The Strawberry Statement


1h 49m 1970
The Strawberry Statement

Brief Synopsis

A college student joins a group of revolutionaries to meet girls but ends up committed to their goals.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Romance
Drama
Political
Release Date
Jan 1970
Premiere Information
New York opening: 15 Jun 1970
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Strawberry Statement: Notes of a College Revolutionary by James Simon Kunen (New York, 1969).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 49m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Metrocolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Synopsis

Simon, a somewhat apolitical Western University student, goes to a sit-in so that he can take pictures and meet some girls. As he passes the demonstration, he is attracted by the sight of one girl, but his attention is diverted by the prodding of a policeman who calls him a communist. As a gesture of protest, he goes to the university president's office where another sit-in is taking place, and he is once again charmed by the girl, whose name is Linda. Moved by her political enthusiasm, he volunteers to go with her on a food patrol, but at the store the grocer, believing he is being robbed, points to the expensive items and calmly yells for the police as Simon and Linda leave. Early the next morning, Simon goes to crew practice and recruits the coxswain, Elliot, for the protest movement. After practice, he meets Linda at a playground where they demonstrate until the police arrest them. Linda later learns that Simon is a crew member, and her antipathy toward the sport (and athletes in general) causes him to involve himself more strongly in politics, although he continues with the crew team. In a scuffle over politics with his friend George, Simon is hit in the mouth, and when he returns to school, he allows everyone to believe that he has been hit by the police. Finally, all the demonstrators gather at the gymnasium where another rally is held. Outside, amidst television interviews, the National Guardsmen take their positions and the students brace for the attack, singing "Give Peace a Chance." The soldiers charge the building, attacking the students with tear gas; as the police try to drag Linda away, Simon, now totally committed to the movement, lunges to protect her.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Romance
Drama
Political
Release Date
Jan 1970
Premiere Information
New York opening: 15 Jun 1970
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Strawberry Statement: Notes of a College Revolutionary by James Simon Kunen (New York, 1969).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 49m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Metrocolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Articles

The Strawberry Statement


The Strawberry Statement seems like a strange title for a politically aware movie about the tumultuous 1960s, but it makes sense when you know its origin story. In the spring of 1967, a large number of student protesters were raising a ruckus at Columbia University, centering their complaints on two primary issues closely tied to the decade's energetic antiwar and civil-rights movements. One was the university's connection with the federal Department of Defense, which administrators had been hesitant about discussing or even acknowledging before that time, and the other was a plan to build a university gym on land appropriated from a public park in Harlem, the African-American community adjacent to the school's predominantly white campus.

As the protests gathered speed and momentum, Columbia student James Simon Kunen started publishing a diary of his front-line experiences in New York magazine, and in 1968 he turned his insights into The Strawberry Statement: Notes of a College Revolutionary, borrowing the book's title from a statement by a Columbia dean named Herbert Deane, who was quoted as follows "A university is definitely not a democratic institution. When decisions begin to be made democratically around here, I will not be here any longer....Whether students vote 'yes' or 'no' on an issue is like telling me they like strawberries." It's unlikely that Dean Deane expected his words to grace the cover of a widely read book or the opening titles of a widely seen film. But they did, and the movie went on to share the Jury Prize at the Cannes International Film Festival, where it premiered in 1970.

Moving the action from Columbia to an unnamed university in San Francisco, the movie stars Bruce Davison as Simon, a likable guy who worked hard to earn a place in an elite university and enjoys many aspects of student life, from rowing with the crew to digging music and hanging out with Linda, a new girlfriend he meets during an occupation of the university president's office. Although activism for its own sake doesn't interest him, he recognizes the importance of the issues at stake, and he's impressed by the seriousness of the protesters. So he decides to join in and support their cause. At first it's sort of fun - the militants are a casual group, and Simon's first job is cadging food from a middle-aged grocer who's surprisingly cooperative - but passions soon escalate on both sides of the struggle. The movie ends with a violent confrontation between police in riot gear and students singing "Give Peace a Chance," as if the (John)Lennon-(Paul)McCartney anthem could offer protection from hard-hitting nightsticks and clouds of teargas.

