The setting is 1969. Richard Nixon takes office; the Beatles have their last concert on a rooftop, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ho Chi Minh die…and there's Woodstock, the Moon Walk, the Manson murders, the Mi Lai Massacre trial, and the birth of Sesame Street. That same year, San Francisco State film student Ralph Arlyck makes a short film about his four year-old neighbor, Sean. They live in the Haight-Ashbury District of San Francisco, the hub of the counter-culture revolution.
Sean lived on the top floor of Ralph's building and often drifted downstairs to chat. During a visit, Ralph turned his camera on and captured the precocious, self-possessed flower child talking confidently about smoking pot, and the speed freaks, pot smokers, and gurus he sees coming and going from his home. He complains about the cops "busting heads." The short film caused a stir, became well known and was even shown at the White House at a conference on child welfare. There were dire predictions about what this kind of upbringing could do to a child.
Thirty-some years later Ralph Arlyck travels back to San Francisco to find Sean and see how he has fared. The resulting film is Ralph Arlyck's follow-up, which spans several years, "Following Sean." Arlyck ends up not only showing us what happened to Sean and his extended family, but also turning the focus back on his own life and the direction it took after he left the Haight and headed for Upstate New York. It is a multi-layered examination of two families' paths.
Arlyck introduces his girlfriend, the young French ingénue Elizabeth Cardonne, nervously talking to him as he trains his camera on her. She's flirting and speculating on the destiny of their relationship. As the audience speculates with her, we soon learn that this is the woman Arlyck marries. The couple has two grown sons.
"Following Sean" is a contemplation of who we are, the consequences of our choices and fate, how family life and social context influence us, and the meaning of work and freedom. Responsibilities to family members and tending to our own needs are examined.
Arlyck's interviewing style is open and non-judgmental, allowing him to inquire about personal issues that may not be possible for other interviewers. The spare narration is impeccable. The set-ups and payoffs Arlyck and editor and co-producer Malcolm Pullinger achieve are terrific. Anyone interested in other people's lives will want to follow Sean.
For Movie Magazine, this is Joan Widdifield.
© 2006 - Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D - Air Date: 1/2006
Directed by Ralph Arlyck