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' '68' (R)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 11, 1988

Sometimes a sense of deep, personal involvement by a filmmaker is a mixed blessing. And this is one of those times. Steven Kovcs, whose film " '68" opened here last Friday, clearly has a great deal to get off his chest, and I suppose that we can be happy for him that the chance to unburden himself has at last arrived. What we cannot be satisfied with is the result.

The press notes to " '68" begin as follows: "The 1960s were a time of turbulence, reevaluation and catharsis in America." And for this we're supposed to sit up and take notice! Usually it's unfair to use a film's publicity against it, but this statement so perfectly expresses the quality of Kovcs' thinking that it's impossible to resist. For once, a film is not misrepresented by its hype.

The story told here is at least semiautobiographical. It concentrates on the events during that crucial, eponymous year that affect the lives of four members of a Hungarian family in San Francisco.

The father of the group is named Zoltan (Sandor Tecsi), and he's a mighty figure of a man with a booming voice, trying to make a success of his struggling Hungarian restaurant. One of his sons, Sandy (Robert Locke), thinks he wants to get married, then realizes he's gay, and then changes his mind and decides to join the Army instead. The other son, Peter (Eric Larson), who's the film's main character, is a nascent writer who, after he gets booted out of Berkeley, goes to work at a motorcycle shop called Woody's. For reasons that are not entirely clear, Woody is played by Neil Young.

As events in the characters' personal lives unfold, television and radio broadcasts tell us of Lyndon Johnson's withdrawal from the presidential race, the assassination of Robert Kennedy, the unrest in Prague following the Soviet incursion there and the like. And in each instance where documentary footage is shown, the background overwhelms the foreground.

The same is true of the music that underscores the film's action. In one scene Peter, who is working on a story about a motorcycle gang for an alternative newspaper, picks up a free-spirited girl and makes love to her on his bike while on the sound track we hear bits of Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart." And the Joplin is great.

All this could be forgiven if Kovcs had invested his story with any personal insight, but the film is unoriginal enough to seem generic.

Added to this are some of the most egregious lines of dialogue I've ever heard come out of the mouths of movie characters. When Peter turns in a piece, for example, his editor describes it as "hard-hitting, concise -- it rattles off the issues like a blazing machine gun."

On another occasion, after Peter and his activist girlfriend hear of Martin Luther King's assassination, the young woman pronounces, "Others will take his place, and they will be stronger because of him." Then they go back to her apartment and watch the TV. Which is positioned right next to a wall-sized poster of Ho Chi Minh.

Ah, nostalgia. Aw, baloney.

" '68" contains some nudity and adult situations.

Copyright The Washington Post

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