The Strawberry Statement is one of only two features that Stuart Hagmann directed after launching his career with episodes for television shows like Mannix (1968-9) and Mission: Impossible (1969), and his TV training is visible in the movie's brightly lit, quick-cutting style. Some of the visuals also have a vaguely psychedelic aura reminiscent of then-recent hits like Roger Corman's The Trip (1967) and Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider (1968), and a sex scene involving Simon and an apparently older woman - fairly tame by today's standards, but completely absent from the version that opened in American theaters - is so similar to a sequence in Mike Nichols's 1967 classic The Graduate that Simon actually comments on it. The pop music on the soundtrack, by icons like Buffy Sainte-Marie and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, likewise call The Graduate to mind.

The inventive touches in The Strawberry Statement include neat optical rhymes, as when a tilt-a-wheel amusement ride echoes the movement of an antique zoetrope glimpsed earlier. There's a locker-room fistfight consisting of exactly one punch, which is far more realistic than the drawn-out slugfests normally seen in Hollywood pictures, and Simon reveals his immature side when he dabs blood from his mouth onto his shirt and pretends he had a set-to with a hostile cop instead of a college jock. Also noteworthy is the film's freeze-frame climax, which strongly resembles the finale of Paul Williams's political drama The Revolutionary, another 1970 release; but Hagmann cops out and hedges his bets, diluting the conclusion with a coda recapping some of the story's more sentimental moments.

Bruce Davison is such a right choice to play Simon that it's hard to believe he was still at the beginning of his long and busy career, with only one previous feature (Frank Perry's 1969 drama Last Summer) to his credit. Linda is played by Kim Darby, fresh from her star performance in Henry Hathaway's 1969 western True Grit, and Bud Cort and Bob Balaban are solid in supporting roles. Kunen and screenwriter Israel Horovitz appear in brief cameos as well. Horovitz was then a rising young playwright known for offbeat fare like The Indian Wants the Bronx (1966) and Line (1967), and he's still better known for stage works than films. Adapting an informally written nonfiction book allowed him to devise a rambling, shambling story with loosely strung dialogue that's well suited to the theme of youthful idealists hoping to reform society when society would rather stay as it is.

The movie's Cannes prize notwithstanding, its flashy style alienated numerous critics when it opened in its native country. In her review for New York magazine, Judith Crist complained that the filmmakers "got off track somewhere and portrayed the [student] innocents as...idiots and slaughtered them with television-commercial techniques." New York Times critic Vincent Canby was also irked by Hagmann's approach, "Do you have a dull, inanimate product you went to sell? Well, here's your man! He'll photograph it sideways, upside down, from the ceiling! He'll zoom in on it with pulsating rhythms so that the folks out in televisionland will feel as if they've made love to it!"

Leonard Quart expressed a more measured view in Cineaste, writing that while The Strawberry Statement is basically a "shallow, pop version of the Sixties," it still provides "a taste of the period's dreams and volatility." That's a reasonable take on the film, which is more accurate than it may seem at first glance, depicting an uncertain time when many aspiring rebels were motivated as much by romance and excitement as by principles and ideologies. The Strawberry Statement is a terrific time machine that's also fun to watch.

