The 1960s and early ‘70s were ripe for cinematic interpretation, as widespread protests, free love, drugs, the Civil Rights Movement, and other social changes impacted the popular culture. These films blended real life with fictional, and often exploitative, narratives, casting famous musicians and non-actors, using real drugs, and shooting on location in places suburbanites were reading about in the news. The results vary widely — some films are clearly cautionary tales about dangerous longhairs and the drugs they brought with them, while others have gone on to become cult classics. Here are 50 films inspired by hippie culture, which is the subject of a screening series this week at New York’s Anthology Film Archives.
Zabriskie Point was Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni’s ode to the counterculture — focused on a student and a dropout during the turbulent late 1960s — and an attempt at making a mainstream movie. It was the second of three English-language films the director would make throughout his career. A box office failure, Zabriskie Point has since become a cult hit. Antonioni cast new actors Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin, who essentially became the face of the counterculture to the masses. Karina Longworth looks at the movie in the context of the Manson family killings in her podcast You Must Remember This, which we highly recommend. There, she sources an article for an in-depth look at the fall and rise of the film.
Perhaps the best interpretation of the Manson family murders put to screen thus far, starring Steve Railsback as a convincingly terrifying Charlie (the role almost went to Martin Scorsese). The Emmy-nominated 1976 TV film was inspired by Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s popular book of the same name. Scenes at the LaBianca house were filmed at the real-life crime scene, and some of the dialogue was taken from court transcripts.
The Love Thrill Murders
In 1971, if you wanted your low-budget movie to get some attention, you made it about the most famous hippies at that time — the Manson family. Lloyd Kaufman, future head of Z-movie production house Troma Entertainment, starred in the film and acted as production manager. Troy Donahue, a clean-cut sex symbol during the ‘50s and ‘60s, is almost unrecognizable in The Love Thrill Murders (aka Sweet Savior) as a Manson-esque cult leader named Moon who rides a motorcycle.
Box office smash Yellow Submarine, inspired by the music of the Beatles (and featuring their tunes, but not their voices — until a cameo during the closing scene of the film), helped elevate the art of animation in the public opinion. From TheBeatles.com:
After seeing just four of German poster artist Heinz Edelmann’s incredible drawings, they knew he was the right man for the job. “I thought from the very beginning that the film should be a series of interconnected shorts” remembers Edelmann. “The style should vary every five minutes or so to keep the interest going until the end”. These styles included melding love-action photography with animation, 3 dimensional sequences and kaleidoscopic “rotoscoping” where film is traced frame by frame into drawings. The entire process took nearly two years, some 14 different scripts, 40 animators and 140 technical artists, but achieved its aims in producing a ground breaking piece of animation.
A mondo film is a type of exploitative pseudo-documentary movie that depicts forbidden subjects, exotic cultures, and footage presented as real, even though it’s usually staged (see: Faces of Death). “Mondo” comes from the 1962 Italian film Mondo Cane, which is generally considered the first mondo movie. Mondo Mod looks at the Sunset Strip scene in 1966, where the hippies, bikers, and acidheads all hung out.
Arthur Penn’s 1969 comedy takes its name from the Arlo Guthrie song of the same name — and also stars Guthrie as himself, based on a real-life incident that took place on Thanksgiving Day in 1965. “You can feel Penn trying to portray a life style rather than a plot with characters in it,” Roger Ebert wrote in 1969. “He wants to express the spirit of the church Alice and Ray lived in, and the community they presided over. And he does it pretty well; we are reminded of some of the gentle scenes in Bonnie and Clyde, like the one in the Okie camp, and the time in the gas station when they meet C. W. Moss. This is a new feeling in American movies; it’s good to have it.”
