Release Date: November 3rd, 2006 (Cinema Village)
Directed by Jonathan Berman.
BASIC PREMISE: A documentary about Black Bear Ranch, a 60s and 70s counter-culture community in Northern California.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: Commune takes a fascinating, lively look at the experiences of people who belonged to the Black Bear Ranch, a hippie community with 300 acres of land founded by Elsa and Richard Marley. Somewhat of a cross between a Kibbutz and Woodstock, this commune lived freely with some drug abuse while everyone cooked together, slept together, had sex together and often walked around naked or partially naked. When a woman became pregnant, everyone was with her through the entire ordeal, even through the child-rearing phase. Women played just as an active role in daily chores/activities as men did. In a humorous interview with an ex-resident, Michael Tierra, now an herbalist, admits that he and a few other agreed to have an orgy, but they didn’t know what the word “orgy” meant. Peter Coyote, who was also once part of the commune, explains that he joined the group not because of their ideals but because of the beautiful scenery and the sexy women—what more can he ask for? Not surprisingly, given the commune’s anarchist behavior, the FBI kept them under watch and, in fact, a member of the CIA tried to blend in with them, but nobody cared even though they were aware of who he was. Residents who didn’t want to stay, left and those who were told to leave, stayed there for a while. Eventually, a child-worshipping cult called Shiva Lila formed which took freedom a bit too far. In the mid 1970’s, residents either left to search for jobs based on the skills they learned there or for towns with schools for their children. It would have been interesting to watch more interviews about how the residents adjusted to the real world after leaving Black Bear Ranch. Nonetheless, director Jonathan Berman does a great job of mixing lively archival footage as well as new footage to coherently piece together the history of Black Bear Ranch from 1968 until its existence today.
SPIRITUAL VALUE: What the residents of Black Bear Ranch went through during the 60’s and 70’s has certainly impacted lives, but, at least those who are interviewed managed to find their little niche within civilization. It’s nice to know that they still remain friends throughout the years—two residents, Cedar and Mahaj Seeger, even married another after their departure. Too much freedom is obviously not healthy and can even lead to boredom while spending too much time together leads to increasing tensions. In an insightful interview with Richard Marley, he says that a Zen teacher once told him that life is like a little boat that sails out into the big ocean and inevitably sinks, so, until then he’s learning to appreciate the small moments in life and to make the best of it.
INSULT TO YOUR INTELLIGENCE: None.
NUMBER OF TIMES I CHECKED MY WATCH: 0
IN A NUTSHELL: Lively, fascinating and insightful.
RECOMMENDED WAY TO WATCH: Movie Theater (1st Run)
The "C" Menu