“My people will have pain and degradation,” Wednesday hisses in her last minute rewrite. “Your people will have stick shifts. The gods of my tribe have spoken. They say do not trust the Pilgrims, especially Sarah Miller. And for all these reasons I’ve decided to scalp you.”
The chaos that ensues is delightful. Happy Thanksgiving, folks!
Alice’s Restaurant is an inadvertent Thanksgiving comedy directed by Arthur Penn, who re-envisioned Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow as counterculture antiheroes in his 1967 gangster classic, Bonnie and Clyde. Penn did the same with Arlo Guthrie, the son of folk hero Woody Guthrie, the committed anti-fascist who wrote “This Land is Our Land.” The film is based on Arlo Guthrie’s 1967 folk song “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” which was about Alice and a restaurant. The restaurant wasn’t called “Alice’s Restaurant.”
That’s just the name of the song, which is very talky, like the movie, which is also pretty violent and fairly drug-fueled. The film doesn’t start on Thanksgiving, but at an army recruitment center, where Arlo, playing himself, is trying to avoid the draft. Turns out he’s got no good reason to stay out of the war.
The Thanksgiving setting, however, gives the film its purpose, and main reason to be thankful. The main plot involves getting rid of some trash after a holiday dinner. Arlo and his friends load a couple months’ worth of garbage into their red VW microbus, along with “shovels, and rakes, and other implements of destruction,” and head to the city dump, which is closed for Thanksgiving. They’d never heard of a dump closed on Thanksgiving before, so with tears their eyes, they drive off to find another place to put the garbage.
It takes Arlo 18 minutes and 21 seconds to tell the plot in the song, in intermittent three-part harmony, but the gist is: he gets arrested for littering, and his criminal record keeps him out of the draft. With it, Penn turns Guthrie into one of the most mild-mannered antiheroes in counterculture cinema. He’s not moral enough to join the army, burn women, kids, houses, and villages because he’s a litterbug.
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