Cleaning Out The DVR: The Love-Ins (dir by Arthur Dreifuss)

(Hi there!  So, as you may know because I’ve been talking about it on this site all year, I have got way too much stuff on my DVR.  Seriously, I currently have 179 things recorded!  I’ve decided that, on February 1st, I am going to erase everything on the DVR, regardless of whether I’ve watched it or not.  So, that means that I’ve now have only have a month to clean out the DVR!  Will I make it?  Keep checking this site to find out!  I recorded the 1967 film, The Love-Ins, off of TCM on September 28th, 2017!)

“We now enter Haight Ashbury.  The promised land of the love movement.  The utopia of LSD…and now we take you to Golden Gate Park for a hippie love-in!”

— A San Francisco Tour Guide in The Love-Ins (1967)

I doubt I could ever be a hippie.  I don’t mind the drugs, the free love, or the music but the whole lack of showers and underwear would be too much for me.  Add to that, from what I’ve seen, it appears that whenever there was a hippie gathering, it would inevitably lead to the arrival of mimes and who wants to deal with that?  That said, I certainly do enjoy watching movies about hippies.

Take The Love-Ins for instance!

This 1967 film is all about hippies, or at the very least the popular perception of hippies.  There’s even a lengthy sequence that takes place at a hippie gathering in San Francisco.  While the hippies plays bongo drums, blow bubbles, dance, and stare at multi-colored umbrellas with stoned eyes, they’re watched by Jonathan Barnett (Richard Todd).  Barnett used to be a respected philosophy professor but then he resigned his teaching position in protest after two students were expelled for publishing an underground newspaper.  This led to Barnett appearing on a right-wing talk show where the antagonistic host told him that, if he loved the hippies so much, maybe he should got to Haight Ashbury and see how they really live.  Barnett does just that and it blows his mind!

Soon, Barnett has re-invented himself.  He’s now a psychedelic prophet, living in a commune with the expelled students and encouraging everyone to “Be more.  Sense more.  Love more.”  That doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as “Tune in.  Turn On.  Drop out,” but it’s the same basic idea.  Soon, hippies from all over the country are flocking to Prof. Barnett, dropping LSD, and doing interpretive dances.  Not even the local outlaw bikers can stop Barnett from spreading his message.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for his newfound fame to go to Barnett’s head.  He soon stops listening to Larry (James MacArthur), the student whose expulsion started the whole movement, and instead surrounds himself with sycophants like Elliott (Mark Goddard).  Barnett goes from being an idealist to a messianic cult leader.  Soon, hippies are fighting in the streets, setting fired to newspaper they don’t like, and jumping out of windows.  (“LSD told him he could fly.  Gravity had different plans.”  No one actually said that in the movie but I wish they had.)  After discovering that his girlfriend (Susan Oliver) has been impregnated by Barnett, Larry realizes that he has to stop his former professor, one way or the other.

The Love-Ins was made by the same people responsible for Riot on Sunset Strip but, whereas Sunset Strip at least pretended to take an even-handed, documentary-like approach, The Love-Ins is a psychedelic freakout.  Whereas Sunset Strip features Mimsy Farmer taking LSD and then staring at her hand, The Love-Ins features Susan Oliver taking LSD, transforming into Alice in Wonderland, and then dancing with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.  And whereas Sunset Strip tried to be on the side of both the young and the old, The Love-Ins leaves little doubt that those hippies are no good!  (While Larry may be a the film’s hero, he looks like he would be more comfortable in the ROTC than at Woodstock.)  Barnett’s love-ins are revealed to be as choreographed as any political rally and, if there’s any doubt that he’s become a really bad guy, he even starts to perform impromptu wedding ceremonies.  “How dare you make a mockery of marriage!?”  an outraged observer shouts.

Seen today, the main value of The Love-Ins is a chance to see how many adults viewed the counter-culture and its leaders in 1967.  (Director Arthur Dreifuss was 60 when he directed this film and the film often views its young characters with the detachment of someone not sure of how close he can really get before being attacked.)  Of course, the main reason I liked The Love-Ins was because of the psychedelic dance scenes.  (Though no one’s going to mistake this film for another Face in the Crowd, I also enjoyed some of the film’s satiric jabs at the cult of celebrity, which was apparently just as big in 1967 as it is in 2018.)  It’s definitely a film of its time, though whether or not the people involved with the movie actually understood their time is another issue all together.