By Ellen Snortland
Pasadena Weekly Columnist
“If you remember the ’60s, you weren’t really there,” observed comic Charlie Fleischer. Right on! I remember some of it, so where does that put me? I remember planting my butt during a sit-in at Old Main, Augustana Academy’s granite four-story class and administration building near Canton, South Dakota. I can still smell the Murphy’s Oil Soap residue wafting from its wooden floors.
Augustana was a progressive experimental high school, the dream of the late Pastor Robert Nervig. His vision was to bring at-risk kids together (with a holy water sprinkling of farmer’s, missionary’s and pastor’s kids) in a small Lutheran boarding school on the prairies. We students came from as far away as Egypt and as close as Canton itself. Augie rocked my world and changed my life. It was also a perfect reflection of the ’60s: a revolution fueled by casting aside outmoded ideas in the pursuit of idealism.
In that same spirit, the recent July 4 weekend gave my hubby and me an exquisite opportunity to redefine what “patriotic movies” are. We experienced a trifecta of alternative expressions of American patriotism, each featuring history-making events. I highly recommend “Rebel Hearts,” directed by Pedro Kos; “Summer of Soul,” directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” written and directed by Aaron Sorkin.
All three films occur at the end of the 1960s: a decade of turning conventional wisdom on its ear, overthrowing archaic values and calling out exploitation. Passion is also threaded throughout each of these films, a passion I have shared since that time. My lens focuses on the toxicity of patriarchy and how that entrenched mindset stomps on those who question it. My senator from South Dakota, George McGovern — who was an old white man himself — once said, “I’m fed up to my ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.”
Currently on Discovery+, the documentary “Rebel Hearts” is an homage to the courageous women of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) order of Catholic nuns. In the ’60s, they rebelled against — and eventually triumphed over — the iron fist of Cardinal James McIntyre of the Los Angeles Diocese. The nuns objected, prayerfully of course, to being treated like children, being forced to wear medieval clothing at all times, and being essentially indentured servants as unpaid teachers. Cardinal McIntyre had created scads of new parochial schools during his “reign.” His Holiness, or rather his cheapness, stocked them with sisters, many of whom had absolutely no training in teaching. Worse, the nuns were given classes that often had up to 80 students. No wonder some of them wapped kids’ knuckles with rulers!
IHM Sister Corita Kent became a sought-after artist and the most famous of the nuns, but many of them were just as talented and passionate in their own fields. This excellent, graphically rich film left me with the proverbial, “Why didn’t I know more about these women?!” If you want a shot of joyful, polite and effective civil disobedience, see this documentary.
Hulu is where you can find the next documentary, “Summer of Soul.” In July and August of 1969, the Harlem Cultural Festival was held over six Sundays in a Harlem park. It featured a staggering array of A-list black musicians. Because this was the same time as Woodstock, some dubbed the festival “the Black Woodstock.” Can you imagine if the footage from Woodstock sat in a basement, unseen, for 50 years? No? Well, that’s what happened to the Summer of Soul.
Thanks to Questlove’s outstanding film, this footage has finally seen the light of day to all our benefit. Sly and the Family Stone, the 5th Dimension, Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone … the list is long and mind-boggling. Performances are woven with interviews of regular folks who attended and with some who had performed there. Tears overflowed for the interviewees and also for us watching the film. Say it with me: “Why hadn’t I heard of this?”
Our July 4 triptych ends at Netflix with “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” a political circus of the absurd. Presiding Judge Julius Hoffman exemplified judicial power run amok; it’s unknown whether he was inching toward senility or just an extreme rightwing bigot. He remains a lesson in why the judiciary is sometimes the only thing standing between a free citizenry and an authoritarian government. Sound familiar? And here’s that refrain again: Why so invisible? Director Aaron Sorkin admitted he was appalled that he hadn’t heard of the trial “the whole world was watching.”
These films demonstrate bold action against all odds and a concerted effort to utilize people’s talents and hearts to right wrongs and expose power for power’s sake. Anyone who feels their efforts have been invisible can relate to these movies.
Thanks to these films, I can still see the beating heart of my teen idealism. Right on!
Ellen Snortland has written “Consider This…” for a heckuva long time, and she also coaches first-time book authors! Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.