I am watching Alice’s Restaurant (1969). Kind of. The first time I watched this film I only “kind of” watched it then, too. I don’t know exactly what it is about the film that doesn’t click, but I feel like I am circling in and getting closer to whatever it is.
In a nutshell, Alice’s Restaurant feels like a parody. I thought it might be naive or maybe idealistic, but the story is neither of those things. Silly might be a better word, but the better word yet might be parody.
Based on real events, Alice’s Restaurant tells the story of Arlo Guthrie setting out to begin a career in a short period during the fall of 1965.
Alice’s Restaurant is a restaurant, called The Back Room, belonging to his friends Ray and Alice Brock. Ray throws a big Thanksgiving dinner at the restaurant for all the “kids.” After dinner Arlo offers to take the restaurant’s garbage to the dump and the dump is closed. Arlo runs into trouble with the local police on trumped up charges when they dump the garbage anyway.
(By the way, I just learned that the real police sergeant who arrested Arlo, William Obanhein, plays himself in the film. He’s actually pretty good…)
Somewhere in all of this we’re supposed to identify with Arlo, I suppose, and the juxtaposition of non-traditional and traditional values.
This is where I think the film slips into a bit of a parody. Whether deliberate or not, it feels like we see this story through the lens of mainstream stereotypes. Even Arlo appears to be a bit of a caricature. There’s a self-conscious quality about his performance, I think, but as I said, I don’t know much about him or his era to judge that I am seeing something specific.
Perhaps the parody emanates from the stiff extras populating the film. They create a distracting backdrop for the story. I don’t get lost in the cinemagraphic magic of film. Instead I feel like a man in an audience, very much aware that I am watching a movie.
Maybe the movie is just too damn long! At 110 minutes it isn’t one of the big offenders, but nearly all movies should be limited to 90 minutes or less, and Alice’s Restaurant clearly belongs in the 90-minutes-or-less category. The story would be tighter and more convincing.
Nevertheless there is plenty to enjoy in this film. It is kind of hip in a clunky way. It also captures some major 1960s era themes in a broad stroke, which is fun. The humor is a little flat, but there are moments of light comedy…just be alert Frankly, for a cliché, this is a decent film. Watch it and see if you agree.
I learned a lot about the 1960s, too. Men wore a lot of denim work shirts, people slept on mattresses without bed sheets, and the hairbrush had not yet been invented. Oh…and gas was 33 cents a gallon.
Forgive me for this rambling, disjointed post. Just scroll down through this blog and find something better to read. And when you do, tell your friends and family to do the same.
Next time I think I’ll write about Truman Capote and his outstanding, makes-me-cry-everytime holiday stories.
- Happy Thanksgiving! The Alice Tradition (musiccourt.wordpress.com)
- For A Thanksgiving Dinner That Can’t Be Beat… (wncx.radio.com)