Tag Archives: 1960s

Watching the movie “Z”: A tale of two Hoffmans

January 1st marks an unusual anniversary for me.

On January 1, 1970, I watched the movie “Z”—a film I consider a powerful and enduring classic—under somewhat remarkable circumstances.

The 1969 film was directed by Costa-Gavras, a Greek-born filmmaker who lived in Paris. He based it on a book written in 1966 by Vassilis Vassilikos, who, using official documents, described the 1963 death of a Greek politician, Grigoris Lambrakis.

Lambrakis, an MD who taught at the medical school in Athens, was a leading pacifist and left-wing member of the Greek parliament. Shortly after speaking at an antiwar meeting in Thessaloniki, he was struck on the head by a club wielded by two far-right extremists. He later died of his injuries.

After his death, graffiti with the letter “Z” began to appear in Greek cities. Representing the growing protest against the right-wing government, it stood for the first letter of the Greek word, “Zi,” which means “he lives.”

In a filmed interview in 2009, Costa-Gavras discussed the making of “Z.” (You can watch this interview, as I did, on a DVD of “Z.”)

His focus was clear: political oppression. His cast: Yves Montand as Lambrakis, Irene Pappas as his wife, and Jean-Louis Trintignant as the prosecutor who slowly realizes what happened and is ultimately driven to seek justice against the wrongdoers.

In the film, a key scene takes place in front of the venue where Lambrakis is scheduled to give his speech. Many supporters have gathered to welcome him, but others in the crowd are demonstrators opposed to him and what he stands for. The local police are seen clubbing a few of the demonstrators. But it’s clear that the demonstrators are the bad guys–street toughs paid off by those in power to harm Lambrakis.

So it’s not the police who represent oppression here. Rather, it’s the demonstrators, one of whom strikes Lambrakis in the head. He’s stunned but goes ahead to give his speech. When leaving the venue, he’s struck once again, causing him to die later in the film.

Before he’s struck, Lambrakis asks, “Why do the ideas we stand for incite such violence?” Costa-Gavras’s answer: It’s all about power. Those in power will do anything to stay in power, and here that included the assassination of a political opponent.

Post-1963, Greek politics remained chaotic, and a 1967 coup by the military led to their control of the Greek government until their regime finally collapsed and democratic government was essentially restored in 1973.

I first saw “Z” at the Cinema movie theater in Chicago on New Year’s Day 1970.   The Cinema was an art-film theater located on Chicago Avenue near Michigan Avenue, and I saw many “art flicks” there when I was younger.  It’s long-gone, demolished and replaced by a high-rise building that includes a Neiman Marcus store.

I was a young lawyer working in an office that brought test cases on behalf of the poor.  I’d recently completed a clerkship with Judge Julius J. Hoffman, the judge who presided over “the Chicago 7 trial” (also called “the Chicago conspiracy trial”) that got underway in the fall of 1969 and was still ongoing in early 1970.  The trial stemmed from the turmoil engulfing the Democratic convention held in Chicago in 1968. (Happily, I never had to work on that trial. My clerkship was ending, and my co-clerk was assigned to that task.)

[FYI: I will discuss my tenure with Judge Hoffman in an upcoming post.]

I read about “Z” in Roger Ebert’s review in the Chicago Sun-Times in late December. Ebert was an unusually young and thoughtful movie critic, close to my own age, and I was a great fan of his reviews. This review, which called “Z” the best film of 1969, highlighted the political backdrop of corruption, and I was eager to see it.  I’d just said goodbye to a man I’d been dating—he was a bit too boring to abide any longer—and I set out on a cold and gray New Year’s Day to see the movie by myself. (As luck would have it, I met my adored and never-boring husband when I moved to sunny California a few months later.)

The film more than lived up to my expectations.  But what was especially striking about being in the audience that day was that, in the crowd waiting to enter the theater, was one of the “Chicago 7” defendants, Abbie Hoffman (no relation to Judge Hoffman).  In that era, Abbie Hoffman was a major figure in the protest movement opposing the government. All seven of the Chicago defendants were protesters indicted by “Tricky Dick” Nixon’s administration.

I didn’t agree with everything that Abbie Hoffman and his cohorts stood for, and I didn’t endorse their misconduct during the trial itself.  But I was opposed to the Vietnam War, sympathetic to other elements of the protest movement, and horrified later that year by events like the killings at Kent State.

As I watched “Z,” knowing that Abbie Hoffman was watching it at the very same time, I couldn’t help thinking of the parallels with Chicago.  Fortunately, our government (unlike the powerful right wing in Greece) didn’t promote assassination.

