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Alice's Restaurant

Alice's Restaurant(1969)

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teaser Alice's Restaurant (1969)

After the phenomenal success of Bonnie and Clyde in 1967, director Arthur Penn wanted to go in a different thematic direction, away from exploring violence as an unavoidable human condition. His inspiration for a new project came from an unlikely source, an eighteen-minute talking blues ballad by Arlo Guthrie entitled "The Alice's Restaurant Massacree." In an interview with Bernard Weinraub for the New York Times, Penn said, "I heard a record and said, 'That's a movie.' I didn't know what shape it would take. It seemed so active and cinematic. It took on images very quickly. It was difficult, though, because we didn't have a strong narrative, as we had in Bonnie and Clyde, to thrust it forward." But using key moments from the song like the confrontation with Officer Obie over the illegal dumping of garbage in the town dump and Arlo's experiences at the Army induction center, Penn's movie began to take shape, one that he hoped would encapsulate the counterculture of the sixties -- flower children, draft card burning, commune living, the rebellion against authority.

Retaining the loose and rambling ballad structure of the song, Alice's Restaurant (1969) is an often lyrical and bittersweet movie about an awkward time in the sixties. Though the general tone of the film is humorous, a more serious side emerges occasionally through the addition of new incidents -- such as Arlo's visit to the hospital to see his dying father, the legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie (played by Joseph Boley) -- or new characters like Shelly (Michael McClanathan), who dies of a drug overdose. But overall, the storyline mimics the song. Arlo, an itinerant hippie, drops in on a commune run by his friends, Ray (James Broderick) and Alice (Pat Quinn), and decides to stay awhile in their Berkshire County home (a reconverted church). A spectacular Thanksgiving Day meal ends in Arlo's arrest, which later inadvertently helps him avoid the draft and return to the commune. But the easygoing camaraderie among the hippies is slowly eroded by competitive relationships and sexual rivalries -- typical human foibles.

Alice's Restaurant was filmed in and around Stockbridge, Pittsfield, and Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and New York City. One of the most celebrated moments in the movie is the final shot of Alice, sitting alone on the steps of the deserted church, staring into an uncertain future. Penn and his editor, Dede Allen, spent months planning this complicated sequence which took hours to actually shoot. "The camera was dollying back and zooming in at the same time and the image of Alice remained constant," Penn said in the aforementioned New York Times article. "I wanted a certain melancholy in that scene. It was the closure of a phase in someone's life. I wanted the constancy of a memory experience and the physical sense of departure." In 1974, director Sidney Lumet would try to recreate this tricky final sequence with Blythe Danner in Lovin' Molly, an adaptation of Larry McMurtry's novel, Leaving Cheyenne.

When Alice's Restaurant opened theatrically, it received decidedly mixed reviews from the critics and wasn't a popular box-office success with its intended age group. Many pointed out that Arlo Guthrie was no actor but is merely playing himself here. Still, the film did garner an Oscar nomination for Best Director and introduced audiences to some talented newcomers, including Pat Quinn as Alice; character actor M. Emmet Walsh as the Group W sergeant; Tina Chen as Mari-Chan, Arlo's girlfriend; and Shelley Plimpton (former wife of David Carradine and mother of Shelley Plimpton) as Reenie, an undernourished groupie. James Broderick (father of Matthew), who plays Ray, had only appeared on television and in a few bit parts like The Group (1966) before winning this important role. Folk singer Pete Seeger appears as himself, performing "Pastures of Plenty" and the "Car-Car Song" with Arlo. And Joni Mitchell can be heard singing "Songs to Aging Children" during the wintry funeral scene at Shelly's gravesite. By the way, the real Alice of Alice's Restaurant appears in a cameo. She later published a cookbook of her recipes.

Producer: Hillard Elkins, Joseph Manduke
Director: Arthur Penn
Screenplay: Arthur Penn, Venabel Herndon
Production Design: Warren Clymer
Cinematography: Michael Nebbia
Editing: Dede Allen
Music: Arlo Guthrie, Garry Sherman
Principal Cast: Arlo Guthrie (Arlo), Pat Quinn (Alice), James Broderick (Ray), Michael McClanathan (Shelly), Geoff Outlaw (Roger), Tina Chen (Mari-Chan), Kathleen Dabney (Karin), William Obanhein (Officer Obie), Joseph Boley (Woody), Shelley Plimpton (Reenie), M. Emmet Walsh (Group W Sergeant).
C-111m.