If hippies were gearheads, starring James Taylor, the Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson, Warren Oates, and photographer Laurie Bird. Jordan Saïd writes:
Two-Lane Blacktop never came close to achieving the explosive success of its inferior but more renowned cousin, Easy Rider. Even so, Two-Lane Blacktop feels like Easy Rider done right. Two-Lane Blacktop has most of Easy Rider’s hallmarks—nomadic, withdrawn hippie protagonists; a world that neither understands nor tolerates these damn hippies; a Godard-esque, minimalist script; an emphasis on silent emotionality and music to sell mood; beautiful wide shots of the open road; existentialist themes centered on the human experience—but in an actually-good movie that didn’t just fall ass-backwards into success by connecting with the right audiences at the right time on the right drugs.
Hippies in space, starring Bruce Dern as a botanist and ecologist who talks to plants.
Slant on Haskell Wexler’s 1969 film:
Medium Cool aggressively straddles the place between reportage and something else. The film is perfectly liminal, moving between documentary and fiction, between observations and incitement, between hot and cool, between the buoyant optimism of America in the 1960s and the warranted cynicism that would come to define the 1970s. Medium Cool stages, not so much with voguish nihilism, despite its demonstrably downbeat ending, as dispassionate vérité straightforwardness, the growing pains that strain a nation when the countercultural ideal of limitless possibility matures into something closer to political reality.
In 1967, thousands of people gathered at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in California to see Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, The Mamas & the Papas, and Ravi Shankar perform — several of the acts appearing in America for the first time. The documentary of the event was filmed by pioneering director D. A. Pennebaker, with famed documentarians Richard Leacock and Albert Maysles as camera operators. The movie also inspired 1 P.M., Godard’s unfinished film.
The only movie in which you can see Jack Nicholson play a hippie named Stoney.
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie
The Wild Angels and The Trip are attracting hippies in droves. Unfortunately both movies are flops on the scale of the Bible, though at least it isn’t poetry they convert into soap opera. The director, Roger Corman, picked sensational topics–Hell’s Angels and acid. Then he shot some film, dressed it up with a big-beat score, and prayed nobody would discover what he is: an idiot. Of course, with a couple more pictures like these, he will also be a Hollywood tycoon.
We recently mentioned The Trip in our look at some of American International Pictures’ most important movies.
Exploitation movie drive-in king Sam Katzmann directed this tale inspired by the Haight-Ashbury district scene, Timothy Leary, and LSD, featuring real-life musical acts like The Chocolate Watch Band.
Peter Sellers was a comedic genius. The actor starred in The Party, which unfortunately features brownface. Scott Tobias wrote about the film at The Dissolve:
Then there’s the other elephant in the room: Peter Sellers in brownface as Hrundi V. Bakshi, a bumbling New Delhi actor who attends a bourgeois Hollywood dinner party and becomes an unwitting agent of chaos. Holding a 46-year-old movie to today’s racial standards isn’t fair practice—though it does happen—though it should be noted that Sellers’ benign minstrelsy got the film banned in India for a time. It’s difficult to look past the queasy conceit of Sellers’ character, but in truth, the film’s true contempt is reserved not for Bakshi, but for the stick-in-the-mud gatekeepers who are hosting the party and politely (or impolitely) pushing outsiders like him to the margins. He’s clumsy and ineffectual, but the film makes a strong argument for the liberating joys of disorder.
Celebration at Big Sur
A documentary capturing the 1969 Big Sur Folk Festival, featuring Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Joan Baez, and Joni Mitchell.
Before Tobe Hooper frightened a nation with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, he directed 1969’s Eggshells. From The Austin Chronicle:
Tobe Hooper’s first film, Eggshells, released a half decade before The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, has long been considered a lost film, with there being little hope that a print would surface. The film has attracted attention because it is Tobe Hooper’s first film, as well as that of his co-writer, Kim Henkel, and because, by all accounts, it is very much a slice of life and rare record of Austin circa 1968. Against all odds, a print has surfaced. . . . Eggshells makes explicit what many have long assumed – that Hooper’s sense of cinema is the defining characteristic that makes Chainsaw great. Eggshells is a true 1968 film, psychedelic and political; it seems clear that Hooper had watched more than a film or two by Jean-Luc Godard. The film celebrates alternative lifestyles and politics and people and an odd, kinky semimysticism that is grounded more in humor than the supernatural. It captures what Austin looked like in the Sixties as well as the political sensibility shared by so many at the time.
