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In this documentary, we look at a rafting trip from 20 years ago, and the bearded nudists that were on it do, too, and we examine how their lives have changed. The one hippie who's remained true to his late '70s lifestyle is just plain eccentric and weird now, spending his time in the bush with plans to build a tiny house. The rest of the rafters have become middle-aged family people. You couldn't say the movie is full of revelations or profundity, but it's slow and honest. For me, I thought the most interesting thing was watching how these aging hippies acted around their children, who would probably never know their parents used mescaline and climbed canyon-sides naked. 8/10
Where has the time gone? Those thoughts raced through my mind during
this compelling all too brief documentary. Hey, if I had been unable to
relate to this who would?
Happily, I did and totally enjoyed it. My rebellious contemporaries were fun to observe, then and now, and the film has started some dialog among my long-time friends. While it is striking that two of the five actually had political careers (although small-time), I often wonder how I ended-up seeking the joys (comfort) of a corporate world - and boy was I a rebel (without drugs).
Surely part of my pleasure from the film was it holding a mirror of sorts to me, so I was pre-sold, I was bound to find this story engrossing. As for the film-making, good to see how a very small (relatively) investment could pay off in such high satisfaction, at last for this viewer. Was the budget a reason why the other dozen of the original group 1978 elected not to get involved in the project - ? Updates would be welcome.
The message of "The Same River Twice" is you're only young once, so you better enjoy it. Watching the five main characters when they're young in 1978 on a nudist rafting trip in the Grand Canyon, and then picking up on where they're at 20 plus years later, is alternately sad and fascinating. The two women, Danny and Cathy, are just amazingly beautiful when they are young, I could watch Danny walk around in the nude all day! Danny keeps her youthful physique into her late 40s when we see her later, whereas time seems to be a little rougher on Cathy. All 5 characters, Danny, Jeff, Cathy, Barry, and Jim, seem to lead rather pleasant lives as they enter their 50s. But their youth is gone, and it's kind of sad. This is the kind of documentary you'd only watch once (it's no "Crumb"), but once is enough.
Similar to the movie, my Mom had a group of friends in the 70's that she'd go to the lake with. They weren't river guides, but they'd get naked, drunk, and sing Jerry Jeff Walker, just like in the film. Watching it I recognized the era and the setting immediately and I recalled the general feeling of that time, when I was still a kid. I also found myself contrasting the middle age live's of these people with my Mom's life as she got older. In my Mom's case, the drugs and alcohol became permanent, so there were more problems than just settling into middle class life and aging. Like Robb Moss though, she kept a couple of old photo albums of her lake trips and looked back with fondness. She would always say it was more fun to be young back then. It was probably the only time it felt normal to be naked with your friends.
This is the movie of all of us in a lot of ways. It follows life from
the carefree and uninhibited days of twentysomething to the burdens of
fortysomething. With one exception, each of the half-dozen river guides
of the 70's grew up, settled down and became entangled in the humdrum,
perplexities and small successes of adulthood. Yet in watching film of
themselves mostly naked and carefree 20 years earlier there's little
wistfulness, nostalgia or regret for the loss of youthful abandon. That
was then, this is now. As one woman said, "we did it because we could."
But most people can't do it forever and these former river rats have
largely found as much adjustment and peace amid mortgages and
child-raising as they did floating through the Grand Canyon.
One of the most interesting aspects is the fact that three of them have held elected office, and in fact two are mayors of their small towns. Not what anyone would expect watching them negotiating rafts through the rapids in the early footage.
The filmmakers, and particularly the editor, did a masterful job of letting characters in his documentary reveal themselves. It's a compelling film, not as powerful as "When We Were Kings" or "Don't Look Back", but nonetheless a strong and worthy effort. It was highly recommended by the New York Times reviewer and I concur wholeheartedly. No doubt will be appreciated by middle-aged people who, like myself, were lucky enough to have a few years of completely uninhibited life before being drawn into much more conventional settings.
I was surprised to even find this movie at the video store because it never really found distribution outside the film festivals. You may have to dig around for it but it'll be well worth your trouble. A good, solid eight.
(I have sympathy for the kinds of people who watch this movie and can only focus on the nudity.)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, said; "You can never step in the
same river twice". He meant that time is always moving, the river flows
and is ever-changing. This movie looks back for a group of people and
asks them to come to terms with where they are in the river of life
relative to their real time spent on the river.
The question is - did they ever really leave and what was lost and what was found?
There is one character who does not leave and he is the core of the film - the person they left behind. There is a hint of tragedy, which is left unsaid, but may have been part of the earlier film. You cannot help but feel that many would like to go back, but each person in their own way has accepted their path.
