Populist Picks

Birthplace of the ’60s

Documentary DVD: Berkeley in the Sixties — This 1990 Oscar-nominated film focuses on the hotbed of student activism and radicalism — The University of California at Berkeley. Through interviews with 15 participants in the events and archival film and newsreel footage as well as the music of the times, the film traces the triumphs and failures of 1960s student and youth politics, starting with the Berkeley Free Speech Movement on into civil rights, the antiwar campaign, the sprouting of the hippies across the bay in the Haight Ashbury, the rise of the Black Panthers one burg over in Oakland and the dawn of feminism. The final struggle for People’s Park even encapsulates the best of what the decade stood for (people coming together to create a green space out of a campus parking lot) and the worst (riots after police fenced off the park that prompted then Gov. Reagan to call in the National Guard). It brings the promises and contradictions of the times back to life for those of us old enough to have lived through the era and is an essential primer for younger activists who want to learn what it was all about.

Music DVD & CD: Sleepwalking Through Cambodia by Dengue Fever — I gave this band’s last album a hearty plug here, and their latest two-fer release of a documentary film and soundtrack album is even more significant for anyone interested in world music and Southeast Asian culture and politics. Dengue Fever is an international music anomaly, and the most delightful one out there today. Where most world music comes from outside our borders, this band was born in Los Angeles out of the fascination keyboard player Ethan Holtzman found after picking up a cassette of Cambodian pop music on visiting the nation in 1997.

Now they’ve returned from a tour of Cambodia with a wonderful, vibrant and colorful film about their visit and accompanying soundtrack music CD. While there, the band collaborated with traditional singers, musicians and dancers and played their own music for Cambodian audiences. The music they create with the Cambodians they met is as beguiling as any in recent memory. Rob Patterson

The film proves that music is indeed a universal language, and anyone who finds the national and cultural conflicts of today’s world as troubling as I do will likely find an uplifting hope in the cross-cultural tale it tells and the music that comes out of it.

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2009

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