Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Strawberry Statement (1970) - Cynical Look at the Fad of the Day,

The Strawberry Statement - Kim Darby at her Ultimate Hottest

The Strawberry Statement 1970 poster
"The Strawberry Statement" (1970).

Bruce Davison (Simon) and Kim Darby (Linda) star in "The Strawberry Statement" (1970), a MGM film directed by Stuart Hagmann, about a takeover of an administration building by San Francisco college students during the student protest days circa 1970. Darby is the standout here, looking as sexy as she ever got while her character romances the nerdish Simon. Based on a novel by , the striking thing about this student protest film is that while its subject is a (fictional) student takeover, it trivializes its subject at every turn and shows just how weak and meaningless such actions were in the real world.

The Strawberry Statement 1970 lobby card
"The Strawberry Statement" lobby card.

By the way, the title refers to an off-hand comment by the college Dean comparing students to strawberries that was supposedly used as a rallying cry by the protesters, and if you need being offended by something like that to get motivated, well, you probably don't have much conviction in the first place.

The Strawberry Statement 1970 Kim Darby Bruce Davison
Kim Darby looks completely different than in "True Grit."

Simon is an apathetic college student who is the coxswain for the rowing team. Some campus radicals, stirred up by a planned university expansion to build a campus ROTC building, have initiated a takeover of the main administration building. So, with nothing better to do, and incited by a rally, he wanders over to the building and strolls in. Then, through a series of misadventures, he becomes a hero of the takeover and gets what he really wanted, which is sex and a girlfriend (Darby).

Kim Darby Bruce Davison The Strawberry Statement 1970
Davison and Darby really have good chemistry. The casting is outstanding, as both leads do come across as ordinary, awkward, genuine college students.

Administration takeovers were quite the fad in the 1968-1975 period. That they accomplished next to nothing in the long run didn't stop the students at assorted universities from trying them. Some lasted quite a while, as nobody really cared and the propaganda value to the students of having the police roust them was too high a price to pay by the authorities, so the cops just let the students wallow in their filth. As can be seen from the end of this film, doing otherwise just turned a meaningless gesture by aimless airheads into heroic resistance to "The Man" and made the whole thing appear more important than it was.

Student protest rally The Strawberry Statement 1970
"Strawberry Statement" lobby card.

Attempts to give the whole thing a real purpose just serve to show how purposeless it all was. One student leader tries to make a giant conspiracy out of a trustee also sitting on the board of the local power company, which would somehow benefit from the new ROTC building. That might have sounded profound back then, but now it just comes across as if he had been smoking a little too much dope.

Student takeover The Strawberry Statement 1970
Protesters, shot from above.

All sorts of potshots are taken in all directions in this film. They even get in a nice "Let them eat cake" moment by showing Nixon singing and playing the piano (he learned not to let himself be filmed doing that eventually). Some of the most ironic moments, though, may have been unintentional - student leaders yelling at people ridiculous things such as to "Strike because we have to pay for school" and "Strike because there are corporations." One has to wonder just how self-aware these people were. The scenes of the "leaders" (Bob Balaban) calling for a vote to see if they should have votes is probably intentionally humorous, trying to show that everybody was fully aware of how self-important they were being. The scene of a shopkeeper, nicely played by a sweating James Coco, pleading with Simon and Linda to not pay for their groceries so he can claim it is a robbery and thus get insurance money shows the underlying cynical attitude that runs throughout the film. Bud Cort of "Harold and Maude" also appears.

James Coco Bruce Davison The Strawberry Statement 1970
James Coco plays a shrewd - perhaps too shrewd - shopkeeper.

Regarding the much-discussed apocalyptic ending of the film, well, the film-makers maybe felt they had to prove their cred or something, but it feels tacked on just to get some kind of a finality to the whole thing. The police learned over time just to let students sit in the ad buildings for months on end, if they wanted, so as to avoid creating martyrs. The Kent State incident showed that violence against these harmless morons just played into the hands of the true radicals. If anything, this film may have been of value to law enforcement to show how NOT to end such a situation. If this film had been available before Kent State and not released afterward, maybe the shooters there would have known better....

Student protesters The Strawberry Statement 1970
Student Protesters in "The Strawberry Statement."

Overall, the film plays as a fairly gentle send-up of the whole theme. Too often, though, it also seems to play it straight, as if it is addressing a real social problem. The jarring ending hammers that point home, but the majority of the film completely undermines it. The fuzzy focus is the film's major drawback. The trailer and promotional materials play up the ending, which is contrary to the entire rest of "The Strawberry Statement" in its violence, but "The Strawberry Statement" is more about the eternal issue of college kids finding themselves once out on their own than anything to do with student uprisings.

Bud Cort Bruce Davison The Strawberry Statement 1970
Another lobby card for "The Strawberry Statement."

"The Strawberry Statement" is not quite a classic on the level of, say, "Gone With The Wind," as some claim. But "The Strawberry Statement" clearly is not a waste of time, either. It is an interesting look at the good, the bad and the just plain silly that was going on in those days.

Below is the trailer for "The Strawberry Statement."


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