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AT THE TRIPLEX: ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ and the messiness of movements

"Alice’s Restaurant" is about messiness (and I am not talking about litter).

The film is an adaptation of Arlo Guthrie’s 1968 song “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” a perennial classic that is as synonymous with Thanksgiving as balloons floating down 6th Avenue. If you’ve spent enough time in the Berkshires, you already know the beats of the story by heart:

Arlo went to a Thanksgiving dinner at Alice and Ray Brock’s house (a converted church that is now the Guthrie Center). Arlo offered to clean up afterward and dumped some trash where he shouldn’t have. Arlo pled guilty and, as a result, was later deemed too immoral to fight in Vietnam.

“Alice’s Restaurant,” 1969. Photo courtesy of Park Circus.

The beauty of Arthur Penn’s movie is that it opens up this story and illustrates the complicated human context that surrounds it. The wry humor of Guthrie’s lyrics still shines through, but Penn fills out the movie with equal amounts of grief and exuberance.

The (highly fictionalized) Ray and Alice of the movie are trying to build a haven for their friends where they can be themselves without persecution. It is an idea that was at the core of the counterculture movement of the late 1960s: As the world fell deeper and deeper into turmoil, there was a chance to start over, to do things right and create a society centered on love and openness.

“Alice’s Restaurant,” 1969. Photo courtesy of Park Circus.

While there are a variety of reasons why this didn’t work (the Nixon administration, for one), “Alice’s Restaurant” points a finger squarely at the people trying to start the revolution in the first place. The film paints Ray Brock as a tempestuous father figure, playing pied piper to a collection of wayward souls. Things fall apart as Ray’s jealousy, anger, and resentment seep through, allowing disillusionment to take hold.

It is a sobering depiction of the end of a movement, and the quiet tragedy imbued in Penn’s final shot still resonates today: It doesn’t matter how righteous your cause is if the people who embody it can’t get out of their own way.

“Alice’s Restaurant” plays April 27 as part of our “Berkshires at the Counterculture” series. The screening will be followed by a talkback with Arlo Guthrie and Matt Penn.

Now Playing

“Challengers”
A sexy sports drama with Zendaya, Josh O’Connor, and Mike Faist.

From Luca Guadagnino, director of “Call Me By Your Name,” comes a sexy, intense drama about what it means to win. Zendaya stars as a tennis-player-turned-coach who becomes romantically involved with two tennis players (Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist) and manipulates their relationships to produce results—both on and off the court.

“Challengers,” 2024. Photo courtesy of MGM.

“La Chimera”
A surreal adventure through the Tuscan countryside.

Everyone has their own chimera (something they wish for that is impossible to achieve). When archeologist Arthur (Josh O’Connor, “The Crown”) gets out of jail, he reunites with his gang of raucous grave robbers to search for his chimera, a portal to the afterlife that will reunite him with his lost love. A surreal comedy full of magical realism from director Alice Rochrwacher, “La Chimera” is a Felliniesque adventure that blurs genres and time. Limited engagement. Ends May 2.

“La Chimera,” 2024. Photo courtesy of Neon.

“Civil War”
A provocative dystopian thriller from Alex Garland.

From writer/director Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Annihilation) comes a dystopian tribute to the courage of journalists. Starring Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, and Cailee Spaeny as war correspondents traveling through a near future America on the brink of all-out war, Civil War is an action packed thriller that was made for our political present.

“Civil War,” 2024. Photo courtesy of A24.

“Sasquatch Sunset”
A look at the life of Bigfoot with Jesse Eisenberg.

What’s it like to be Bigfoot? That is the question at the core of The Zellner Bros.’ “Sasquatch Sunset,” which follows the ups and downs of a family of sasquatches over a year of their life. Surprisingly earnest and moving (with an unrecognizable Jesse Eisenberg and Riley Keough in the lead roles), “Sasquatch Sunset” takes a silly premise and turns it into something surprisingly human. Ends Thursday.

“Sasquatch Sunset,” 2024. Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street.

Coming Soon

“The Fall Guy”

Summer movie season officially kicks off with “The Fall Guy.” Ryan Gosling stars as a stuntman tasked with finding a missing movie star, unraveling a conspiracy, and winning back the love of his life (Emily Blunt)—all while getting kicked, punched, and blown up at his day job. Director David Leitch’s (“Bullet Train,” “Atomic Blonde”) ode to the hardest working people in show business is an old-school blockbuster that you need to see on a big screen.

“The Fall Guy,” 2024. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

“Shayda”

A story of resilience and community, “Shayda” follows its titular character, a young Iranian woman living in Australia, and her young daughter Mona as they find refuge in a woman’s shelter. As Shayda strives to create a sense of normalcy for Mona, their new life is threatened when Shayda’s ex-husband reappears. Australia’s official entry for Best International Film at this year’s Oscars, Shayda plays as part of our Limited Engagement Series from May 3 to 9.

“Shayda,” 2024. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
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But Not To Produce.