STRAWBERRY STATEMENT, THE (director: Stuart Hagmann; screenwriters: from the novel “The Strawberry Statement: Notes of a College Revolutionary” by James Simon Kunen/Israel Horovitz; cinematographer: Ralph Woolsey; editors: Marje Fowler/Roger J. Roth/Fredric Steinkamp; music: Ralph Woolsey; cast: Bruce Davison (Simon), Kim Darby (Linda), Bud Cort (Elliot, the coxswain), Danny Goldman (Charlie), Bob Balaban (Elliot, the organizer), Tom Foral (Coach), James Coco (Grocer), Israel Horovitz (Dr. Benton), James Simon Kunen (Chairman), Kristina Holland (Irma); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Irwin Winkler/Robert Chartoff; MGM; 1970)
“Never probes beyond the surface over student unrest in its social commentary.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The film about the 1968 Columbia University takeover of the school’s administration building by the students and of the National Guardsmen storming the building in a brutal confrontation with students won a Jury Prize at the 1970 Cannes Film Festival. TV director Stuart Hagmann (“Believe in Me”), in his feature film debut, never probes beyond the surface over student unrest in its social commentary and never makes things exciting, but gets some comic moments, gets good performances and the relevant music keeps us tuned into the times. It’s based on the novel “The Strawberry Statement: Notes of a College Revolutionary” by James Simon Kunen, a 20-year-old Columbia University student who kept a diary of the unrest, and is written by playwright Israel Horovitz (who also plays Dr. Benton).
The topical songs include “The Circle Game” (Joni Mitchell, performed by Buffy Sainte-Marie), “Something in the Air” (John Keene, performed by Thunderclap Newman), “Helpless” (Neil Young, performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), “Our House” (Graham Nash, performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” (Stephen Stills, performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), “Long Time Gone” (David Crosby, performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), “The Loner,” “Down by the River” (Young, sung by Young), “Give Peace a Chance” (John Lennon, Paul McCartney), Concerto in D Minor (Alessandro Marcello), “Thus Spake Zarathustra” (Richard Strauss).
Simon (Bruce Davison) is an apolitical Columbia University student jock, who is on the rowing team. Curious about what his fellow students are up to in their sit-down in the president’s office, he joins the strike as mostly a lark and sneaks out every morning to attend practice with his crew. When told the takeover is due to the university’s racist act of taking over a Harlem neighborhood playground and replacing it with an R.O.T.C. site and the university’s support of the Vietnam War, Simon doesn’t seem that interested. But when he meets the pretty radical feminist Linda (Kim Darby), he sticks around to see if he can steal her away from her boyfriend, and realizes he can only do so by showing he cares about the students’ cause. During the course of their relationship and with the tensions of the demonstration increasing, Simon becomes a true believer and is radicalized to the point of taking an active part in the riot.
REVIEWED ON 1/19/2010 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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