Perhaps nobody was more upset about the U.S. invasion of Iraq than Daniel Klein, whose first feature-length film, Making Revolution, was about to receive its world premiere at the Wisconsin Film Festival. Klein, a 1990 graduate of Madison West High School (his parents, Ronald and Barbara, are UW ophthalmologists), devoted three years of his life to writing and directing this mock-documentary about student activism. And one of the movie's main points is that the various activist groups can't get their collective shit together long enough to, you know, change society. But suddenly there was a war to oppose; maybe the groups would group together. "I got very nervous," Klein told me recently. "It was looking like my movie, though set only two years ago, was already a period piece."
He needn't have worried. Making Revolution, which imagines a world summit of American youth ' "Woodstock without the music," one participant calls it ' zeroes in on the left's tragic flaw, its tendency to emphasize "one for all" over "all for one." Set on a country estate not unlike Max Yasgur's farm, the movie uses the Woodstock/Altamont arc as a template, idealism giving way to cynicism and violence. But it's a comedy, so there's plenty of time for poking fun at everybody. I only wish Klein and his fellow scriptwriters, Brandon Krueger and Colin Trevorrow, had poked a little harder. Making Revolution often seems ambivalent about its not-so-revolutionary revolutionaries. "I didn't want to belittle people who are actually out there doing things," Klein told me, but maybe he should have forced himself.
What's most impressive about Making Revolution, which kept reminding me of Brian De Palma's 1970 film Hi, Mom!, is the scope of Klein's ambition. Not only does he try to capture the sound and fury of a generation devoted to hacky-sack, he's taken on some difficult cinematic challenges, including numerous crowd scenes. The movie shifts both in tone and in genre as the story unfolds, and it might have been better if Klein had reined himself in, but the sheer amount of work that went into the project is astonishing, and it's all up there on the screen. "If I could go back and caution the younger me, I might tell him not to do it," says Klein, who got a tremendous amount of help from friends and family. Even so, he's already launched on his next feature, which he will pursue while living in Los Angeles.
In the meantime, you can see his first feature at the Orpheum Theatre, where it will be screening all week long.