Secret Cinema makes America great again with YOUNG AMERICANS
For our next screening at The Rotunda -- on Tuesday, May 23 -- the SecretCinema will present the forgotten "documentary" feature YOUNG AMERICANS. It has nothing to do with David Bowie or Sigma Sound Studios...
Instead, YOUNG AMERICANS follows the tour bus of another kind of musical talent: A group of good-natured, clean-cut, classically trained folk-singing teenagers, carefully assembled by their crew-cutted conductor to present another version of the Summer of Love to a middle America already weary of long-haired campus radicals and rioting inner cities. He named them the Young Americans, and in a perverse way they were as subversive as the Jefferson Airplane or Weather Underground. This scripted, contrived Technicolor fantasy (the excellent cinematography incidentally captures gorgeous views of 1960s New York, Boston and unnamed countrysides), nonetheless stands as a valid snapshot, from a different perspective, of America in the Age of Aquarius.
YOUNG AMERICANS will be shown from a beautiful dye-transfer 16mm film print on a giant screen, along with surprise patriotic short subjects.
There will be one complete show, starting at 8:00 pm. Admission is $8.00.
A complete description of the feature follows...
YOUNG AMERICANS (1967, Dir: Alexander Grasshoff)
In 1967 the world was heating up: 475,000 American troops were serving (and sometimes dying) in Vietnam. Race riots left many cities in flames. The Six-Day War escalated a conflict in the Middle East that has never ended. LSD and marijuana exploded in popularity, as did psychedelic music from the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. Students reacted to all of this by dropping out of society, growing their hair long and joining radical protests on college campuses nationwide. And, a troupe of 36 fresh-faced, clean-cut teenagers toured the nation by bus and donned matching suits, to belt out earnest performances of "Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey?" and "Dixie" at state fairs and carnivals. YOUNG AMERICANS chronicles this last detail, while pretending the other stuff never happened.
After a career in television as a music supervisor, Milton C. Anderson formed the Young Americans, a "show choir" (meaning they both sing and dance), to demonstrate "what young America is today." The project began in 1962, when it was les obvious that there was a growing divide between old and young, right and left, hippies and "the Silent Majority." He nonetheless correctly intuited that there was a ripe market for a squeaky clean, if highly subjective depiction of American youth, and the Young Americans were soon frequent guests on TV variety shows hosted by Ed Sullivan and Bing Crosby (in between commercials for Geritol and Polident). Anderson was a tough taskmaster, both in whipping his young charges' voices into shape, and in monitoring their leisure activities -- tense moments in the film are created when one girl smuggles her pet dog onto the tour bus, or a newly-formed couple dares to hold hands without the prescribed chaperone. And "created" seems the correct word for how the scenes of this feature-length film came to exist. The carefully composed camera shots, editing, and facial expressions suggest this "documentary" was definitely not part of the decade's CINEMA VERITE movement. Every narrative "surprise," from flat tires to the group helping out in the kitchen of a roadside diner, appear as carefully moderated as the group's stage costumes. Some members appear familiar from bit parts in movies, while Vicki Lawrence would soon achieve fame on television. Today the film could almost be considered a "mockumentary."
Young Americans, the singing group, was real, or at least a real showbiz act. In the 1960s they recorded four albums for the ABC label (the last, TIME FOR LIVIN' brushed the bottom reaches of the Billboard charts). Their look and sound was imitated by other upbeat, patriotic acts, such as Up With People. And the concept has survived for over 50 years. Today it lives on as a charitable organization -- the Young Americans College of the Performing Arts -- which continues to recruit earnest young singers and send them out across the world with a relentlessly positive message. A new documentary on founder Milton C. Anderson (still alive at 88) is currently being prepared. However, YOUNG AMERICANS, the 1967 movie, is mostly remembered (if at all) for its unique status in Oscar history. It won the 1968 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, but the prize was rescinded in 1969 over a technicality (the Academy realized the film had been exhibited in 1967). - JAY SCHWARTZ
Admission is $8.00