If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, then it could be argued that the greatest service that could be rendered to a city is for it to be interpreted through art. Although most might be familiar with the ways in which neighboring metropolis San Francisco has been captured through such means, Berkeley has left its own admirable legacy across a wide spectrum of artistic mediums.
Cinematically, Berkeley has not made perhaps as big a celluloid footprint as sister college UCLA, but the Golden Bear campus has been involved in some notable films and TV shows.
Undoubtedly, the first example to come to mind is Mike Nichols’ darkly directed take on life, love and growing up in the comedic—cult classic “The Graduate.” Cal is a key location in the film’s story, even if most of the shots of hopeless romantic Ben Braddock chasing after the girl of his dreams were actually filmed in Los Angeles. Other Berkeley films include the 1998 Robin Williams dramedy “Patch Adams” (which includes scenes shot in Wheeler Hall) and 2000’s “Boys and Girls,” a romantic comedy that filmed multiple scenes on campus with real students passing by as extras.
Examples on the smaller screen include current critics’ darling “Parenthood,” which is set in Berkeley and SF although mostly filmed on sets at NBC in LA.
Just as revealing as a city’s film history is how it is represented musically. Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, but many other artists have left their legacy in Berkeley. The smooth, easygoing vibes of the Grateful Dead provided the soundtrack for an entire culture as it emerged around Telegraph in the 1960s. The psychedelic jam band was formed in the Bay Area as well and continues to remain a core part of the city’s reputation. The famous folk-poet Bob Dylan also found a place in the counterculture movement, emanating his twang guitar and nasal-driven vocals from transistor radios all over People’s Park. More recent artists, such as Green Day, have incorporated the thriving art scene of the Oakland and Berkeley area into their songwriting. The pop-punk trio got its start playing shows all over the 510 and has remained proud of its roots. The well-known electro-pop group The Cataracs is native to Berkeley as well and even titled its latest album Gordo Taqueria after the popular local restaurant.
The colorful atmosphere of Berkeley has also spilled onto the pages of countless books. It has served as the backdrop for the helpless misadventures of Nick Twisp in C.D. Payne’s classic young adult novel “Youth in Revolt,” provided a place of occupation for Michael Chabon’s latest work Telegraph Avenue and acted as the catalyst for which all characters interact in Allegra Goodman’s The “Cookbook Collector.” The city also made appearances in the 1963 Charles Webb novel “The Graduate,” which would,serve as the source material for the eventual movie. The Bay Area was a prime location for many great budding authors and poets in the past and is continuously revitalized in their published work.
It’s no wonder that the city of Berkeley has also flourished in other forms of visual art. Ansel Adams famously portrayed the UC campus in stunning black and white, as highlighted in the campus’s current Fiat Lux project. Artistic expression is in the DNA of the city, with murals such as the enormous chronicling of the Free Speech Movement at Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street.
It is because of artistic media such as these that there no longer exists just one Berkeley but thousands, each crafted from the unique perspective of its respective artist. If there’s only one thing that all share in common, it is that, through them, the city of Berkeley will continue to live on forever.
Contact Ryan Koehn at [email protected].