Director: Stuart Hagmann
Producers: Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff
Screenplay: Israel Horovitz; based on the book by James Kunen
Cinematographer: Ralph Woolsey
Film Editing: Marjorie Fowler, Fredric Steinkamp, Roger J. Roth
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Preston Ames
Music: Ian Freebairn-Smith
With: Bruce Davison (Simon), Kim Darby (Linda), Bud Cort (Elliot the Coxswain), Danny Goldman (Charlie), Murray MacLeod (George), Bob Balaban (Elliot the Organizer), Michael Margotta (Swatch), Booker Bradshaw (Lucas), Kristina Holland (Irma), Bert Remsen (Policeman at Gate), Jeannie Berlin (Girl with clipboard), James Coco (Grocer), Eddra Gale (Dean's Secretary), Tom Foral (Coach), Israel Horovitz (Dr. Benton), Henry Leff, (Police Inspector) Drew Eshelman (Tim), James Kunen (Chairman), Carol Bagdasarian (Girl on telephone), Greta Pope (Song Leader), Ed Greenberg (Bearded Speaker), Joe Quinn (Professor), Jack Schmidt (University President), King Moody (TV Newscaster), Bill Striglos (TV Technician), Joseph Reale (Jock), Nancy Burnett (Woman), Margo Winkler (Woman), Ruth Silvera (Woman), Julie Payne (Woman)
Color-109m.

