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.