But there were parallels.  The attitude of local officials, including Mayor Richard J. Daley, toward the protesters who came to Chicago led to an overreaction by the Chicago police. Their violent conduct toward the protesters became obvious to everyone watching TV coverage of the Democratic convention. The U.S. Justice Department went on to indict Abbie Hoffman and the other defendants on charges brought under a law many viewed as unconstitutional.

But there was one sharp contrast between Chicago and Greece: the prosecutors.

I’d fallen halfway in love with Jean-Louis Trintignant when he starred in “A Man and a Woman,” a 1967 French film. Now, in “Z,” he portrayed a fair-minded prosecutor who becomes determined to hold the powerful to account. And he succeeds in indicting not only the two toughs who committed the murder but also the high-ranking military officers who supported them.

(The real-life prosecutor, Christos Sartzetakis, was twice arrested and imprisoned but triumphed after democracy was restored and was elected by the Greek parliament to serve as the country’s president from 1985 to 1990.)

By contrast, the prosecutors representing the Nixon administration in Chicago were politically ambitious and far from fair-minded. They were determined to convict the seven defendants, including Abbie Hoffman, whose protests during the convention had been largely peaceful. They secured as the trial judge a man whose usual bent was to rule in favor of the federal prosecutors who appeared before him, and he treated this trial like any other.

No one was killed in Chicago. And although the trial defendants were convicted, they were convicted only of contempt, and these convictions were mostly reversed by other courts. But the parallels between what transpired in Chicago and the story told in “Z” remain.

46 years later, “Z” is still a powerful film. And January 1, 1970, endures in my memory as a day that underscored the ugliness of political oppression both in Greece and in my own country.

The Summer of ’69

This is all about movies (one of my favorite topics), but first I need to set the scene.

In August 1969, I was immersed in a training session for idealistic young lawyers, part of the highly respected Reggie Program, which trained us to go out into the world to fight for justice for the underprivileged.

The program got its official name, the Reginald Heber Smith Community Lawyer Fellowship Program, from a Boston lawyer with that name. In an article he wrote in 1919, Smith shamed the legal profession into providing legal assistance to the poor.

By the middle of the 20th century, every city in the U.S. had some kind of legal aid program. The Reggie fellowships were aimed at adding to the ranks of lawyers devoted to helping the poor, and I was one of them.

Held on the leafy campus of Haverford College just outside Philadelphia, the Reggie program housed us in undergraduate dorms whose rooms, during that summer’s brutal heat wave, were insanely hot.

Many of my fellow Reggies and I resorted to seeking out whatever movies were playing at nearby theaters. It was so hot that we were willing to see anything in an air-conditioned theater.

We were lucky that summer. The summer of ‘69 turned out to offer a wealth of excellent films, along with a few that were just OK. And one was exceedingly, shockingly bad.

Among the outstanding films that summer were two that stood out: “Midnight Cowboy” and “Easy Rider.” Each, in its own way, shook my movie-going world. Maybe you remember them, too.

1969 later saw the appearance of some other notable films, including “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (my husband resembled Robert Redford in that film so much I liked to call him the Sundance Kid), Woody Allen’s debut “Take the Money and Run,” and the classic “Z,” which I hope to write about in one of my future posts.

But the worst movie I saw that summer—not only that summer but possibly ever–was, to my amazement, praised in a recent newspaper review of its DVD. The reviewer wasn’t around in 1969 but foolishly put himself back in that era as though he had been.

According to the reviewer (I’ll call him Mike), this film, “The Maltese Bippy,” tried “to cash in on” the success of Dan Rowan & Dick Martin, who starred in a popular TV show called “Laugh-In.” Mike called the show “hands-down the swingingest, most happening thing on TV in the late 60s.”

Referring to the movie’s idiotic title, Mike wrote, “Believe it or not, some 46 years ago, if someone said, ‘You bet your bippy,’ people would fall over themselves laughing, amid speculation as to what a ‘bippy’ might be.”

Well, Mike, I was there, and no one I knew “fell over themselves laughing” when they heard that phrase. My friends and I watched “Laugh-In” because it featured some engaging performers and some innovative approaches to humor. Lily Tomlin became famous portraying the telephone operator Ernestine, and Goldie Hawn used the show to make her own leap to stardom.

But “You bet your bippy”? It was a silly phrase repeated ad nauseum by Dick Martin. Because the show was a phenomenon during that era, the producers were presumably trying to capitalize on its popularity when they made this film. But nobody in my circles laughed at Dick Martin’s constant repetition of that phrase.

Mike must have thought he was being funny when he added, “If the young people today truly understood this [stupid reference to a ‘bippy’], they’d appreciate what Baby Boomers had to go through, growing up with an older generation like this.”

