Alice's Restaurant (1969)

Alice's Restaurant (1969), directed by Arthur Penn.


Q: What did you get, kid?

A: I didn't get nothing. I had to pay $50 and pick up the garbage.

I saw this about 30 years ago and remembered little about it, apart from the "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" comedy portion I knew earlier as a separate story. I wanted to revisit it because I just learned it is a tradition at some radio stations to put the album on as a loop and send the staff home on Thanksgiving Day. And people tune in and listen to it all day.

Without a traditional plot arc, it is a look at the authentic country hippie of the 1960s: back to the land, lots of babies, playing folk and country and blues music, fascinated with Victorian regalia and Art Nouveau. Taking in the lost and straying, easy going in matters of sex and drugs (alcohol and grass, at least).

Their Eden barely gets started; as always, they bring their serpents with them.

The core is based on the true story of Arlo Guthrie's arrest for littering and later adventures at his Draft Board physical, elaborated to comical effect for his first album.

Made mostly with non-actors and locals from the real location. Police Officer "Obie" and the Judge play themselves, which is sporting of them. Pete Seeger also appears and sings. Spot M. Emmet Walsh in his first credited role as the incomprehensible recruiting sergeant.

Despite the patchwork composition we have quite a lot going on. Decommissioning the church and selling it to Alice and Ray illustrates a passing of a world age: the old giving way to the young, traditional religion replaced by seekers who party all the time, work some of the time. Meditations on health and illness when Arlo visits his father Woody in the hospital. The other young people just can't comprehend how Arlo might have Huntington's Disease, a genetic disorder revealed only with time.

It drags a bit in the soap opera jealousy segments and we have a little subplot of a troubled junkie trying to get clean but failing. His moving funeral scene brings us to...

The Mystery of Tigger Outlaw

I had the soundtrack album before I saw the movie and when I heard "Songs to Aging Children Come" I thought: that is Joni Mitchell.

Here is the clip from the film:

Alice's Restaurant - funeral scene

The song credit was to "Tigger Outlaw" and for the longest time I figured that was some sort of joke pseudonym for Mitchell, never admitted. Like the prolific "Kilgore Trout", invented by Kurt Vonnegut as a play on Theodore Sturgeon and used as a pen-name by Philip José Farmer.

Now: Mitchell did write the song and it appears on her album Clouds. She was invited to appear in the movie and perform it but could not work out royalty issues. Tigger Outlaw is said to be married to Geoff Outlaw, long time friend of Arlo, who appears in this film, his only credit in the IMDB. And this must be Tigger singing, although she has no IMDB credits at all:

Although it is performed "Joni Mitchell"-style, Mitchell had a fuller voice and I guess this really is the mysterious Mrs Outlaw. And on the soundtrack album? I don't have it anymore.

Available on Blu-ray from Olive Films. Prominent grain and occasional damage. At 1h50m it may be a longer cut than I saw decades ago. No subtitles, but I found a good track online.