No Success Like Failure will use the life of
Marshall Bloom to dramatically explore the turbulent era of the
1960's. Bloom, founder of Liberation News Service (LNS), the "Associated
Press" for more than 500 underground newspapers, was a cultural
and political activist whose meteoric flash through the era embodies
This non-fiction movie will be constructed from archival footage-both of specific events and of images that evoke the period; still photographs; interviews; location shooting; re-enactments; excerpts from Bloom's extensive papers; and graphics, including comics, from the underground press. Period music will help to propel the story.
Bloom changed from a high school conservative to a civil rights worker, charismatic student rights activist, proponent of a "new Journalism", and anti-war radical. Bloom became a leading figure of the movement, and then, after a bitter faction fight within LNS, a pariah to much of the Left. He was a target of government harassment and a leader in the "back-to-the-land" movement. Marshall has been described as "a gay celibate", but his life was entwined with the sexual revolution of the times. He was on the cutting edge of his generation's revolt, and in some sense, he was also an early casualty of it. Bloom was a man of uncommon sensibilities and remarkable achievements, and his suicide at age 25 in the fall of 1969 remains, like the period itself, unresolved.
"The story of Marshall Bloom's life and death is dramatic enough in its own details and poignant enough in its own conclusion to stand on its own. What makes it a larger story is that the lives of a generation resonate throughout the telling. He was by no means "typical", not even typical of those relative few who seriously committed themselves to ending the war in Vietnam or fighting racial discrimination...Bloom's life may be regarded as the fantasy that most others of his generation, whether out of wisdom or irresolution, shied away from living themselves-a fable, if you will, whose moral eludes us but whose images and impulse nag at us still." -Charles Trueheart, Washington Post
"For me, Marshall died of the movement's sins." -Todd Gitlin
To contemporary eyes, Marshall Bloom appears a somewhat obscure
figure from a difficult time, but his life manages to exemplify
many of the contradictions and truths of the sixties. He crossed
paths with many of the movers and shakers of the times-Stokely
Carmichael and Martin Luther King; Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman;
Shirley Clarke and Andy Warhol; Tom Hayden and Barry Goldwater-just
as his life intersected with virtually every significant political
and social current that collectively have come to be identified
with the era.
Since his death, Bloom has been used, abused, and analyzed by a full gamut of commentators-from David Eisenhower writing that Bloom's suicide portended the failure of the movement to Bruno Bettelheim's assertion that Marshall's life and death were indicative of the failure of permissive parenting. His most recent appearance in the cultural gestalt was as a fleeting by-line from a fictional newspaper article in the feature film Bob Roberts.
Those who had met Bloom, even once or twice, find him still indelible in their minds. He was dynamic in the extreme, an unforgettable talker who combined his passionate beliefs about the issues of the day with wild, anxious mannerisms and a warm, fragile emotional sensibility. His dramatic story unfolded against the backdrop of the civil rights movement and the war in Indochina and the uniquely American movements to achieve racial equality and peace. It has been documented in Ray Mungo's Famous Long Ago: My Life and Hard Times with Liberation News Service and Steve Diamond's What the Trees Said: Life on a New Age Farm.
We plan to use Bloom's life as a central narrative construct to examine both the underground press and the sixties. Marshall, to a degree remarkable for one so young and living in the modern era, was a scrupulous keeper of written records-diaries, carbons, even drafts. These date back to childhood and offer a remarkable trove of literary, political, and historical material that will provide the skeletal framework and a unique point of view for the film.
The summer of 1993 saw the 25th Anniversary Reunion of the communal farm founded by Bloom as the last headquarters of the news service. We filmed the 4 day event and videotaped many hours of interviews and are continuing to research and document the LNS saga.
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