Wild in the Streets
Shelley Winters chews all the scenery and then some in this 1968 counterculture cult flick, significant for its reflection of the social and political turmoil happening the year of its release and the appearance of many real-life media figures.
Anthony Quinn and Ann-Margret as teacher and student between the sheets, set at a West Coast college, in a film reflective of the campus activism happening during the time.
Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, Frankie Avalon, Burgess Meredith, Groucho Marx, and other unlikelies star in this Otto Preminger film about the counterculture. Needless to say, Skidoo bombed in 1968. Roger Ebert had this to say in his review that year:
As always, Preminger has produced a technically superb film. The well-designed shots and the carefully planned scenes are there, but this style of directing seems more suited to weighty subject matter. The new style in comedy, for better or worse is toward a looser camera style, quicker cuts and a certain amount of improvisation. I have a feeling that it chills Preminger’s very soul to imagine he might ever ask an actor to improvise.
The Dennis Hopper-directed road movie, starring Peter Fonda (and Phil Spector! And real marijuana!), is credited for ushering in the New Hollywood chapter of ‘70s filmmaking. J. Hoberman’s essay for Criterion is essential reading, helping to place the counterculture classic in the context of the social and political landscape. The critic writes:
Both within Hollywood and without, Easy Rider presented itself as a generational statement. While Head parodied the straight media, Easy Rider reveled in countercultural values—not just the sacraments of drugs, sex, and rock and roll, but also the I Ching, hippie communes, guerrilla theater, doing your own thing, the brown rice millenarianism that predicted the impending collapse of urban civilization, when long-haired freaks would be fighting for their lives against the killer redneck straights.
Michael Burns and Meg Foster take every ride offered to them as they hitchhike through California and wind up meeting Bruce Dern and his switchblade.
The heroic (half-) Navajo Vietnam vet and martial arts master Billy Jack battles racism, sexual violence, and political corruption in a small town, defending a cult of hippies from persecution. The character first appeared in the 1967 movie The Born Losers.
The Acid Eaters
Critic Noel Murray on one bizarre scene in the garbage psychedelic film The Acid Eaters:
Finally, the bikers reach their ultimate destination: A massive pyramid made out of LSD-tinted sugar bricks, where they dance toplessly some more, flashback to traumatic childhood memories—including a disturbing scene where one of the women moans, “Daddy, let’s not play hide-and-seek. Let’s play the same game we played in the woodshed when I was 15. Remember?”—and are tormented by a demonic presence who looks like the Underwood Devil.
The Sweet Ride
Bikers! Surfers! Beatniks! Hippies! From Variety‘s 1967 review:
The Sweet Ride could sum up as Hell’s Angels’ Bikini Beach Party in Valley of the Dolls near Peyton Place. Though well-mounted and interesting in the spotlighting of Michael Sarrazin and Jacqueline Bisset, overall result is a flat programmer, with ragged scripting, papier mache characters and routine direction. . . . William Murray’s novel has been adapted by Tom Mankiewicz into a contrived, unbelievable script about the Malibu-Hollywood young set, which supposedly ‘tells it like it is.’ It succeeds both in talking down to young people, and talking up to older folks.
Lions Love (… and Lies)
“I have loved my two life sections in California, and especially LA. Being a curious person, I was looking for inventive shapes or styles of cinema to share my observations and discoveries,” Agnès Varda told Flavorwire in an interview earlier this year. One of those films is 1969’s Lions Love (… and Lies), featuring Warhol Superstar Viva. East of Borneo writes:
Lions Love (…and Lies) represents Hollywood from the perspective of consummate outsiders. As Varda tells it, it is Hollywood, not Los Angeles, that is vain and morally bankrupt. The plot of the film undoubtedly references Varda’s own Hollywood experience. Filmmaker Shirley Clarke, playing herself as an avatar of Varda, is bid by the studios to make a movie, and the film opens with Clarke arriving in Los Angeles from New York to discuss the matter in person. During a series of meetings with white men in business suits, Clarke sits mutely as the men refer to her as “gal” (Varda herself was then 39), admit they haven’t seen her previous films, and ultimately demand their right to make a profit, artistic integrity be damned.
