The Holy Haight: How the 60s Counterculture Changed American Religion Forever
July 26 only
Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love!
The 60s counterculture overturned American politics, but it also radically transformed the practice of religion in America. On Wednesday, July 26th, at 7:00 PM, local author, cultural historian, and PhD Erik Davis will explore the many facets of hippie religion. The talk will draw on a kaleidoscopic array of clips from local outfit Oddball Films’ vast archive of 60s and 70s era stock footage, amateur films, home movies, pro documentaries, and experimental films. James Whitney’s celebrated visionary short “Lapis” will get us in the mood for a spiritual carnival ranging from Dionysian Acid Tests to Alan Watts’ Zen, Jesus Freaks to Satanic Masses, rock star gurus to Pentagon marches, Sufi Dances to Jewish Renewal hoedowns. Today we continue to live in the shadow of the hippie mystics, from celebrity yoga to corporate mindfulness to the current psychedelic Renaissance.
Come catch some of the old sunshine!
Films and excerpts include:
Lapis (Color, 1966) Cinema pioneer James Whitney’s film consists entirely of hundreds of constantly moving points of light. Lapis performs such marvelous transformations of positive and negative space, projected color and after-image, similarity and difference, that the viewer cannot help but contemplate the relationships of the unit to the whole, the individual consciousness to the cosmos, of space to time – and not a dry, forced meditation, but a supreme sensual, purely visual dialogue.
Like a single mandala moving within itself, the particles surge around each other in constant metamorphosis, a serene ecstasy of what Jung calls “individuation.” For 10 minutes, a succession of beautiful designs grows incredibly, ever more intricate and astounding; sometimes the black background itself becomes the pattern, when paths are shunned by the moving dots. A voluptuous raga soundtrack by Ravi Shankar perfectly matches the film’s flow, and helped to make LAPIS one of the most accessible “experimental films” ever made.
The images were all created with handmade cels, and the rotation of more than one of these cels creates some of the movements. John Whitney, his brother had built a pioneer computerized animation set-up—the prototype for the motion-control systems that later made possible such special effects as the “Star Gate” sequence of 2001. James used that set-up to shoot some of his handmade artwork, since it could ensure accuracy of placement and incremental movement.
SF Trips Festival — An Opening (Color, 1966)Ecstatic and terrifying in equal parts, Ben Van Meter’s psychedelic portrait of the legendary SF Trips Festival was filmed over two nights at the Longshoremen’s Hall in January of 1966. Using (and reusing, and reusing again) only two and a half rolls of film, van Meter barrages his audience with a succession of double and triple exposures that give some sense of the glorious chaos of this very particular moment in time, place, and history.
The Diggers (B&W, 1968, excerpts) A documentary encounter with the Diggers, the San Francisco anarchist collective and guerrilla theater troupe. The film offers a verite look at the Haight-Ashbury scene from which the Diggers emerged, and articulates the alternative version of society they were working to build.
A Movable Scene (Color, 1969, excerpts) More nuanced than your typical scare ’em straight PSA, Robert Mitchum narrates this cautionary tale of the counterculture’s underbelly. Featuring scores of hippie burnouts, the film documents the drug scene from San Francisco to New York and London, with the ultimate goal of convincing young delinquents to embrace the “orderly, Protestant way of life.”
Sunseed: The Dawning of a New Consciousness (Color, 1973, excerpts) A documentary about the dawning of Eastern religion in the United States, this film travels from India to California as the counterculture look beyond the Protestantism of West for new answers to its questions about the meaning and value of life. Featuring Murshid Sufi Ahmed Murad Chisti, Sri Bhagavan, Lama Anagarika Govinda, Maharaji Virsa Singh, Yogi Bhajan, Sri Brim Dass, Swami Satchidananda, Swami Muktananda, Baba Ram Dass, Rabbi Schlomo Carlebach, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, Neem Karoli Baba and others!
Evolution of a Yogi (Color, 1970, excerpts) The story of the transformation of Richard Alpert, mild-mannered psychology professor at Harvard, into Ram Dass, yoga disciple and spiritual guru, and associate of Timothy Leary–and the intervening experimentation with psilocybin and LSD that led him there.
Satanis: The Devil’s Mass(Color, 1970, excerpts) This film follows modern-day Mephistopheles and SF Bay Area occult sorcerer Anton LaVey, giving a glimpse into the practices of his Church of Satan through interviews with Satanists and their terrified neighbors. This film has it all: sex! Black magic! Esoteric happenings and occult rituals!
Art of Meditation (Color, 1971, excerpts) A guide to the practice of meditation, narrated by Alan Watts, a Bay Area fixture and one of the key interpreters of Zen Buddhism in the West. As with all of Watts’ lectures, the film eschews rote summary of the philosophy of Zen in favor of a more experiential approach, attempting to evoke in its audience the state of relaxed alertness that is at the heart of meditative practice.
Plus! A rendition of “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum for John Byner’s short-lived TV show Something Else,Hare Krishna processions and hippie baptisms, and a very special screening of a luminous film by a legendary SF experimental filmmaker!
Erik Davis is an author, award-winning journalist, podcaster, and lecturer based in San Francisco. His wide-ranging work focuses on the intersection of alternative religion, media culture, and the popular imagination. He is the author, most recently, of Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica. He also wrote The Visionary State: A Journey through California’s Spiritual Landscape, and the recently reissued TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information. He also wrote a short critical volume on Led Zeppelin IV for the 33 1/3 series.
Davis has contributed to scores of publications and collected volumes, and has been interviewed by CNN, the BBC, public radio, and the New York Times. He explores the “cultures of consciousness” on his weekly podcast Expanding Mind, on the Progressive Radio Network. He graduated from Yale University, and recently earned his PhD in religious studies at Rice University.
Free or discounted for members.