Mike, I was in my 20s, not a member of what you called “the older generation.” My friends and I more properly fell into the Baby Boomer generation. Folks older than us didn’t watch “Laugh-In,” or if they did, they didn’t get most of the jokes.

Dick Martin was barely tolerable on the TV show and even worse on the big screen. In my view, he was far from Mike’s description of him as “enormously appealing.” His persona was smarmy, constantly smirking as he spouted one sexual innuendo after another.

What is laughable is Mike’s opinion that “if he were around today, he might have been a film star along the lines of Owen Wilson.” I’ve seen lots of films featuring Owen Wilson, and Dick Martin was nothing like him.

Sorry, Mike! I guess you had to be there.

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Audrey Hepburn and Me

I never thought I had a single thing in common with Audrey Hepburn.  She was tall and decidedly slim.  I’m short and, uh, not exactly slim.  She was a brunette with enormous brown eyes.  I’m a redhead with almond-shaped but not-so-enormous hazel eyes.  She was a famed film star who won an Oscar at 24 (for 1953’s Roman Holiday) while my adolescent dreams of becoming an actress never became reality.

So I never saw myself as having anything in common with this glamorous star of the ’50s and ’60s.  But a quick glance at a recent magazine article has convinced me that I have a few things in common with Audrey after all.

The article, appearing in the May issue of Vanity Fair, is based on a new book, Audrey in Rome, written by her younger son, Luca Dotti.  Luca lived with Audrey in Rome from the time of his birth in 1970 until she left for Switzerland (and he went off to a Swiss boarding school) in 1986.  As the magazine cover proclaims, in his book he recalls “the secrets of her iconic style.”

What were some of these secrets?  Well, for one thing, she was “fond of kerchiefs tied under the chin (not wound around and fastened in back in the French manner).”  Her love of sous-chin kerchiefs is apparent in a 1970 photo showing Audrey in a fabulous Givenchy coat and a scarf tied under her chin.

According to Luca, Audrey’s scarves were “a bit of a vice.”  Although she wasn’t “like Imelda Marcos and shoes,” she had “maybe 30 or 40” scarves.  In Rome, she often wore them along with big sunglasses as a disguise, enabling her “to do her shopping without having…crowds” following her.

This is one style-revelation I share with Audrey Hepburn.  My love of scarves, like hers, could be called a vice, but in view of the small amount of space they occupy and the small sums of money they cost, they’re a pretty harmless one.  I have a colorful collection in every possible fabric, suitable for every season, some bestowed on me as charming gifts, others purchased by me in a weak moment.

I admit I’ve never had crowds following me.  But I wear scarves (usually tied under my chin) for my own reasons.  In chilly weather, they keep my head warm.  On warmer days, they shield my curly hair from humidity and wind.

Childhood photos taken by my father show me, like Audrey, wearing scarves tied beneath my chin.  Ever since then, I’ve worn scarves no matter where I’ve made my home—from Chicago to Boston to Los Angeles.  Now, living in breezy San Francisco, I almost never leave home without a scarf in my jacket pocket, prepared to withstand whatever breezes the ocean blows my way.

Some have ridiculed my penchant for wearing scarves.  A friend once muttered that I liked to wear “babushkas.”  That hurt.  But now I can point to Audrey Hepburn as a scarf-loving style icon who, like me, wore scarves tied beneath her chin.

Another secret revealed by Luca is Audrey’s choice of footwear.  Generally basing her style choices on “simplicity and practicality,” she preferred to wear ballerina flats and low heels.  Vanity Fair claims that she wore them partly to accentuate her long feet, “adding to her elegant attenuation.”  (Huh?  Do you know any women with long feet who want to accentuate them?)  But even VF admits the far more likely reason:  she wore them so she “could walk comfortably.”

So here’s another preference I share with Audrey.  Long ago I gave up wearing high heels.  Like Audrey, I like to stride purposefully through the city, and wearing anything but low heels makes that impossible.  Every day I see women struggling with high heels that inhibit their freedom to move through life with ease.  I ache to tell them to forgo those high heels, and like Audrey and me, walk comfortably and safely wherever they go.

[Please note:  I’ve written another post on this blog, “High Heels Are Killers,” explaining at greater length my opinion of high heels.]

If truth be told, when I was younger, I wasn’t a big fan of Audrey Hepburn.  Maybe it was the way Hollywood portrayed her that was to blame.  After Roman Holiday (in which she fell in love with reasonably age-appropriate Gregory Peck), she was paired with male leads who were far too old for her.  At 28 she was supposedly smitten by Gary Cooper, then 56 (and looking even older), in Love in the Afternoon and by 58-year-old Fred Astaire in Funny Face.  I found these pairings simply baffling.  Why would radiant young Audrey fall for men twice her age?  At the time, I was unaware of the way Hollywood worked back then.  It’s clear to me now that she was complying with the demands of the movie moguls who dictated most of the roles she played.