George Harrison composed the soundtrack for this Jane Birkin-starring film about a professor who loses himself in his infatuation with a model (Birkin). Dutch psychedelic design masters The Fool created the sets.
The Strawberry Statement
Inspired by the 1968 Columbia University protests, but set in California, about a student’s increasing involvement with the turmoil.
The Academy Award-winning documentary about the famed 1969 Woodstock Festival in Bethel, New York, with editing by young Thelma Schoonmaker and Martin Scorsese (who were just two of seven editors).
Real-life musician Kris Kristofferson plays a washed-up musician and former drug dealer who gets involved with a scummy cop (Gene Hackman) and dragged back into the lifestyle. Look for Warhol Superstar Viva, Karen Black, and Harry Dean Stanton.
I Am Curious (Yellow)
Considered the first wide-release movie to show full-frontal male nudity (which caused controversy and got the film banned in several places), Vilgot Sjöman’s 1967 film I Am Curious (Yellow) marked a departure from traditional Swedish cinema and played to the au naturel hippie lifestyle.
About the Charlotte Rampling-starring Vanishing Point, which featured real-life musicians, including Rita Coolidge, Patrice Holloway, and the group Delaney, Bonnie & Friends, critic Keith Phipps writes:
The late 1960s and early ’70s had no shortage of symbolically charged road movies, and if Vanishing Point isn’t quite the same caliber as Two Lane Blacktop or as culturally significant as Easy Rider, in its best moments it comes close. A huge drive-in hit, the film turns its modest budget to its advantage, making a virtue out of its plot’s simplicity, and in the process becoming a beautiful example of the now-vanished B-movie avant garde. As Barry Newman’s benzedrine-powered drive from Denver to San Francisco progresses, it becomes less about getting a job done than an almost allegorical journey toward death, a sort of Pilgrim’s Progress for a time of post-Woodstock disillusionment.
Alice in Acidland
Trash flick Alice in Acidland posits that LSD and marijuana will turn you into a lesbian — which is pretty cool, because you’ll be invited to a lot of orgies.
Riot on Sunset Strip
Filmed and released within weeks of the rioting on California’s Sunset Strip in 1966, which inspired the ’60s anthem “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield.
Milos Forman’s first American movie about middle-class types who decide to take a break from adulting and live like hippies.
An American Hippie in Israel
Writer Brian Orndorf on Amos Sefer’s 1972 film:
Emerging from the fog of the 1960s, “An American Hippie in Israel” definitely has a cultural fingerprint, exploring the permissive attitude of the flower power generation as they criticize and make demands of society, imagining a utopian playground “without clothes, without government, and without borders.” Sefer (who writes, directs, produces, and edits) fills the picture with hippie customs, including chemical excess, extended herky-jerky dance sequences, and an anti-war song performed by musical duo Susan & Fran. It’s all casual sex, uncomfortably parted hair, and speechifying from Mike, who becomes a leader to the lost generation, wowing the locals with his authoritative opinions and call for bliss (even directly addressing the camera), hoping to trigger a tidal wave of change across the world. And if he can’t have change, nudity will do, with some light swinging to help break up the monotony of the day. It’s not like Komo (who doesn’t speak English) is going to argue that point. Free love, then world peace. Priorities, people.
An Ibiza-set hippie bummer about drug addiction, starring Mimsy Farmer as a heroin addict.
The Harrad Experiment
About a college-wide free love experiment, starring Tippi Hedren and a young Don Johnson.
