JFK, MLK, LBJ, and RFK. Hawks, doves, panthers, and pigs. Folk rock, garage rock, acid rock, and throwing rocks. Sit-ins, teach-ins, love-ins, and Laugh-Ins. Revolutionaries on the left, reactionaries on the right, and a great mass of mystified in the middle.
The sixties were without doubt one of the most turbulent decades in American history, a time of tremendous and remarkably rapid social, political, and cultural change.
Ann Arbor doesn't seem to get as much recognition for its contribution to the sea change of the sixties as do other places such as Berkeley or Madison, Wisconsin. But it was just as important to the growth and evolution of the sixties as either of those two cities.
Ann Arbor was the birthplace of the White Panther Party, which would eventually play an important role (although an indirect and highly ironic one) in the downfall of the Nixon administration. In addition, Ann Arbor (not San Francisco) was the city that saw the election of the first openly gay person to public office in the United States in early 1974.
Many important leaders of the sixties movement came out of Ann Arbor, including Tom Hayden, Richard and Mickey (Miriam) Flacks, Bill Ayers, and Carl Oglesby. A host of other notable and interesting people contributed to and were influenced by the social, political, and cultural energy of Ann Arbor during that time, including John Sinclair, Bob Seger, Todd Gitlin, Gilda Radner, Iggy Pop, Larry Brilliant, Christine Lahti, Ken and Ric Burns, Robin Wright, Lawrence Kasdan, Carole Simpson — as well as countless others who are not as well known but whose contributions were equally as important.
Modern Major Films is currently at work developing a documentary film about Ann Arbor in the sixties, with a working title of, straightforwardly enough, Ann Arbor in the Sixties. The film will cover what historians would call "the long sixties," in this case the years 1960-1975, approximately. It will chronicle the contentious transformation of a small Michigan town of stern German heritage, proudly embodying the conservative ideals of mid-century middle America, into an epicenter of social, political, and cultural radicalism in just a few tumultuous years.
We envision this film as the final component of a trilogy covering the three important centers where the American New Left emerged in the early sixties: Berkeley, Madison, and Ann Arbor. The previous two films in the trilogy are in fact two of the most important films thus far to have been made about the sixties: The War at Home (1979) and Berkeley in the Sixties (1990), both of which were nominated for Academy Awards. The former focuses on the anti-war protests that happened in Madison during the sixties. The latter covers the student protests and countercultural activities that took place in Berkeley during that time.
Ann Arbor in the Sixties will be similar to the other two films, but with important differences. For one, it will cover a longer time period, starting earlier (briefly going back into the fifties), and finishing later (well into the seventies). Many significant events took place in Ann Arbor during this extended time period, and it is important to include them. Furthering our coverage beyond the sixties themselves also allows us to explore the decline of the movement during the seventies.
In addition, our film will spend more time than the previous two in exploring the creative aspects of the sixties, including music, performance art, and film, and the complex interactions between the different facets of the movement, social, political, and cultural. (By including a strong cultural component we will also be able to tap a wider audience that might not be so interested in political themes. Who doesn't want to hear about how a Doors concert at the University of Michigan in 1967 inspired young, straightlaced Jim Osterberg to become Iggy Pop?)
But love 'em or hate 'em, praise or berate 'em — as a society we are still obsessed with the sixties. What happened then, forty-plus years ago, continues to have a deep influence on our lives today.
Work on Ann Arbor in the Sixties is proceeding on several fronts, perhaps the most important of which is research. What originally seemed like an interesting story about the small-town birth of SDS and the Peace Corps has blossomed into an enormous topic that includes dozens of important people and events, the birth and growth of a number of influential social and political movements, as well as pioneering efforts in music, ecology, and avant-garde performance art (with pot smuggling, UFO sightings, and a spate of brutal serial murders thrown in for good measure). Research has proved to be difficult, however, as it is an unfortunate fact that not much has yet been written about Ann Arbor in the sixties. So we must seek out the people who lived through it and ask them about it.
James Earl Jones (the voice of Darth Vader) is interested in narrating the film.
Even if you don't give two hoots about the film, the forum is a way for you to connect with a virtual community of acquaintances old and new, literal and figurative, linked through their experience of a unique and important time and place.
Or maybe you'd just like to ramble on about the old days. Whatever your reasons for participating, please consider yourself welcome.
(If you would prefer to tell us your story privately, see the contact link below.)
We'd also like to hear from people who have photographs, buttons, fliers, posters, and other memorabilia — especially movie footage — from Ann Arbor of that time.
We would like to thank everyone who has helped us in our efforts so far. Much remains to be done, but there is every indication that this film will be a wonderful experience for all involved and a great success as both a historical document and a compelling work of art. We're talking with James Earl Jones — a graduate of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor — about narrating the film, and he is very interested. Many other important people, famous and not, have given us great encouragement and have promised to help in any way they can.
It's a history that we strongly feel is worth preserving — and hope that you do, too.
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