The Common Good
December 2010

Are We Found Yet?

by Gareth Higgins | December 2010

The most significant DVD release of 2010 is America Lost and Found, packaging seven films produced between 1968 and 1972, including Easy Rider and The Last Picture Show.

The most significant DVD release of 2010 is America Lost and Found, packaging seven films produced between 1968 and 1972, including Easy Rider and The Last Picture Show. These films represent the moment when the stewards of the counterculture briefly got their hands on the wheel -- bolstered by studios that saw that movies could be smart and lucrative at the same time. The set's synopsis speaks as much for the cultural moment we find ourselves in today as it does for the period in which these films were released, of which it says, "What had once worked seemed broken."

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It was the end of something -- the boomer generation taking over from their mystified parents; but it was also a beginning that even its propoents didn’t understand. What's fascinating about this period is how Hollywood seemed to value intelligence, and, for a brief moment, it looked like movies could change the world. It didn't exactly work out that way. The political rebels in Easy Rider wanted to drive toward a new America, but they ended up in fictional oblivion, while their director, the late Dennis Hopper, was voting for Reagan by middle age. Something was ending, to be sure. The Last Picture Show -- a gorgeous black-and-white memorial to old American towns, evocative of the role that cinematic magic can play in our formation as children -- imagines what is eroded when suburbia replaces community, and when ideological and militant puritanism is confused with humane conservative values. It's not hard to see the contemporary parallels: a war half a world away, a sense of our freedom colonized by societal pressures and fears beyond our control, public anger voiced in public gatherings whose leaders don’t always seem sure of what they're protesting. Just as before, there are movies that seek to speak to this condition. This year we've seen Shutter Island -- a profound work about the denial of responsibility after wars have ended; Inception -- a psychological epic that proposes an escape from the prisons of our subconscious projections; Winter's Bone, a stark story of poverty in the Midwest; and I Am Love. The last is a challenging film that underlines a truth that should be a cornerstone for our age, if we want to come out of it better than how we went in: Money is not democratic, families are not democratic, but love is. Still, it’s worth paying attention to the old movies too. America Lost and Found might serve as a reminder that people before us faced similar challenges, but self-righteousness and dehumanizing the political "other" won't bring us closer to a solution. Gareth Higgins is a Sojourners contributing editor and executive director of the Wild Goose Festival. Originally from Northern Ireland, he lives in Carrboro, North Carolina.

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