No wonder she confided to friends that her favorite role was that of the nun in The Nun’s Story.  No superannuated men were slobbering over her in that role!

My view of Audrey Hepburn evolved as I learned more about her.  In her later years, she became an activist on behalf of UNICEF, traveling to more than 20 countries around the globe to advocate for the world’s most vulnerable children.  Her advocacy has endeared her to me, a fellow advocate for the underprivileged.

Moreover, during those years, she openly chose to welcome growing older.  Luca remembers that she “was always a little bit surprised by the efforts women made to look young.”  By contrast, “she was actually very happy about growing older because it meant more time for herself, more time for her family, and separation from the frenzy of youth and beauty that is Hollywood.”  She saw aging as part of the circle of life.

Audrey liked to say that “true beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It’s the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows. The beauty of a woman only grows with passing years.”

Some may remember Audrey Hepburn as a stunning style icon, but in my view, she should be remembered for much, much more.

Men and Typing: Hitting the Shift Key

By Susan Alexander

Inch by inch, we move towards gender equality in a host of ways.  When we compare today’s workplace, for example, with the one portrayed on the current TV drama “Mad Men,” depicting a New York advertising agency in the early 1960s, the contrast is striking.  Men dominate the agency.  They are the decision-makers and the bright creative types (only one woman has broken in so far).  All of the other women at the agency (called “girls,” regardless of their age)?  THEY TYPE.

What progress have we made since then?  “Mad Men” illustrates one of my favorite examples:  the enthusiastic adoption by males of what used to be an almost totally female occupation.  TYPING.

Typing clearly exemplifies the contrast between then and now. When I was a Harvard law student in the late 1960s (one of the four percent in my class comprised of women), many of my male classmates eschewed typing.  Sitting behind a typewriter was beneath them, a chore to be performed by women.  Or perhaps they simply never learned to type.  So instead of typing their own papers, they employed women who advertised their services as typists on law-school bulletin boards, or they inveigled their girlfriends or wives into doing it for them.

One bright young fellow who broke the mold was my classmate Lance Liebman.  A transplant to Kentucky (after spending his early years in Queens, where his progressive school district encouraged boys to learn typing), Lance became a high-school journalist and a crack typist.  When he entered the Kentucky state typing contest, he triumphantly won first prize.  Gender-stereotyping reared its silly head, however:  the Lexington Leader referred to him as “Miss Lance Liebman.”

Lance went on to excel in law school, becoming the head of the Harvard Law Review (a prestigious position later held by Barack Obama), and is now a distinguished professor (and former dean) at Columbia Law School.  He believes that his typing ability may have given him an edge.  A small minority of our classmates, including Lance, typed their exams, making their exams more legible and probably leading to better grades.

Granted, typing back then was a miserable chore, even for those of us who had mastered the technique in high school or college.  I painfully recall typing my first-year moot court briefs on my tinny Royal portable.  Moot court rules required five copies of each brief.  That meant inserting five sheets of paper into the typewriter, along with four sheets of carbon paper inserted between them.  Every time I typed the wrong letter, I had to use a special eraser to correct my error, leading to a hideous result:  four smudged-filled copies.  Corrections took forever, too.  To avoid errors, I wrote everything out in longhand first, then transcribed it into typewritten form.

When I took my first job, as a judge’s law clerk, I was placed behind an electric typewriter.  Time pressure didn’t allow writing in longhand first, and pretty soon I was able to type my ideas directly onto the paper.  (I remember typing lots of X’s over the mistakes that cropped up, however.)  In the early 1980s I learned to use computers for “word processing”—they were scary at first but far superior to typewriters–and never looked back.

Today, every boy learns to type at an early age.  In the era of computer technology, it’s unthinkable for them to dictate their words, or write them out in longhand, and expect an underling to input them into the computer.  Men in every profession now want and need to use the technology that’s still mainly accessible through typing, and they spend hours sitting in front of keyboards in the workplace and in their homes.  Everywhere there’s a computer hookup, there are men busily typing away.

(Only those males fearful of the new technology still cling to the old ways.  These men continue to rely on secretaries or “assistants” and, yes, their wives to do the typing.  Example:  Bill Marriot, CEO of the hotel chain, blogs–but has his secretary type it for him.)

I often wonder how many of us have observed this sea-change in our lives.  Forty or fifty years ago, typing was largely done by women. Today both men and women head for the keyboard without even thinking about it.

What a shift!

[A version of this commentary previously appeared as an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle.]