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Alice’s Restaurant

Released on: 20 Aug 1969 • Rated: R • Runtime: 111 min

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music

Director: Arthur Penn
Writer: Arlo Guthrie, Venable Herndon, Arthur Penn
Actors: Arlo Guthrie, Patricia Quinn, James Broderick

Plot: A cinematic adaption of Arlo Guthrie’s classic song story.

Box Office Gross: $13,991,240

Awards: Nominated for 1 Oscar. 4 nominations total

Ratings

6.2/10

63%

65

61

3.2

N/A

“Alice’s Restaurant,” the 1969 film directed by Arthur Penn and based on the song by Arlo Guthrie, is a cinematic journey that encapsulates the spirit of the 1960s counter-culture. Blending humor, social commentary, and a touch of the absurd, this film is more than just an adaptation of a folk song; it’s a snapshot of a generation in flux.

Plot Overview

The film, much like the song it’s based on, centers around Arlo Guthrie (playing himself), a young man navigating the complexities of the late 1960s. After a Thanksgiving dinner at Alice and Ray’s restaurant, Arlo and his friend Roger are arrested for illegally dumping garbage, leading to a series of events that highlight the absurdities of the legal system and the societal changes of the era. The narrative weaves through Arlo’s experiences with the draft for the Vietnam War, his interactions with various countercultural figures, and his reflections on life and freedom.

Character Dynamics

Arlo Guthrie’s portrayal of himself is both authentic and engaging, providing a window into the life of a young man caught between traditional values and the burgeoning counterculture. The real-life characters of Alice Brock and Ray Brock add depth and heart to the film, representing the idealism and struggles of the era. The interactions among these characters, along with the various eccentrics they encounter, drive the film’s narrative and its exploration of 1960s America.

Cinematography and Visuals

The film’s cinematography captures the rustic beauty of the Massachusetts countryside and the eclectic, bohemian lifestyle of its characters. The visuals have a documentary-like quality, adding to the film’s sense of realism and authenticity. The use of natural lighting and intimate camera work creates a sense of being a part of Arlo’s world, a bystander in the cultural revolution of the time.

Comedy and Social Commentary

“Alice’s Restaurant” is a film that balances humor with poignant social commentary. The absurdity of Arlo’s arrest and subsequent experiences with the draft board are played for laughs, but they also highlight the larger absurdities of the societal and political landscape of the 1960s. The film tackles issues of war, freedom, and the establishment with a light touch, using humor to underscore its messages.

Soundtrack and Score

The film’s soundtrack, featuring songs by Arlo Guthrie, is integral to its storytelling. The titular song, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” is a centerpiece, narrating the film’s most famous sequence with Guthrie’s trademark wit and charm. The music captures the spirit of the folk movement and the larger countercultural vibe of the era.

Themes and Messages

At its core, “Alice’s Restaurant” is a film about the search for identity and meaning in a rapidly changing world. It’s a reflection on the clash between the old and the new, the individual and the establishment, and the search for a place in a society on the brink of transformation. The film is both a celebration and a critique of the counterculture, offering a nuanced look at the era.

Conclusion

In conclusion, “Alice’s Restaurant” is more than just a film adaptation of a folk song; it’s a cultural artifact that captures the essence of a pivotal moment in American history. With its blend of humor, music, and social commentary, it offers a unique glimpse into the life and times of the 1960s counterculture. For fans of the era, the music, or just great storytelling, “Alice’s Restaurant” is a film that resonates with the spirit of freedom and the quest for meaning in a complex world.

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