by David Sterritt
The Strawberry Statement

The Strawberry Statement

The Strawberry Statement seems like a strange title for a politically aware movie about the tumultuous 1960s, but it makes sense when you know its origin story. In the spring of 1967, a large number of student protesters were raising a ruckus at Columbia University, centering their complaints on two primary issues closely tied to the decade's energetic antiwar and civil-rights movements. One was the university's connection with the federal Department of Defense, which administrators had been hesitant about discussing or even acknowledging before that time, and the other was a plan to build a university gym on land appropriated from a public park in Harlem, the African-American community adjacent to the school's predominantly white campus. As the protests gathered speed and momentum, Columbia student James Simon Kunen started publishing a diary of his front-line experiences in New York magazine, and in 1968 he turned his insights into The Strawberry Statement: Notes of a College Revolutionary, borrowing the book's title from a statement by a Columbia dean named Herbert Deane, who was quoted as follows "A university is definitely not a democratic institution. When decisions begin to be made democratically around here, I will not be here any longer....Whether students vote 'yes' or 'no' on an issue is like telling me they like strawberries." It's unlikely that Dean Deane expected his words to grace the cover of a widely read book or the opening titles of a widely seen film. But they did, and the movie went on to share the Jury Prize at the Cannes International Film Festival, where it premiered in 1970. Moving the action from Columbia to an unnamed university in San Francisco, the movie stars Bruce Davison as Simon, a likable guy who worked hard to earn a place in an elite university and enjoys many aspects of student life, from rowing with the crew to digging music and hanging out with Linda, a new girlfriend he meets during an occupation of the university president's office. Although activism for its own sake doesn't interest him, he recognizes the importance of the issues at stake, and he's impressed by the seriousness of the protesters. So he decides to join in and support their cause. At first it's sort of fun - the militants are a casual group, and Simon's first job is cadging food from a middle-aged grocer who's surprisingly cooperative - but passions soon escalate on both sides of the struggle. The movie ends with a violent confrontation between police in riot gear and students singing "Give Peace a Chance," as if the (John)Lennon-(Paul)McCartney anthem could offer protection from hard-hitting nightsticks and clouds of teargas. The Strawberry Statement is one of only two features that Stuart Hagmann directed after launching his career with episodes for television shows like Mannix (1968-9) and Mission: Impossible (1969), and his TV training is visible in the movie's brightly lit, quick-cutting style. Some of the visuals also have a vaguely psychedelic aura reminiscent of then-recent hits like Roger Corman's The Trip (1967) and Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider (1968), and a sex scene involving Simon and an apparently older woman - fairly tame by today's standards, but completely absent from the version that opened in American theaters - is so similar to a sequence in Mike Nichols's 1967 classic The Graduate that Simon actually comments on it. The pop music on the soundtrack, by icons like Buffy Sainte-Marie and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, likewise call The Graduate to mind. The inventive touches in The Strawberry Statement include neat optical rhymes, as when a tilt-a-wheel amusement ride echoes the movement of an antique zoetrope glimpsed earlier. There's a locker-room fistfight consisting of exactly one punch, which is far more realistic than the drawn-out slugfests normally seen in Hollywood pictures, and Simon reveals his immature side when he dabs blood from his mouth onto his shirt and pretends he had a set-to with a hostile cop instead of a college jock. Also noteworthy is the film's freeze-frame climax, which strongly resembles the finale of Paul Williams's political drama The Revolutionary, another 1970 release; but Hagmann cops out and hedges his bets, diluting the conclusion with a coda recapping some of the story's more sentimental moments. Bruce Davison is such a right choice to play Simon that it's hard to believe he was still at the beginning of his long and busy career, with only one previous feature (Frank Perry's 1969 drama Last Summer) to his credit. Linda is played by Kim Darby, fresh from her star performance in Henry Hathaway's 1969 western True Grit, and Bud Cort and Bob Balaban are solid in supporting roles. Kunen and screenwriter Israel Horovitz appear in brief cameos as well. Horovitz was then a rising young playwright known for offbeat fare like The Indian Wants the Bronx (1966) and Line (1967), and he's still better known for stage works than films. Adapting an informally written nonfiction book allowed him to devise a rambling, shambling story with loosely strung dialogue that's well suited to the theme of youthful idealists hoping to reform society when society would rather stay as it is. The movie's Cannes prize notwithstanding, its flashy style alienated numerous critics when it opened in its native country. In her review for New York magazine, Judith Crist complained that the filmmakers "got off track somewhere and portrayed the [student] innocents as...idiots and slaughtered them with television-commercial techniques." New York Times critic Vincent Canby was also irked by Hagmann's approach, "Do you have a dull, inanimate product you went to sell? Well, here's your man! He'll photograph it sideways, upside down, from the ceiling! He'll zoom in on it with pulsating rhythms so that the folks out in televisionland will feel as if they've made love to it!" Leonard Quart expressed a more measured view in Cineaste, writing that while The Strawberry Statement is basically a "shallow, pop version of the Sixties," it still provides "a taste of the period's dreams and volatility." That's a reasonable take on the film, which is more accurate than it may seem at first glance, depicting an uncertain time when many aspiring rebels were motivated as much by romance and excitement as by principles and ideologies. The Strawberry Statement is a terrific time machine that's also fun to watch. Director: Stuart Hagmann Producers: Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff Screenplay: Israel Horovitz; based on the book by James Kunen Cinematographer: Ralph Woolsey Film Editing: Marjorie Fowler, Fredric Steinkamp, Roger J. Roth Art Direction: George W. Davis and Preston Ames Music: Ian Freebairn-Smith With: Bruce Davison (Simon), Kim Darby (Linda), Bud Cort (Elliot the Coxswain), Danny Goldman (Charlie), Murray MacLeod (George), Bob Balaban (Elliot the Organizer), Michael Margotta (Swatch), Booker Bradshaw (Lucas), Kristina Holland (Irma), Bert Remsen (Policeman at Gate), Jeannie Berlin (Girl with clipboard), James Coco (Grocer), Eddra Gale (Dean's Secretary), Tom Foral (Coach), Israel Horovitz (Dr. Benton), Henry Leff, (Police Inspector) Drew Eshelman (Tim), James Kunen (Chairman), Carol Bagdasarian (Girl on telephone), Greta Pope (Song Leader), Ed Greenberg (Bearded Speaker), Joe Quinn (Professor), Jack Schmidt (University President), King Moody (TV Newscaster), Bill Striglos (TV Technician), Joseph Reale (Jock), Nancy Burnett (Woman), Margo Winkler (Woman), Ruth Silvera (Woman), Julie Payne (Woman) Color-109m. by David Sterritt

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Location scenes filmed in San Francisco.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Summer June 1970

Released in United States Summer June 1970