Here in my little small hometown we have what I have always considered, between our population size in comparison to our number of mentally "gone" homeless citizens, well – a pretty dramatic per capita number. Now, here in Louisiana if you don’t live in New Orleans or Baton Rouge, you’re probably not used to being assaulted with screams of insanity outside your local Wal-Mart, well no more than the average Wal-Mart… However, in my little town you can often expect just that. Whether its schizophrenic Barry who wears a trenchcoat at all times no matter how hot or humid it might be, or Jeffrey who was rumored to have been poisoned with battery acid as a prank and now walks with a limp and eats out of the garbage. After watching My Big Fat Homeless Berkeley Movie, I have to say they might have us beat in per capita terms as well as numerical ones! In a town full of burnout hippies and drug experimenting artists who probably only intended to bum around for a few months, but have sadly either destroyed their own mind with drugs that they can’t even think about getting away, or sadly suffer from dehibilitating mental disorders. Well, that’s a bit unfair. MBFHBM is not a film intended to disregard the homeless in the manner that I essentially did, as it was apparently made by Johnny Allen Shaw as he himself was wandering the streets without a place to live. The film itself is simply a testament of what is and what was during these times.
MBFHBM is not your average documentary in the fact that it offers answers, nor does it really offer questions… it is simply there to document. Document the daily rituals of these odd individuals living their lives on the streets of Berkeley. Sometimes unintentionally funny, sometimes utterly depressing – Berkeley Movie isn’t a film that doesn’t produce a reaction. We meet many interesting individuals along the way, most blathering nonsense about their new religions they have created, their love for creating wacky situations for people or simply spewing random diatribes full of five dollar words that generally shouldn’t be used in the context they are so brutally squeezed into – but this is who these people are and this is their lives. Berkeley Movie is never rude to these people nor is it a case to laugh at the homeless or anything like that, simply a way to give a voice for these people. In that light, I can’t help but respect the film. I’m also the type of reviewer who judges a film based on whatit is and not neccesarily what I feel it "should" be. It would have been a nice touch to have a flowing theme to the film or a voiceover to explain to us why we are seeing what we are seeing – but I doubt that was the point. Mr. Shaw made a film that is told in a different way and it does work very well, and after watching I guarantee you will never forget the film – and I think that’s one of the greatest accomplishments a film can truly have.
Another Big Fat Homeless Berkeley Movie marks the second in the series and is as delighful as the firs, full of equally as strange characters and that same non-narrative that for some reason or another seems to work. Starting off showing a man standing in a tree proclaiming that the tree itself is named Bridget, and that he speaks with trees. Is he joking? He certainly seems witty enough and his claims are so over the top and entertaining that who is to say. Regardless, we never find out and overall he is just another fixture in this strange texture that fills the streets of Berkeley. As we watch a grown man strip to his underpants and dance around in a fountain on the streets – one has to become slightly jealous of such freedom. We all love our creature comforts however, and I myself would likely go into convulsions not having my computer or my new copy off Grand Theft Auto 4 – but, working day in and day out, one doesn’t get to see such a massive subculture just happening right there on the streets. Whether insane or not, there’s an entirely different area of life happening right outside the window that folks like us may never see.
So, in the end I have to throw out my recommendation for both films. They are definitely for a select audience, but those interested in seeing a culture within a culture – and interested in… well, the best way I can think of describing it is "hippie culture on the skids". A lot of people wanting to make the world better in their own way, but only affecting their own environments. If that makes sense. It’s an intriguing world that everyone should venture into and I think generally all viewers will walk away with a different understanding of just what these people are. Some might find an epiphany, some might find humor and some might simply find themselves drawn into a strange and intoxicating world full of the most bizarre and colorful characters they have ever seen – and what makes it all the more bizarre is that it’s all totally real. Read more about the films at the Transitions Video website and do support the filmmakers in any way possible!