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Guthrie to sit down for a Q&A session at Triplex’s screening of ‘Alice’s Restaurant’

The Q&A will also include Matthew Penn, son of movie director Arthur Penn.

Great Barrington — “Most of that stuff is, frankly, garbage,” folk singer Arlo Guthrie said in an interview with back in November. “I remember going to see the movie when it premiered. I walked out. I thought: This is a terrible movie.” He was referring to the movie “Alice’s Restaurant,” which was released in 1969.

The movie, which Guthrie starred in, was based on his eponymous song released in 1967 on his debut album “Alice’s Restaurant.” The song, and the movie, are about Guthrie and his friends Alice and Ray Brock, who purchased the St. James Chapel in Stockbridge back in 1964. The St. James Chapel was originally built in 1829. Eventually, the building was expanded in 1866 and renamed the Trinity Church. The Brocks also opened Alice’s Restaurant in Stockbridge. Guthrie stayed with the Brocks at the church during Thanksgiving.

The year was 1965 when both Guthrie and his friend Rick Robbins helped to clean out garbage from the Brocks’ property, which subsequently led to their arrests for illegally dumping trash down a Stockbridge hillside all because they could not find a trash dump open on Thanksgiving day.

Guthrie used the story about the arrest, along with a story about how he was drafted and how the arrest helped him get out of serving during the Vietnam War, for the song “Alice’s Restaurant.” The song became a worldwide phenomenon and eventually led to the 1969 movie directed by Arthur Penn, who directed 1962’s “The Miracle Worker” and 1967’s “Bonnie and Clyde,” among many other films.

Over the years, Guthrie has been critical of the movie and said that most of it contained fictionalized incidents and storylines.

Guthrie went on to record 13 albums during his over-57-year musical career and eventually purchased the former church building that the Brocks owned and turned it into The Guthrie Center, a music and performing arts venue. Yet, despite his extensive career, it seemed as if that one song, “Alice’s Restaurant,” was the one song that that gained the most attention from critics and fans over the past five decades. Guthrie even went on to rerecord his debut album twice during his career.

In later interviews, Guthrie seemed weary when it came to talking about the “Alice’s Restaurant” experience, comparing it to the movie “Groundhog Day,” where scenes from a part of someone’s life repeat over and over again.

Nevertheless, Guthrie is scheduled to talk about the movie in a Q&A at The Triplex Cinema on Saturday, April 27, at 4 p.m. The Q&A will also include Matthew Penn, son of movie director Arthur Penn. A movie and television director, the younger Penn has directed episodes of “The Sopranos” and “Law & Order.”

Possibly owing to “Alice’s Restaurant fatigue,” Guthrie declined press interviews for this event. However, Penn agreed to talk to The Berkshire Edge about his father’s movie and the impact it has made over the years. “The movie is about a time in America in which we were a very bifurcated society,” Penn said. “We had dealt with a few horrendous assassinations right around 1968. Our world was divided between those who were behind the Vietnam War who were ‘patriots’ as they were known, and those who were not supportive of the war. We find ourselves in a similar bifurcation today. As such, I think that the movie has a tremendous amount of contemporary resonance.”

When asked why his father took on the movie, Penn said, “One of the things that always interested my dad was to tell stories in which the central character, the protagonist, is both acting upon society and being acted upon by the society that surrounds them.” He explained, “‘Bonnie and Clyde’ deals with America in the Depression era, and ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ is dealing with Arlo and the antiwar movement,” Penn said. “It is also dealing with the emergence of a population of a generation that was searching to find itself. ‘Little Big Man’ [the 1970 movie that Arthur Penn directed after ‘Alice’s Restaurant’] deals with the horrible slaughter of the Native Americans at the hands of the United States Army. That movie is about genocide. So those are three huge topics in which each of those characters is connected to the circumstance at hand. And that’s always what interested my father the most.”

When asked about Guthrie’s comments about the movie, Penn said that his father never intended to make a straight-ahead documentary. “My father’s intent was never to make a docudrama, any more than if we were watching ‘The Godfather,’” Penn said. “Was ‘The Godfather’ true to the facts of the Genovese crime family? If we watch ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,’ we know that this movie is not 100 percent accurate in terms of the journey that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid took. I understand if you are Arlo and if you are in the middle of that journey. He approaches his story with literally a unique perspective. There’s no one else on the planet who sees the movie the way he does. But there are very many people on the planet who see the movie quite differently. Filmmakers, and particularly filmmakers, have large ambitions in terms of narratives that interest them. I will bet you that if you asked Arlo about every song that he’s ever written, even with his songs that have a basis in reality, probably has a degree of artistic input. I can’t tell you that since I’ve never discussed that with Arlo, but I would bet you that’s the case.”

Penn declined to answer whether the generation portrayed in the “Alice’s Restaurant” movie ever did find itself. “I’m a bit younger than the generation portrayed in the movie, so I never had the possibility of being drafted,” Penn said. “I don’t know whether that generation completely found itself, or if every generation seems to be a combination of a ‘lost and found,’ as it were.”

For more information about the Saturday, April 27 event, visit The Triplex’s website.


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