Recent films about the 1960s belong to one of the basic romantic genres: nostalgic retrospect. The great pioneer of this genre in
English was the poet William Wordsworth. Wordsworth gave us several luminous visions of his rural childhood and of his youth in Paris during the French Revolution. But in romantic literature, nostalgic vision is only the beginning of the story. What happens next, what’s bound to happen, is that the vision is lost: it fades or shatters, or gets twisted into a grim parody of itself. Then the self feels empty of life, thrown into dejection and anguish. Serious romanticism is addressed to people stuck in primal traumas. Facing up to our past—as Hegel said, “to look the negative in the face and live with it” —can give us strength to let go of our old life, and go on to build a new one. Nostalgic retrospect can put us—individuals, cultures— in touch with some of our lost and forgotten energies. A good book or film about the sixties should make us feel it was noble and beautiful, it was dreadful, it had to die, it can’t come back, but it had a live core that will enrich our lives if we can incorporate it.
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