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THE RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS SEVEN

USA, 1979 (MIFF 1981)

Director: John Sayles

The generation which lived through the protest movements of the sixties has been served up cinematically in a variety of films which rarely strike an authentic note Whether it was the heavy righteousness of Elliott Gould in Getting Straight, or the facile chic of the trio in the recent Small Circle of Friends, the tone never seemed right. These films had the appearance of the counterculture or radical politics. The hippie garb, the rock music and dope even the political rhetoric was occasionally accurate, but what was always missing was the feel of those times. Any indication of a commitment to collectivity, a sense of shared and strongly-felt values and an experience of warm friendship forged under stress was sadly lacking. John Sayles' low budget comedy feature about the annual reunion of a group of friends from those college anti-war protest days captures these elusive qualities.

Sayles' film is modest in scope. Nothing momentous happens Seven old college friends come together for the one weekend of their annual summer reunion. They bring new lovers and old crushes, news of collapsed relationships, updates on jobs and a year's worth of political and personal soul-searching. In showing people who mostly just talk to each other, director-screenwriter-editor Sayles may have been making virtue of necessity with a $60,000 budget, yet his film is in the long tradition of the best in comedy of manners It shares with Jane Austen novels. Oscar Wilde plays, and Woody Allen films an accurate eye for the details and textures of daily life and an ear for the nuances in language which define people of a particular stratum of society in a unique historical time Unlike his predecessors, however. Sayles uses the form to depict white. middle-class Americans pushing thirty who were politically radicalized by the Vietnam era.

It's not just Sayles' accuracy of social detail which carries the film. He succeeds in his portrait through use of compassionate humour rather than satire, and characterization rather than caricature Most comedy today makes fun of people, these people make fun. Even the film's title is indicative of its self-deflating humour Secaucus. New Jersey. Exit 13 on the New Jersey Turnpike, onetime pig-slaughtering capital, was the spot where seven Washington-bound anti-war protesters were stopped as part of general police harassment. In the grand and heavy' tradition of the Seattle 8. Chicago 7, Boston 5 and all other courtroom stars of those trial-filled years, they dubbed themselves the Secaucus Seven These are people with sense of play who can both take themselves seriously and maintain a sense of perspective.

The film, however, is not about the sixties. It is about now. ten years after their night in Secaucus."

Naomi Glauberman and Claudia

Fonda-Bonardi

Cineaste

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