How Terribly Strange to be Twenty

Fenster writes:

I had coffee this morning with an old friend with kids about the same age as mine, late teens.  As we talked about little-kids-little-problems/big-kids-big-problems we touched on an aspect of life at that age that we’d more or less forgotten.  Namely, as parents and authority figures swiftly descend in influence, to be replaced just as swiftly by peers, young people are pitched willy-nilly into a Hobbesian kind of place.

Now I know that’s true, intellectually, but I don’t feel it as true so much.  Sometimes you need to be reminded, viscerally, of what what maturation does in its creative destruction.

One of the reasons I liked Lonergan’s Margaret as much as I did was that it pitched me back, swiftly, into that uncertain and dangerous place.  As I wrote on UR, “Margaret is just another coming of age story, though it is one that shows quite plainly what is gained and what is lost in the forging of mental constructs we refer to as maturation.”

Simon & Garfunkel’s line in the 1968 song Old Friends was “how terribly strange to be seventy.”  Now, I am not there yet but I am getting close.  And my life does not seem all that strange, which when you get down to it is not all that strange.  But age 20?  That seems like another country.

But it is a country I have visited.  Heck, I used to live there.  And the right set of experiences can be capable of stripping away the civilization I have been happy to accrete in my own process of maturation, and remind me of the Hobbesian quality of post-adolescence.

This is prelude to another movie that had a very similar effect on me: Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus and 2012.  Like the wandering and erratic title (note the ampersand in one place and the word “and” that follows), this is a wandering and erratic movie.  It concerns two Americans, one male and one female (note I am intentionally avoiding having to refer to these two as boy or man, or girl or woman) who fall in with several Chilean males of their own age.


If there is a plot driver, it is the quest on the part of the American male (Michael Cera) to locate a cactus with psychedelic qualities and to engage in some sort of collective religious experience.  As the plot proceeds, such as it does, we get to observe the interactions of these almost adults in excruciating detail.  These include a lot of scenes concerning power, sexuality and presentation-to-others, with the characters all groping to figure out what to do and how to be (and yes, Mr. Steyn, this is liberty, too!)

It is sometimes remarked that few films have been produced that captured the Sixties.  In part that’s because the studio system held a tight grip on film production in the era itself (with the result being cheesy productions like The Strawberry Statement and R.P.M.–Anthony Quinn helming the latter!) And by the time the Young Turks were able to make their own films in the Seventies, the Sixties were already something of an embarrassment.  As a result there have not been many films made that capture that particular Hobbesian youth moment, all the more Hobbesian for the certainty that youth in that era possessed that the world was to be made anew, and that old habits and systems had to die.

For me at least, Crystal Fairy has a decided Sixties quality, and not just because it centers on a pyschedelic quest.  Even more compelling for me at least is how it captured that odd, uncentered quality that was often present in the era.  Time and again, we see individuals poised between childhood and adulthood trying to figure out what the rules are when there are no rules.  Thankfully, it is comic more than tragic, but the laughs are hard won.

Cera is wonderful in the role.  They talk about “fearless” performances.  This is one.  I was almost embarrassed for him, and had a hard time thinking that the odd mixture or bravado/weakness and masculine/feminine he presented could not be, really, him.

I am passing at present on the film’s merits as film, formal quality-wise.  It got under my skin, but that could be idiosyncratic.

Anyway, if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll appreciate this musical coda from the Mothers, released a month before Simon and Garfunkel’s Bookends:

There will come a time when everybody
Who is lonely will be free…
To sing & dance & love (dance and love)

There will come a time when every evil
That we know will be an evil…
That we can rise above (rise above)

Who cares if you’re so poor you can’t afford
To buy a pair of mod a go-go stretch-elastic pants…
There will come a time when you can even
Take your clothes off when you dance

About Fenster

Gainfully employed for thirty years, including as one of those high paid college administrators faculty complain about. Earned Ph.D. late in life and converted to the faculty side. Those damn administrators are ruining everything.
This entry was posted in Movies, Performers, Politics and Economics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to How Terribly Strange to be Twenty

  1. Faze says:

    The rapidity with which the sixties went from floating and mildly risky lifestyle experimentation into heavy, brutal — as you say, Hobbesian — youth status competition was breathtaking. As one guy from the Jefferson Airplane put it, “For two weeks in the summer of 1967, everything was perfect”. By late 1968, it was ugly.


  2. James Taylor says:

    Yeah, I want to see “Crystal Fairy.” Gaby Hoffman was profiled last summer in the New York Times. Daughter of Warhol-superstar Viva, raised in the Chelsea Hotel, etc. I entered the 60’s as if shot out of a cannon into a strange, new world. One minute I was a straight, sober virgin, within seconds, it seemed… . I changed. Funny that you say youth is another country; one of the big books on handling aged loved ones is called, “Another Country”– the place where 97 year old men like my father reside.


    • Fenster says:

      Not only do you know whereof you speak but you know whereof I speak too.

      And yes I am mangling a Wittgenstein quote you told me in 1969.


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