from the wider interests of the youth movement more generally.
Obviously Last Summer Won't Happen is a niche release; it's mostly going to be of interest to hardcore documentary fans, students of political history, or those looking to revisit the sixties. Don't tell that to Icarus Films, though; they treat Last Summer Won't Happen like it's a blockbuster. The 58-minute feature is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 from a restored 16mm print. It looks its age but is otherwise good. There's a bit of damage and possibly some color fading, but overall detail is strong and the feel of 1960s film stock is well-maintained. The stereo audio was obviously recorded on the fly, so it's not the most high-fidelity track, but this stereo presentation sounds remarkably clean and hiss/distortion free.
Extras start with a bonus film, 1966's The Time of the Locus, an early black-and-white anti-Vietnam War film by the same director as the feature. There is also a pair of interviews with the filmmakers to round out the bonus slate.
Last Summer Won't Happen is an interesting look at the political realities of 1968 as staged in New York City. It contains vivid portraits of some of the most significant figures of '60s culture and glimpses of the East Village as it was almost half a century ago. The bonus features make this an even more tempting proposition for those interested in the film.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Icarus Films
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 68 Minutes
Release Year: 1968
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Short Film