By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: Students go on strike.
Simon (Bruce Davison) is a young college student attending a university simply as a means to get an education and find himself a good job. He has no real interest in the student revolt going on, but as a lark and a way to meet girls, he decides to passively get involved with students who have taken over the administrator’s building in protest of the school’s plan of building a gymnasium in an African American neighborhood. Slowly Simon finds himself taking up more of their cause and embracing their stance especially after meeting Linda (Kim Darby) who is much more of a student radical, but the two are ill-prepared for the brutal outcome when exasperated school officials have the police violently storm the building and haul the students out.
The film is based on the book ‘The Strawberry Statement: Notes of a College Revolutionary’ by James Kunen, which in turn is based on his experiences of being involved in a student sit-in that took place at Columbia University in April of 1968. The book’s narrative had more of an engagingly detached manner as it looked at the contradictions and hypocrisies of both sides while the screenplay by Israel Horovitz is nothing more than a commercialized effort to cash in on the counter-culture emotions of the time while glossing over or ignoring some of the book’s more perceptive points. The plot is too loosely structured and relies heavily on artsy camerawork and moody music to propel it until you get an hour into it and realize that nothing much has really happened. The whole thing would’ve been better focused had it been done with a voice-over narration by the main character.
Although at times it borders on being pretentious I still found director Stuart Hagmann’s camerawork to be intoxicating especially the bird’s eye view of the students forming into several large circles as a way to block the police from entering and taking them out. Some of the scenes involving the demonstrations look staged and phony especially when compared to similar scenes of actual protests that were captured in Medium Cool that came out around the same time. However, the scene where the students grab a police officer, strip off his pants and force him down the slide and onto the swings at a children’s playground is downright amusing. The climatic sequence where the students are violently herded out of the building while sprayed with tear gas is well captured and by far the most startling and memorable thing about the movie.
Davison gives a solid performance and creates a middle-of-the-road character that is engaging enough to hold the thing together. It’s also great seeing Bud Cort playing an atypical role of an amorous girl-crazy coed who’s constantly looking to get laid. This film also marks the film debuts of David Dukes, Jeannie Berlin, Paul Willson, Andrew Parks, Kristina Holland and soap actress Jess Walton. You can also spot Horovitz and Kunen in brief cameo parts as well as character actor James Coco as a deli owner who’s all too willing to have his placed robbed simply so he can collect the insurance money.
Although they wanted to shoot the movie at Columbia where the incident actually occurred they were unable to get permission and were forced instead to do it at Berkeley, which in some ways helped it as the liberal, free-spirited look and mood of the region helped match the tone of the story. Ultimately though the film fails to ever really gel and comes off as being too placid and generic while failing to distinguish itself from the myriad of other student protest movies from that era.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: June 15, 1970
Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes
Director: Stuart Hagmann
Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video