Z
MCN Columnists
Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt Pratt@moviecitynews.com

The DVD Geek: The Strawberry Statement

The further they recede in time, the more fascinating the campus riot movies become.  Despite the brief resurgences of similar sentiments in the Occupy Wall Street movement, there is something very alien about the militancy of the youthful rebels.  And while violence as a means of suppression by the authorities has continued as a practice, usually of last resort or near last resort, that practice has not been depicted in popular entertainment since the spirit of the Sixties subsided.  Directed by Stuart Hagmann, the 1970 MGM campus riot feature, The Strawberry Statement, released as a Warner Home Video Archive Collection title, won some sort of secondary award at Cannes, and has some interesting stylistic touches.  When the climactic riot begins, there are even shots from ‘inside a gas mask’ as the police approach the gymnasium where the protestors are peaceably demonstrating.  The police begin running smoke machines, which one supposes would have the protestors coughing and leaving the building as soon as it got heavy enough, but rather than waiting, the police also start whacking on them with nightsticks and such, and dragging them out by their feet.  The logic is illusive, but logic in the heat of such situations is also illusive.

Bruce Davison, back when he still had promise, stars as a member of the college rowing crew who by chance becomes curious about the protestors that have taken over the school’s administration building and gradually becomes involved in their cause.  Kim Darby, who was, briefly, believed to have boxoffice clout, co-stars as another protestor, and the core of the film is the easygoing, college romance that develops between them.  Bud Cort and Bob Balaban also have major roles.  The film really doesn’t have much of a plot, however, as it is relying instead upon the dynamics of the campus protest itself—from the discovery in the Dean’s office of documents that link corporate malfeasance to the college’s financial shenanigans, to the execution of the riot at the end—to justify its narrative.  Maybe in 1970 it did, and the Cannes judges must have believed it so, but now it just seems disjointed, aimless, and strange.

Two versions of the film are presented on two separate platters.  The ‘Original Theatrical Version’ runs 103 minutes (with story-generated chapter encoding) and is presented in letterboxed format with an aspect ratio of about 1.85:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback.  The color transfer is fresh and smooth.  The ‘International Version,’ presumably the one seen at Cannes, runs 109 minutes (with generic chapter encoding) and includes an elaborate and provocative erotic sequence featuring Davison, but not Darby.  The International Version, however, is presented in full screen format, adding just a little to the top and bottom of the image and losing a lot from the sides.  The picture is also a little grainier and colors are a little weaker.  So, if you want the sex, you have to pay for it.  The monophonic sound on both versions is fuzzy if you raise the volume too high, but fine if it is kept at a sensible level, and the soundtrack contains several intensely nostalgic Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Neil Young tunes, along with other choice songs from the era.  There is no captioning.  A meandering trailer for the Theatrical Version is also included.

2 Responses to “The DVD Geek: The Strawberry Statement”

  1. Daniella Isaacs says:

    Now I have to see the whole thing again, just to see the “elaborate and provocative erotic sequence”!

  2. Bob Burns says:

    saw this at a midnight show, packed theater, when it was released. I was a college freshman and identified strongly with it. will probably leave it at that.

Leave a Reply

Z

Quote Unquotesee all »

“The core fear is what can happen to you, personally. Your body. That’s what horror films deal with, precisely. We are a very thin skin wrapped around a pumping heart and guts. At any given moment it can come down to that, be it diseases, or somebody’s assault, or war, or a car wreck. You could be reduced to the simple laws of physics and your body’s vulnerability. The edged weapon is the penultimate weapon to disclose that reality to you.”
~ Wes Craven, 1996, promoting Scream

MAMET
Well, that, to me, is always the trick of dramaturgy; theoretically, perfectly, what one wants to do is put the protagonist and the audience in exactly the same position. The main question in drama, the way I was taught, is always what does the protagonist want. That’s what drama is. It comes down to that. It’s not about theme, it’s not about ideas, it’s not about setting, but what the protagonist wants. What gives rise to the drama, what is the precipitating event, and how, at the end of the play, do we see that event culminated? Do we see the protagonist’s wishes fulfilled or absolutely frustrated? That’s the structure of drama. You break it down into three acts.

INTERVIEWER
Does this explain why your plays have so little exposition?

MAMET
Yes. People only speak to get something. If I say, Let me tell you a few things about myself, already your defenses go up; you go, Look, I wonder what he wants from me, because no one ever speaks except to obtain an objective. That’s the only reason anyone ever opens their mouth, onstage or offstage. They may use a language that seems revealing, but if so, it’s just coincidence, because what they’re trying to do is accomplish an objective… The question is where does the dramatist have to lead you? Answer: the place where he or she thinks the audience needs to be led. But what does the character think? Does the character need to convey that information? If the answer is no, then you’d better cut it out, because you aren’t putting the audience in the same position with the protagonist. You’re saying, in effect, Let’s stop the play. That’s what the narration is doing—stopping the play… It’s action, as Aristotle said. That’s all that it is—exactly what the person does. It’s not what they “think,” because we don’t know what they think. It’s not what they say. It’s what they do, what they’re physically trying to accomplish on the stage. Which is exactly the same way we understand a person’s character in life—not by what they say, but by what they do. Say someone came up to you and said, I’m glad to be your neighbor because I’m a very honest man. That’s my character. I’m honest, I like to do things, I’m forthright, I like to be clear about everything, I like to be concise. Well, you really don’t know anything about that guy’s character. Or the person is onstage, and the playwright has him or her make those same claims in several subtle or not-so-subtle ways, the audience will say, Oh yes, I understand their character now; now I understand that they are a character. But in fact you don’t understand anything. You just understand that they’re jabbering to try to convince you of something.
~ David Mamet

Z Z