Something Mondo is happening here: “The Hippie Revolt” documented the west coast’s hippie sub-culture in 1967

By on September 29, 2016

The Hippie Revolt — a mondo-style documentary about California alternative hippie lifestyles circa the so-called Summer of Love — was previously released to theaters in mid-December 1967 as Something’s Happening and was later given a more exploitation-friendly title, World of Acid. Whatever you call it, the film is highly-praised for its historical “youth movement” footage lensed primarily in and around San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury and on L.A.’s Sunset Strip. The documentary is part of Night Flight’s “Something Weird” collection, now streaming on Night Flight Plus.

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The film’s director, Edgar Beatty, was a former TV commercial director who wanted to capture what he was seeing in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district without interfering with the delivery of the counterculture message, which is why there’s a title card which states The Hippie Revolt was “written and told by the hippies themselves.”

What Beatty was able to capture in a kind of level-headed, direct style was quite a bit different from the original “Mondo” type of documentaries which were popularized by the success of Mondo Cane, the 1962 documentary written and directed by Italian filmmakers Paolo Cavara, Franco Prosperi and Gualtiero Jacopetti.

That original Italian-language film presented a series of vignettes — anthropological glimpses of cultural practices and rituals — which were intended to shock or surprise the mostly European and American viewing audiences who would otherwise not have known what was going on elsewhere in the world.

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The film was a huge box office success worldwide, which opened the door to sequels, beginning with Mondo Cane 2 (also known as Mondo Pazzo), released the following year.

In the 1980s, two more sequels were released (Mondo Cane Oggi: L’Orrore Continua and Mondo Cane 2000: L’Incredible, with even more in the series arriving in the 1990s.

There were also mostly-foreign docu knock-offs which applied the “Mondo” title which featured vignettes of ramped-up sexuality and the kinds of  controversial cultural and societal changes taking place in the 1960s, such as those that were revealed in Malamondo, which we told you about here.

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Mainly, though, the “Mondo” films started a craze that continued with Mondo Infame (1963), Mondo Bizarro and Mondo Freudo (both 1966), and others of what was called the “exquisite corpse” sub-genre, partly horror, partly documentary style footage which often focused on death cult rituals being performed by groups of indigenous peoples living off the modern grid, so to speak.

Also, in the mid-to-late Sixties, the “Mondo” title started to also be applied to documentary films which were not exactly examples of “shock-sploitation” or similar genre, and although they might have shocked some of the straights who saw them, they were simply vignette films that tried to document little unseen worlds that were existing “counter” to the pre-existing culture, which is how the name counterculture came to be used (although a lot of this stuff started showing up on the network’s nightly evening news reports and after awhile, the footage didn’t look all that shocking or counter to anything… it simply was what real life looked like to an entire generation.

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One such example was filmmaker Robert Carl Cohen’s 1967 film Mondo Hollywood, which documented the rise of the so-called “youth movement,” or what was also known as the counterculture movement, particularly when it came to their use of drugs (Cohen’s film included an interview with psychologist Richard Alpert, one of the founding fathers of the LSD craze — by the way, if you’re interested in LSD-themed films, be sure to check out our many posts about acid here).

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Also released in 1967 were two more similarly-titled features, Norman Herman’s Mondo Teeno, and Peter Perry’s Mondo Mod, and Beatty’s Hippie Revolt is similar to these last examples in that the director originally intended to show what was truly happening in Haight-Ashbury, unlike Cohen and some of the others we’ve mentioned above, who staged some of what they shot.

As far as we can tell, that doesn’t seem to be the case here, and there is narration throughout which attempts to clarify what’s being shown (and most of the time it’s totally unnecessary but so “of its time” that we love it anyway).

After the credit sequence at the beginning, we’re plunged into the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco, into a park where hippie cats are bashing away on bongos and other types of drums and hippie girls are gettin’ freaky and dancing to the tribal beat.

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Our helpful narrator tells us, “Of course, it’s a all different way of life. It’s a whole different way of living. But more than that, it’s a whole different way of thinking! I think this is probably why so many of the civilians have no concept. They look at the uniform, which is often bizarre. But it’s fun to be bizarre!”

That’s an example of the kind of Mondo Bizarro type of stuff you’ll be seeing in the Haight-Ashbury district, an area of eight-to-ten blocks on the western edge of San Francisco where we’re told there are 200,000 young people jammed into a relatively small neighborhood (“five square feet for every person,” the narrator explains), which means, of course, that there’s a housing shortage in the area and lots of problems caused in no small part because it’s such a densely packed city.

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The documentary doesn’t shy away from showing the darker side of life in the Haight-Ashbury district, exposing how many who had moved there to affect a change in their troubled lives soon found themselves dealing with poverty, overcrowding and homelessness.

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We’re introduced to the Diggers — who offer a helpful “Haight Street seminar” hoping to prevent newly arrived runaways from becoming “psychedelic casualties” — but we’re also told that some of the teenagers we’re seeing are “those who are more than speed freaks… those who are more than teeny boppers.”

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We’re invited along to an actual “Love-In,” and a hippie wedding and a “moonfire funeral,” and then pay a visit an actual commune called Strawberry Fields, which we’re told is “out in the country, miles and miles of… a real trip” and “nothing to get hung about” (of course).

Oh, and we forgot to mention the scene with semi-naked body-painted girls who are moving in and out of the strobe lights and crazy shadows and Op Art shapes projected on them while they’re dancing to the music (which we believe is performed by The Love Generation).

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We also get to pay a visit to a Halloween “Acid Test Graduation” ceremony, where we can see both Ken Kesey and Neal Cassidy, who is handing out “diplomas” to those who have passed the acid test.

A hippie narrator tells us, “What you have here is a gathering of the tribe, the acid tribe. Everyone’s here been through the whole scene. Now most of them can get where it’s at in their minds without acid. So we’re going through a whole new plateau, level of consciousness, you know? The wheel of life keeps turning and you gotta choose.”

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There’s a groovy scene where the springs of a metal bed appears to have been used for a giant indoor BBQ.

One of the attendees is a guy wearing a Hell’s Angels patch on his jacket.

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The films takes a serious turn towards the end with an anti-Vietnam War peace rally, where a street performer who calls himself General Hershey Bar (“the sweetest general in the Pentagon!”) entertains and informs.

Somewhere in the midst of all this the great Muhammad Ali also makes an appearance.

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Something’s Happening — the film’s original title, inspired by a few lyrics from Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” off his 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited — was initially released by Headliner Productions (“The Weirdies, The Beardies, The Whatsies!”), and was extremely popular on the grindhouse theater circuit.

It was later re-released under at least two other highly-exploitative titles, The Hippie Revolt and World of Acid, although in the end it turns out not to be so much about LSD or any drug, really, and more about wanting to live an authentic alternative lifestyle.

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Check out The Hippie Revolt and the rest of Night Flight’s “Something Weird” collection, now streaming on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.