Filmmaking has a long, rich history in the East Bay, extending from the World War I-era silent comedies produced at the Essanay-West Studio in Niles (now incorporated in Fremont) to the present-day animated blockbusters created by Emeryville’s Pixar Studios. Despite the best efforts of the Wayans Brothers, however, Oakland has never had its own film studio (though films ranging from Erich von Stroheim’s magisterial silent epic Greed to Will Smith’s The Pursuit of Happyness have been shot there), and Berkeley—well, Berkeley may have a world-class university, great weather, and People’s Park, but it’s never been anyone’s idea of a player in the movie business.
However, though few and far between, a few films have been shot in B-town over the years, and that’s where Big Screen Berkeley comes in. From time to time I’ll be looking back at some of these films, but be warned—they’re not always easy to see or acquire. As much as locals may love Berkeley, it’s been more poison than panacea at the box office.
Our first film is Changes, a long forgotten drama that (despite earning a rave review from the New York Times) sold few tickets in cinemas and fewer VHS tapes when it was briefly available as a home video rental. It’s never been shown on television and a DVD reissue seems unlikely.
Produced, written, and directed in 1969 by Hall Bartlett, a one-time Naval Intelligence officer, it’s a coming of age tale about a Cal student (Kent Lane) in quest of the meaning of life. Is a college degree worth the (plastic) hassle, or will he find fulfillment and inner peace by tuning in, turning on, and dropping out?
Not too surprisingly, the film can’t supply a definitive answer, though it does suggest that the more things change, the more they stay the same. However, though thematically very much of its time, Changes is stylistically quite old-fashioned—there are no quick cuts, pulsing psychedelic light shows, or pounding hippie rock to distract us from the important questions posed by its screenplay.
Much of Changes was shot on and around the Monterey Bay coastline, but the hustle and bustle of the Cal campus is also prominently featured. There are wintertime scenes of the Greek Theatre, the Campanile, Wheeler Hall, Sather Gate, Eshleman Hall, and Lower Sproul Plaza. It’s surprising how little these landmarks have changed over the last 40 years, but it’s more surprising to see that most male Cal students were still sporting short hair, ties, and letterman’s jackets in 1969.
Changes features minimal dialogue, a soundtrack dominated by the songs of Tim Buckley and Judy Collins, and some gorgeous Panavision photography from cinematographer Richard Moore. Sadly, Moore’s widescreen compositions are poorly represented on the videotape, but the film is well worth a look regardless, especially if you spent time on the Cal campus during the late ‘60s. A warm glow of nostalgia was probably the last thing Bartlett and friends intended when they shot Changes, but that’s what it now provides.
If you’re not planning to take in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island (currently playing at downtown’s California Theatres) this week, you might want to pop over to the Emery Bay 10 to check out a new Bollywood drama entitled My Name is Khan. The film, about a young Muslim with Asperger’s Syndrome who travels to California (where it was partly shot in Sacramento and San Francisco), recently set a new UK opening day record for an Indian-made feature. Apparently, controversy—in this case, surrounding star Shahrukh Khan’s insufficient fealty to Hindu fundamentalism—sells tickets. Who knew!