Home Video Hovel: Last Summer Won’t Happen, by David Bax
50 years ago, it was the 1960s. Well, no, it wasn’t. 50 years ago, the 1960s didn’t exist, at least not as we have come to think of them. 50 years ago, the decade may have been called the 1960s but it didn’t mean whatever it’s come to mean to us. Peter Gessner’s 1968 documentary, Last Summer Won’t Happen, just out on DVD for the first time, shows us a specific point, time and subculture late in that storied decade and lets us see that it had more facets than we might imagine and that some of them aren’t groovy.
Gessner’s title refers to the summer of 1967, the so-called “Summer of Love,” as well as to the realization among the counterculture that the good vibes and the feeling of progress from those months was fleeting, that it won’t be making a return in the warm months of 1968. Gessner and another filmmaker, Tom Hurwitz, interviewed denizens of New York’s East Village, from runaways and criminals to notable figures such as Abbie Hoffman and Paul Krassner. Based on the footage he got, 1968 may have included the “Summer of Discontent.”
We tend to homogenize the past but, even in the narrow setting the film chooses, we see plenty of variations in worldview and attitude. This only hints at the diversity and specificity of opinions that existed in the rest of the world. One subject talks about how the response he gets when speaking at colleges makes him feel like his kind are winning. Then he leaves the campus and is reminded that most of the country doesn’t agree with him.
Other interviews seem at first to be less on topic. One very young woman discusses methamphetamines. And, in perhaps the most transfixing scene, a hyper, jittery, twitchy young man and his friends tell the story of police breaking down their apartment door. What we start to realize when viewing these scenes is that the director is being consistent with an ironic portrayal of this “love” generation. Instead of touchy-feely inclusiveness, they are defined by their very exclusion from the mainstream. The drug culture isn’t just peaceful toking and hallucinogenic mind expansion. It’s also dirty, grimy speed and addiction.
Gressner’s on-the-ground tactics don’t give the spotlight to any of the scions of the time and the movement. On the contrary, he manages, perhaps unintentionally, to make them look like cartoonish and dated figures while the junkies and the kids are the normal ones. Hoffman’s speech patterns and floppy hair launched a thousand caricatures to begin with but here, he seems to be going through the motions. In one harrowing discussion, he ponders whether shooting a cop can be considered an “act of love.” With the aid of hindsight, it seems that Last Summer is documenting the moment these people started to realize they’d lost.
Bonus materials include interviews with the filmmakers and a short film called “Time of the Locust.”