Commune takes us inside the Black Bear Ranch, a utopian hippy commune someplace out in the sticks in California in the 1960’s. Most of the information is drawn from archival footage and the reflections of the now aging hippies themselves, who have long since left the commune to pursue more individualistic hippy life-trajectories.
While I can understand the impulse that might drive one off into the woods in the hills, a flight from the oppressive capitalist superstructure into the arms of an oppressive collectivist commune is, charitably speaking, counterintuitive.
Commune basically confirms every stereotype of hippies as self-absorbed malcontents that anyone in the mainstream might tend to harbor. Jonathan Berman is the producer, writer and director, and he is in no way to blame for the apparently negative portrayal. This is not a hatchet job. The interviewees are allowed to look stupid, insane, and absurd on their own terms and in their own words.
There’s a lot of running around naked with goats, and toothbrush sharing that goes on in the film. The participants in the commune get so wrapped up in cogitating on the collapse of the military-industrial complex that they let the goats raise their kids for a while. A freaky cult turns up at some point and some of the hippy kids got exported to India or someplace for some reason best not speculated on. Then the hippies got all bent out of shape and kicked the cult guys out. All-in-all, Melissa Harris-Perry would do well to study this example of collective childcare.
In among all of that insanity, the hippies somehow survived way up there in the mountains. As it will do, living in the margins of society imposed a practical sort of reality on even the most hard-headed of the bunch. In the words of former commune occupant Creek Hanauer, everyone had to “basically chop wood, haul water, cook food, or become a dead Zen guy.” And that was truly the only redeeming feature of this particular commune experiment insofar as I could tell.
By all means, do check it out if you find old hippies entertaining, or if you just want the to see a stack of freaky, leftist ideology driven full force into the California wilderness. I can’t say that Commune is uninteresting, but I can say that it is ridiculous.