Sunday, September 21, 2008

Still a Mystery

In 1967-68, I was the go-between on my campus for an experimental film series. Compilations of films were sent from Hollywood or somewhere, and I booked the room, put up the posters and, not incidentally, saw all the films.

They were short films, probably a lot of student work. As I recall, there was a lot of trippy animation and even trippier live action films, all very psychedelic. There was one short film in the first bunch, a narrative so straight that it was almost embarrassing. But it had charm, reality, and a line that I loved and still remember. It was about a guy hitch-hiking.

Several years ago I read something about Steven Spielberg, that he made his first film in 1968, called "Amblin'," which is also the name of his film company, and that it was a short film about a hitch-hiker. So I immediately thought of those experimental film packages and that one short film I remembered.

But "Amblin'" was unavailable, at least where I happened to be. (In Cambridge years ago, I actually saw director Brian DePalma's student film projected on a barroom wall--it was this weird combination of Godzilla and Beowulf done with like clay models.) I hoped I'd run into it sometime, or at least someone who'd seen it.

I was lamenting this the other day when I suddenly realized: oh yeah, YouTube. Sure enough, there it was, all 25 minutes of it. Not a great transfer, and really, not a great film. I was glad to see that Speilberg's youthful insecurities and neuroses were as obvious as mine probably were in my "art" of the period. He was probably more honest about his relationship to the counterculture than I was.

Anyway, big disappointment: it's not the same film. "Amblin" is about this sort of Paul Simon lookalike shy neurotic, hitching with this willowy very 60s and very English looking beautiful young wish fulfillment hippie chick. And it was kind of trippy, in a hey hey we're the Monkees kind of way.

But the movie I remember was about a guy (not particularly freaky in the long-hair sort of way) hitching, who is picked up by a beautiful young woman in like a sports car, and they spend the night in a romantic cabin, or anyway, I remember a fireplace. But when he wakes up in the morning, she's gone. And the last shot is of him sitting on a hillside, looking down at the highway.

Here's the line I remember. She asks him more or less what he wants to do with his life. He doesn't know, but he confesses, "I'd like to be a Beatle."

Well, of course. That's exactly what I wanted to be--what we all wanted to be! In 1967-68, absolutely!

So now I'm disappointed that I wasn't one of the first to spot Speilberg's genius, or even that I now knew that he made this movie and I could see it again, to see how it matches up with my recollection.

And it leaves me with the mystery: who did make this movie? What's it called? Is it on YouTube?

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