by Jeff Stafford

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teaser Alice's Restaurant (1969)

After the phenomenal success of Bonnie and Clyde in 1967, director Arthur Penn wanted to go in a different thematic direction, away from exploring violence as an unavoidable human condition. His inspiration for a new project came from an unlikely source, an eighteen-minute talking blues ballad by Arlo Guthrie entitled "The Alice's Restaurant Massacree." In an interview with Bernard Weinraub for the New York Times, Penn said, "I heard a record and said, 'That's a movie.' I didn't know what shape it would take. It seemed so active and cinematic. It took on images very quickly. It was difficult, though, because we didn't have a strong narrative, as we had in Bonnie and Clyde, to thrust it forward." But using key moments from the song like the confrontation with Officer Obie over the illegal dumping of garbage in the town dump and Arlo's experiences at the Army induction center, Penn's movie began to take shape, one that he hoped would encapsulate the counterculture of the sixties -- flower children, draft card burning, commune living, the rebellion against authority.

Retaining the loose and rambling ballad structure of the song, Alice's Restaurant (1969) is an often lyrical and bittersweet movie about an awkward time in the sixties. Though the general tone of the film is humorous, a more serious side emerges occasionally through the addition of new incidents -- such as Arlo's visit to the hospital to see his dying father, the legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie (played by Joseph Boley) -- or new characters like Shelly (Michael McClanathan), who dies of a drug overdose. But overall, the storyline mimics the song. Arlo, an itinerant hippie, drops in on a commune run by his friends, Ray (James Broderick) and Alice (Pat Quinn), and decides to stay awhile in their Berkshire County home (a reconverted church). A spectacular Thanksgiving Day meal ends in Arlo's arrest, which later inadvertently helps him avoid the draft and return to the commune. But the easygoing camaraderie among the hippies is slowly eroded by competitive relationships and sexual rivalries -- typical human foibles.

Alice's Restaurant was filmed in and around Stockbridge, Pittsfield, and Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and New York City. One of the most celebrated moments in the movie is the final shot of Alice, sitting alone on the steps of the deserted church, staring into an uncertain future. Penn and his editor, Dede Allen, spent months planning this complicated sequence which took hours to actually shoot. "The camera was dollying back and zooming in at the same time and the image of Alice remained constant," Penn said in the aforementioned New York Times article. "I wanted a certain melancholy in that scene. It was the closure of a phase in someone's life. I wanted the constancy of a memory experience and the physical sense of departure." In 1974, director Sidney Lumet would try to recreate this tricky final sequence with Blythe Danner in Lovin' Molly, an adaptation of Larry McMurtry's novel, Leaving Cheyenne.

When Alice's Restaurant opened theatrically, it received decidedly mixed reviews from the critics and wasn't a popular box-office success with its intended age group. Many pointed out that Arlo Guthrie was no actor but is merely playing himself here. Still, the film did garner an Oscar nomination for Best Director and introduced audiences to some talented newcomers, including Pat Quinn as Alice; character actor M. Emmet Walsh as the Group W sergeant; Tina Chen as Mari-Chan, Arlo's girlfriend; and Shelley Plimpton (former wife of David Carradine and mother of Shelley Plimpton) as Reenie, an undernourished groupie. James Broderick (father of Matthew), who plays Ray, had only appeared on television and in a few bit parts like The Group (1966) before winning this important role. Folk singer Pete Seeger appears as himself, performing "Pastures of Plenty" and the "Car-Car Song" with Arlo. And Joni Mitchell can be heard singing "Songs to Aging Children" during the wintry funeral scene at Shelly's gravesite. By the way, the real Alice of Alice's Restaurant appears in a cameo. She later published a cookbook of her recipes.

Producer: Hillard Elkins, Joseph Manduke
Director: Arthur Penn
Screenplay: Arthur Penn, Venabel Herndon
Production Design: Warren Clymer
Cinematography: Michael Nebbia
Editing: Dede Allen
Music: Arlo Guthrie, Garry Sherman
Principal Cast: Arlo Guthrie (Arlo), Pat Quinn (Alice), James Broderick (Ray), Michael McClanathan (Shelly), Geoff Outlaw (Roger), Tina Chen (Mari-Chan), Kathleen Dabney (Karin), William Obanhein (Officer Obie), Joseph Boley (Woody), Shelley Plimpton (Reenie), M. Emmet Walsh (Group W Sergeant).
C-111m.

By Jeff Stafford

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