End of an Era

in 44th Seattle International Film Festival

by Nachum Mochiach

“By 1994, when I was 29, I could already describe this film,” remembers Seattle- based director, S.J. Chiro. “It’s been on my mind for a really long time, even though the book was not yet written. In 2008, when I read “The Hypocrisy of Disco,” Clane Hayward’s memoir, I knew for sure that it was going to be my first film.”

In her “Lane 1974,” based freely on Hayward’s memoir, Lane (Sophia Mitri Schloss), a 13-year-old girl, lives with her mother Hallelujah (Katherine Moenning) and younger brother and sister, on a Northern California commune in the 1970s.

On one hand, Lane enjoys the freedom of residing with her family far away from society and its rules, in a communal relationship with other families who also have children. On the other hand, she is forced to stay within the strict ideological restrictions of her mother, among them eating only vegan food and, harder, not using electricity or running water. According to her mother, these are men-made products, not sources of energy produced by nature or Creation.

Lane has a secret desire: to experience “normal” life, as seen in utopian pictures she finds in a stolen Sears catalogue.

Meanwhile, her mother’s eccentric and hostile behavior brings the family to a state of complete isolation on the road, a deeply troubled survival journey. Lane sees her so-called united family fall apart while her mother focuses only on herself and her selfish needs. The girl feels that she has to look for her own way in life, and she does.

“This story didn’t leave me alone,” says Chiro, who was born and raised in California in the same neighborhood of Hayward’s upbringing. “I knew that I have to go through it before I could do something else. It reflected on my personal family’s story, but it’s so much easier to talk about somebody else’s story. So it is Clane’s story. The mother is much more her mother than my mother. She had rough time with her. Other than that, the two of us had a lot of similarities. I was the older sister, exactly like she was. I had a brother two years younger, and she had one too. I had a little sister twelve years younger, also like her. The family dynamics were very close to each other, and we shared the same responsibilities.”

“Lane 1974,” an impressive piece of period filmmaking, beautifully shot and directed, will not be distributed in theatres in America. Unfortunately. It will only be released on DVD, probably like all the other seven independent films shown at the “New American Cinema” category at the Seattle International Film Festival.

For me, Chiro’s film is not one of those human interest stories about dysfunctional families. More than anything else, it symbolizes the decline and death of the counterculture era. The very end of the Beat Generation. The termination of all beautiful ideas and ideals of young people in America of the 60’s, who dared dream of a much better world. Those whose spiritual and intellectual leaders were poet Allen Ginsberg and writers Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, William S. Burroughs and others.

The film doesn’t deal directly with this topic (although director Chiro says she was inspired by films like “The 400 Blows” and “Easy Rider”); but between the lines it can be felt. Even a scene in which we see President Richard Nixon on TV, taking the blame for the Watergate scandal and resigning from office, marks the end of an era. The mother, whose ironic name is Hallelujah, pushed from the beginning the idea of the commune to its extreme. Along the way, she abandons the great ideals of her generation and becomes self- centered and selfish, not taking care even of her own children. Thus, her daughter Lane (sensitive and mature acting by Schloss) find herself in a situation that demands that she move forward, to the next phase of her personal life. Good or bad, it will also be the next phase of American life.

Edited by Gerald M. Peary