Jack Nicholson wrote this 1968 musical trip film starring The Monkees. Chicago Reader writes:
After NBC canceled the innovative sitcom The Monkees, the band and their TV brain trust, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, hatched this big-screen psychedelic freak-out (1968), a narrative cul-de-sac of genre parodies, musical numbers, smug antiwar statements, and bilious McLuhan-esque satire.
Star Spangled Girl
Hippies fall for a square (played by Sandy Duncan, duh), which doesn’t jibe with their radical views. Comedy ensues. Based on a Neil Simon play of the same name.
I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!
From Nathan Rabin:
The Peter Sellers vehicle explores the fantasy that a single toke or a roll in the hay with a groovy hippie chick is all it would take to transform scowling Richard Nixons into funky Allen Ginsbergs. In Toklas, Sellers expertly plays an uptight Jewish attorney who abandons his bourgeois existence to follow his bliss as an overgrown flower child. In its superior first hour, Toklas ratchets up his everyday aggravations to the level of a low-grade comic nightmare. The film’s grasp on its neurotic Jewish milieu is solid, but its knowledge of the counterculture seems to have been gleaned entirely from a news report about kids tuning in, dropping out, and changing their names to Sunshine Daydream Moonflower. Peace and love are all well and good, the film kvetches, but who’s going to do the dishes?
The Holy Mountain
Cult movie maestro Alejandro Jodorowsky, who is currently making a new film, and his Holy Mountain cast were guided by Bolivian philosopher Oscar Ichazo of the Arica Institute through a series of spiritual exercises before making the 1973 classic. The cast and crew lived together before shooting the movie, experimenting with LSD and mushrooms (which they also did on camera for one scene).
Accidental LSD leads to amnesia and murder.
Free-spirited young women go hitchhiking and have a spiritual transformation after getting lost in the Everglades.
More American Graffiti
A George Lucas-produced (but not directed) sequel to his 1973 film, starring most of the original cast, that finds the Modesto, California gang dealing with college, Vietnam, and other social issues from the ‘60s.
Starring nonprofessional actors, with a performance by Jimi Hendrix, Rainbow Bridge was meant to be a cash cow, only to fail miserably. It documents what happens when a bunch of hippies and New Age freaks get together on the island of Maui.
Faye Dunaway’s second film, about a bunch of hippies who kidnap Anthony Quinn’s retired gangster. Cue the madcap adventures.
A toxic gas kills everyone over the age of 25 in this post-apocalyptic hippie comedy from Roger Corman, his last film for American International Pictures. Corman was displeased with several unauthorized cuts made to the movie by the studio.
From writer Zev Toledano:
Probably [Robert] Altman’s most odd and quirky comedy. Brewster is an innocent, little, young man who lives in the Houston Astrodome and who dreams of flying with wings. To this end, anything goes, and he is protected by a very capable guardian angel, a woman with wing-like scars on her back and a raven, who kills anyone who gets in his way or stops him from getting what he needs for his project, after her raven poops on them. An assortment of odd characters become involved, all compared to birds by a very eccentric professor who serves as a kind of narrator, drawing several amusing parallels between people and birds. There’s a proud strutting detective, an odd tour-guide girl who drives a car she stole from her would-be rapist, a mean old landlord in a wheelchair, a passionate health-food-store clerk who gets off while Brewster does his pull-ups, and more. There’s also a theme of angelic innocence and people achieving what they want against the norm, which fits in with the counter-culture of the time.
Acid Delirium of the Senses
Italians on LSD. From Dangerous Minds:
Part psuedo-documentary about the Italian counterculture and drug scene (Dr. Humphry Osmond appears as himself) and part straight up LSD exploitation film, Acid Delirio Dei Sensi (“Acid, Delirium Of The Senses”) is an obscure Italian cult movie directed by Giuseppe Maria Scotese. The plot involves some free-livin’, free-lovin’ hippies who get mixed up with the Mafia.