UCLA Student Films Communicate Actual Student Experience, Concerns – Gene Youngblood – LA Free Press

“Here are 21 cinematic expressions from a generation raised on cinema; young people as familiar with the camera as campus poets of the 20s and 30s were with iambic pentameter […] cinema, long misused and neglected, has a generation willing and eager to explore its limitless capabilities.”

Gene Youngblood, legendary reviewer and cultural theorist who died in April 2021, began a series of film reviews in the in the LA Free Press in 1967. Many of these reviews formed the basis of parts of his book ‘Expanded Cinema‘ which is now seen widely as a foundational document of post-psychedelic cinema. Blackmass Movies is proud to begin the process of collecting Youngblood’s reviews in one place for the first time. Youngblood’s TV interview with a young George Lucas is here.


Consistently the surest bet for rewarding evening at the movies is UCLA’s presentation of student films. The 10th semi-annual exhibit, screening this weekend at Royce Hall, is the best yet. See it.

I have remarked before that these short movies mean more to me than all Hollywood’s Academy award winners. Because they are young and ingenuous and wildly in love with cinema, the students invest their work with an intensity and freshness that is a breath of spring in the stale air of commercial moviedom.

Here are 21 cinematic expressions from a generation raised on cinema; young people as familiar with the camera as campus poets of the 20s and 30s were with iambic pentameter. Yet what a difference! How much more powerful, total, and encompassing is the medium of cinema! Youth, fired by a universal drive to express itself, now has a tool equal the task. And now cinema, long misused and neglected, has a generation willing and eager to explore its limitless capabilities.

To view these works in the institutional edifice of Royce Hall is to be in the presence of a revolution. Pop columnist Richard Goldstein, in a recent essay entitled “The Flower Children and How They Grow,” [Los Angeles Times, 28th May 1967] observed that it will be the average suburban teenage American – not the radical Haight-Ashbury dropout – who will ultimately change the cultura1 face of our nation. So it is in cinema. The movies are quiet revolution that amounts to evolution. And it’s happening now.

The students view cinema as an abstract medium, a collage of pictures and words that suggest concepts, viable impressions, shifting moods, progressions in time. Cinema, it might be said, is an art of changes, and “Changes” is the title of the current exhibit.

Change is evident in content. Last semester’s works addressed themselves chiefly to politics and other movies. This program however, is uniform in its concern with sex, marijuana, rock music, sex, the hippie syndrome, sex, pop art, sex and the psychedelic experience. In other words, the students are CONCERNED about what is happening to them, and they want to communicate this concern. And that, after all, is traditionally the most noble reason for art.

There is an extraordinary phenomenon in their choice of a visually expressive mode: surrealism. In this age of hyper-realism and newsmania, traditionally alienated youth have turned toward surrealism as life style and means of expression. If cinema’s unique property is the ability to capture and preserve reality, then its equally exclusive capability is that of manifesting surreality. And, after all, isn’t he phenomenon of “psychedelics” merely an amalgamation of the Dadaist and Surrealist movements of earlier times?

Like Susan Sontag, I am against interpretation. I would rather say what a film “is” rather than what it’s “about.” So, instead of “reviewing” each of the 21 films in the program, I have selected a few which in my view are technically most sophisticated and inventive, and which at the same time represent the general tenor and tone of the entire exhibit. To effectively duplicate them in words is Of course impossible, for as Antonioni has observed, “If I could say it in words there would be no need to make the film.”

“BEGINNING,” BY G. SCOTT HEYMAN: She lights up a joint and trips down the street, through a neon waterfall of glass-encased clothing stores that reflects thousand bulb-suns of light in the night city. The sequence, set to a bluesy rock melody, is virtually a pot trip of cinema. We experience the first flash of awareness and then the driving impulses of joy as the girl – Miss Everywoman of the turned-on generation – skips through the city to boyfriend’s house.

Long-haired, sensitive, looking troubled like a Jewish Shelley, he sits in his empty, airy house thinking amongst his posters. She wanders through the surrealistic, austere rooms until she finds what she came for: the stash, on a shelf behind a Ronald Reagan poster. The sequence is all atmosphere and nuance of motion and fragmented dialogue. A magic sense of presence is established.

Later, in bed, she naked and stoned, he clothed and sober, they talk the anguished, neo-Pinter-esque non-sequitur talk of alienated youth. “When I wake up from a dream,’ he says, “it’s like I’m still asleep: I look at stores, people, things – like looking at a movie screen.” She says why doesn’t he see a shrink? He says no I’m going to join the Army.

Waiting to see the recruiter, having a beer in a bar, there’s a fight, he cowers, not out of fear, but from a kind of Sartrean nausea, and then bursts into a berserk rage, pounding a stranger unconscious with a beer bottle and scream-crying: “Why did you hit me and why did you hit me and why did you hit me and…” Then, silently exhausted, he leaves the bar, goes into the movie theater next door, bypassing the army recruiting station. “… I look at stores, people, things, like looking at a movie screen.”

“PHOTOPLAY,” BY KOSKI AND REISBERG: Wagnerian music, boy and girl in huge baroque bed upstairs in ancient wonderland house. Walking past the camera with bulging jockey shorts, he flings open the French windows and waves to the rowboat in the lake where the fat, wizened old woman is dying, fed intravenously by a phalanx of Felliniesque doctors, nurses, and young relatives in high starched collars. The widescreen black-and-white photography has the surface atmosphere of “Wild Strawberries,” while the interior mood is more like Warhol’s “Couch.”

Carried inside, and propped against a wall, the old woman expires, her flowered hat toppling, as a nurse engorges herself at the refrigerator. To the Hallelujah Chorus her body is carried away – and the youthfUl entourage reveals itself (or perhaps exhibits itself) as a mob of trippy transvestites. The gay fun begins: wigs removed, male buttocks bared and caressed, a kind of Beardslyesque Scorpio Rising with overtones of Fellini.

“THE BREADTH OF THE BONES,” BY DAVE WILSON AND ALAN BARKER: A color film in more ways than one. The White Hunter in safari suit and pith helmet dashes through the underbrush with his high-powered rifle. A Frenchman explains “Carnival in Flanders” to a nubile Oriental girl whose mind is filled with pornographic flashes. Two hulking Negroes inspect and barter over her like so much horsemeat. On a wide white bed at the bottom of a psychedelic elevator shaft a white man and a Negro woman make love: black on white on black; black nudity on white nudity; writhing black and white and red-because the White Hunter shoots the lovers. So the two Negroes run over his head with their car.

NOW THAT THE BUFFALO’S GONE,” BY BURTON GERSHFIELD: The ghost of Indians past haunts the screen in reverse color negative. Stroboscopic assault of visual-aural mindless mind-blowing motion. Pure cinema as hordes of gallant-elegant Indians ride thundering over blue plains on orange horses, chanting, screaming, dying, hearing the words of White Man, throbbing to the driving drum. It’s the rise and fall of the American Indian as told by the Vanilla Fudge on the cyclorama screen at Cheetah.

THE DIGGERS,” BY ATTILA DOMOKOS, AND “KEINH0LZ ON EXHIBIT,” BY JUNE STEEL Two cinema-verite documentaries. The Diggers feeding demonstrators in Sacramento (“… freaking out on salad”), frolicking nude amongst the flowers of communal kibbutzes, living out the surreal-ecstatic dreamlife of Donovan’s “Sunny Good Street.” Keinholz freaking out the whole world at the County Art Museum. Subtitles by Supervisor Dorn. Morality by Public Image.

Advert for UCLA student films exhibition ‘Changes’ which appeared alongside Gene Youngblood’s article.