A be-bopped beatnik riff on Mack Sennett madness, updated for the anything-goes youth counterculture, Adolfas Mekas’s 1963 Hallelujah the Hills provided a homegrown riposte to nouvelle vague zaniness, and became one of the more lighthearted cornerstones of the New American Cinema. Screening for its 40th birthday, a new 35mm print showcases cinematographer Ed Emshwiller’s spot-on black-and-white lensing, which achieves a perfect balance of picturesque control and experimental fancy.
Loopy in more ways than one, Hills isn’t so much a linear narrative as an ongoing do-si-do between two madcap man-boys—bespectacled nebbish Leo (Marty Greenbaum) and studly Ivy League dipsomaniac Jack (Peter H. Beard)—in pursuit of the same girl, Vera, who’s coyly played by two actresses (Sheila Finn and Peggy Steffans) representing Leo and Jack’s different views of their shared paramour. In between wooing, the cast tool around wintery Vermont in a jeep, romp naked through icy waters, and spoof the art-film canon, from Griffith to Kurosawa. The finale brings a secret woodland cache of ga-ga-ga-goils and a film-stopping cameo from googly-eyed underground jester Taylor Mead. The result is a dizzy time capsule of proto-revolutionary anarchy, like bits of youthful, energetic innocence frozen in the snowdrifts of time.