Documentary a Day: Herbert’s Hippopotamus (1996)

Director Paul Alexander Juutilainen

Herbert’s Hippopotamus is a film about the New Left philosopher Herbert Marcuse.  The film details his coming to the USA and his experiences while he was teaching a UC San Diego in California.  Marcuse reached a high level of fame in California and around the world for his role in the student and radical movements of the 1960s and 1970s (although his involvement as a Marxist theorist goes all the way back to the German Revolution towards the end of WWI).  His most notable student was Angela Davis, who is featured throughout the film quite often, recounting her experiences with Marcuse.  His celebrity-like status would remind a contemporary viewer of Slajov Zizek, although Marcuse was much more active in social movements even though he remained an intellectual the whole time.

In the film and and subsequent reviews, he is often accused of being a Communist, although it’s “cleared up” that he never joined the Party, although he did remain a Marxist and employed a Marxist analysis of his critique of industrial society (including the USSR).  His politics made him have enemies in high places, including the American Legion (which already has a bad history with the Left), and Ronald Reagan: who was for removing Marcuse from his position.

The film is an interesting account of a radical thinker of the 1960s who had a complicated relationship with the college he worked at, and capitalist society at large: of which he was a major critic.

At the time of this posting, the film can be viewed in its entirety on Google Video or YouTube:

Google Video

Further viewing:

A lecture by the co-editor of Marcuse’s selected writings – YouTube

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