Ladies and gentlemen naked hippies! Enjoy! Okay, that said, I have to say this documentary, a sequel to filmmaker Robb Moss's 1978 documentary, "River Dogs," catches up with his fellow former Colorado river guides in the present day. It's been compared to Michael Apted's "7Up" series, but it plays more like a real life "Big Chill," minus the soap operatics of a full-blown reunion, but, alas, complete with (thankfully few) existential musings on these fifty-somethings transitions from just-out-of-college wandering river rats, to successful politicians, fitness gurus and well river rats. Yeah, I know, life is just a long strange trip for the flower children turned `yuppie scum,' and yet, the film still comes off like a hilariously funny and occasionally sad little story about human beings. Go figure.
The film keeps referring to "20" years having passed. But it came out
in 2003, which would be 25 years. Was it filmed in 1998? Also, does the
original River Dogs explain who the hell these people are, where they
were from, how they learned river rafting, where their clients were,
how old they were at the time, and whether they knew each other before
the trip?? One thing I have always wondered about trips like this and
hippies in general is the hygiene issue. I wondered if they flossed
during the trip, and ironically, it shows one of them flossing 20 years
later and admitting that he didn't years ago.
Where did they use the bathroom? Were there porta-potties? Did they use condoms? Where did the food come from? Where specifically were they on the Colorado River and where was that in relation to where they lived? It seems like viewers are thinking of them having been kids on the trip, but they weren't. The men seemed to be in their late 20s. What did they all do for a living during the other 9 months of the year? River Rafting, and being responsible for tourists is not a hippie thing. It requires a schedule, possibly CPR skills, an employer I would assume, courage, and certain alpha qualities. I don't see them smoking pot, nor decrying capitalism.
Yet we see Jim's trailer filled with Leftist type books 20 years later and Cathy is Mayor of a notoriously liberal college town. Jeff is an environmentalist. Barry is Mayor of a notoriously Conservative town. Were they leftists as hippies, or just into nature and nudity? I like the drifting back and forth between the old footage and the new, and I like seeing the people in their domestic lives now. But I didn't watch long enough to hear any deep insight into the nature of youth, the passage of time, or what is important in life.
I did respect Jeff's admission that he was too into becoming a "player" in the environmental movement to maintain his marriage, and Jim's humble admission that he did not want kids and was happy that Danny got some with another man.
As one reviewer already mentioned, the most poignant aspect of the film involves the guy whom everyone looked up to back then. Now he is just a non-productive loner with nothing to show for a lifetime of self-indulgence.
The film maker did not use any manipulative mood music (that I remember), or 70s soundtrack. A soundtrack would have been a big mistake, but I wouldn't have minded a little new age music.
Nudity on a tropical beach seems to me more appealing than nudity at a desert campsite in summer. I'm not a fan of nudity during normal daily activities. I prefer bikinis. I want nudity to be exciting when it counts, not humdrum.
I kept thinking about the novel and film called The Beach. It's a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, which reminds me of this river film.
At the end of that film he explains that "paradise" is not a place, but rather a period of time when one is a part of something memorable. He says that no one can take that away from you, because it lasts forever in your memory.
I guess that is the case with these aging hippies. I just hope they take showers now.
THE SAME RIVER TWICE
... or the life and times of river rats. The kind of look-in-the-mirror
self-preoccupation common to PBS. Airhead twenty-somethings, who dropped out
in the '70's for nudist river-rafting in Colo., are rejoined in their
middle-age. Documentary footage of the past is intercut with interviews in
the present, moving back and forth between a nature idyll of lost youth and
the clutter of ordinary suburban life.
Nowhere near as fascinating as Michael Apted's "21 Up" or "42 Up," not only because far fewer people are involved (3 couples), but because they're dull, bland, predictable, shallow, stereotypical.
Skewed population to begin with: exhibitionists. Not only nudists in their youth, but willing to live their lives in front of a camera (me, I wouldn't let a camera in my front door).
Only the main river guide kept to a nomadic bohemian life style. The nonchalant hipness that may have passed for charm in the young man is seen for its essential emptiness in the older one.
The rest became rather lusterless members of the middle middle-class, albeit, except for one, on the fringe.
I kept thinking only in the US could people drift along so limply, so self-indulgently for so long, carried afloat by the superabundance of affluence. The wolf howls much nearer the door in the rest of the world, e.g., Apted's British subjects -- we're so lucky.
Tick tock, for all this "deep" reflection on time, I kept looking at my watch.
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