By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
For the early part of the trip, some of the beautiful people employed several strategies to attract the attention of the cameras. A number of girls started out sleeping with the French cameramen. One girl complained afterward, "I'd wake up in the morning and he'd tell me to get him some coffee and that's about all I'd get out of it."
Then there were costume changes, up to five a day for one girl. Francois seemed to like bare midriffs, long white flowing dresses, and total nudity. Any new costume would guarantee at least a perfunctory pan from one or more camera. After a while a game of positioning began to develop. The trick was to figure out where significant events would take place (or which scenes fit into the camera crew's pre-conceived movie) or to anticipate which events the camera crew wanted to happen and create the "private moments" Francois wanted on film. One of the early rushes shows a huge Indian, Warshow Mike, working beneath a bus in a pool of sweat. The camera shifts away and focuses on a group of colorfully dressed caravan people grinning right into the lens, ignoring the struggle underneath the bus.
In New Mexico at a birthday party for Bonnie Jean, Wavy Gravy's wife, a huge cake with burning joints for candles was brought in to her. Everyone sang "Happy Birthday," and then Francois asked them to do a retake. Instead of singing "Happy Birthday" again, they all turned on Francois, and sang for him the Beatles' "Act Naturally": "I hope they're gonna put me in the movies . . . all I gotta do is act naturally." It was a turning point.
A new, more sophisticated game in which the caravaneers muted the competition for the camera's attention and began thinking up imaginative ways to parody or put on the camera crew. Some people, for instance, began carrying Instamatics all the time. Whenever they found the camera crews following too closely, they'd wheel and start snapping them at the camera. Consciously over-acting in front of the cameras, pointing and calling attention to the cameras, putting on the camera crew became the new game. Cute games, cute jokes. Certainly not politics. "Politics" was the second dirtiest concept in the caravan's consciousness. Politics to the caravan people meant rhetoric, violence, bullshit, ego, bad trips, and worst of all, bad vibes, the dirtiest concept of them all. Despite the fact that many of the people in the buses had been involved in San Francisco radical politics, there was no hint of politics in the decorations of any of the buses. "If we put anything political on these buses every cop in the state will stop us and we'll never make it across country, the movie will never be made," I was told. Only three of the buses were painted at all, and those looked like careful imitations of Electric Kool-Aid era psychedelia, less striking that the designs on two out of three packages of facial tissues.
Caravan people repeatedly insisted that "what we're doing now is the real politics, not bullshit masturbatory rhetoric. We're out doing something: this movie is going to be more political, change more heads than any speech-making about rip-offs. We're not making this movie to sell to freaks, we don't want freaks to pay money for vicarious thrills. We want the straight people, the Kiwanis club members, all the people in Middle America to see it and dig our life style. That's why it's got to be a good vibes movie, not a movie about confrontation." That's what Chan told the radicals at Antioch before he tried to stab David Peel.
That incident was the climax of a long process which began when Tom Forcade, deputy minister of the White Panther Party, joined the caravan in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Forcade drove up in a huge olive Cadilliac limousine painted to look like a general's staff car. A platform-stage as large as a limousine itself had been mounted on the car's roof. On the rear of the stage were two huge 550-watt speakers he had obtained from a Minuteman missile base (they are apparently made to be heard five miles over the road of a Minuteman bursting out of its silo). Next to them was a four-feet, transparent plastic sphere, which carried luggage and served as a base for a bubble machine at concerts. A large curtained bed was nailed onto the middle of the stage (it fell off someplace in Colorado). Forcade arrived dressed in the uniform of a World War I general (later he would change into a shabby Roman Catholic priest's outfit). It was formidable theatre and the caravan regulars didn't know what to make of it.
Forcade was there for several reasons. His closest friend, Mike Foreman, was acting as troubleshooter for the studio on the caravan movie and Foreman had influence of the shape of the movie. Forcade was there on vacation from White Panther organizing and from managing the Underground Press Syndicate office in New York. But he was also there to try and make the movie more political not by "injecting" politics into it but by getting the caravan people to display their implicit politics as openly as they did their tie-dyed t-shirts. In retrospect Forcade's decision to join the caravan and try to shale them up begins to look like the decision Kesey's hero Mac Murphy makes at the opening of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," to leave the prison work farm and enter the psycho ward because the farming has been dull and tiring, and ward life looks interesting.