Mondo Hollywood, Robert Carl Cohen’s poetic 1967 documentary, begins not as you might expect, with shots of LA’s tie-died hippies but rather with a John Birch Society-type anti-Communist meeting attended by, among others, Glenn Beck’s idol, W. Cleon Skousen, the kooky Mormon “historian,” FBI agent, crackpot conspiracy theorist, and slavery apologist. (Mitt Romney studied under Tea party icon Skousen while in college at Brigham Young University).
Without meaning to, Cohen’s time-capsule film begins by pointing out to viewers how, in some respects, so very little has changed since the 1960s—these folks are the Teabaggers of 1965, they’re even reading the very same batshit crazy Cleon Skousen books—and then he shows how much they did change, or at least the beginnings of that change to come.
Mondo Hollywood uses what appears to have been a lot of silent (very well shot) 16mm footage, and interviews and voice overs done at different times, to create a fascinating time capsule of life in Los Angeles during the very year when the culture went from black and white to vivid psychedelic color. Along the way, we’re introduced to poets, dreamers, acid eaters, trust fund kids, body painters, strippers, proto-hippies (or “freaks” as the Los Angeles variety of hippie was known in 1965-66), transsexuals, avant-garde artists and—this being Los Angeles—plenty of movie stars, a young Frank and Gail Zappa seen at a wild party and even then governor Ronald Reagan, who rails against “filthy speech advocates” at UC campuses. Spookily, future Manson murderer Bobby Beausoleil as well as future Manson Family victim, celebrity hairstylist Jay Sebring, both appear in the film.
It’s interesting to note that Mondo Hollywood was set to open the Avignon Film Festival in 1967 but was banned by French government censors who stated:
“This film, in the opinion of certain experts of the Commission [of Control], presents an apology for a certain number of perversities, including drugs and homosexuality, and constitutes a danger to the mental health of the public by its visual aggressivity and the psychology of its editing. The Commission proposes, therefore, its total interdiction.”
Not much in the film would raise an eyebrow today, these “perversions” have all been mainstreamed. I still can’t get over the vintage Tea party crowd at the beginning, myself.
Although I didn’t actually see Mondo Hollywood until many years later, I used to have a huge square poster, similar to the album cover pictured above, hanging over the bed in my first NYC apartment in the 80s. I really wish I still had it!