The Strawberry Statement (1970)

103 mins | Comedy-drama | 15 June 1970

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HISTORY

The film was based on the 1969 book by James Simon Kunen, comprised of his diaries chronicling the 1968 Columbia University student strike, originally published anonymously as a series in New York magazine. As explained in the 8 May 1969 NYT, the title was inspired by a Columbia dean who stated, “Whether students vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on an issue is like telling me they like strawberries.” The strike occurred after the university attempted to squelch student dissent over its involvement in weapons development for the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), and its plans to demolish nearby Morningside Park, in the predominantly African American Harlem neighborhood, to build a segregated gymnasium.
       The 3 Sep 1969 DV noted that playwright Israel Horovitz recently completed the script. A news item in the 9 Oct 1969 edition stated that unit production manager John W. Rogers returned to Los Angeles, CA, after scouting locations in and around San Francisco, CA. An article in the 16 Nov 1969 LAT revealed that actress Kim Darby and her agent, Bill Robinson, declined a $275,000 salary from an unidentified production in favor of The Strawberry Statement, which offered half that amount plus a percentage of profits. Darby reportedly wanted the role, and both she and Robinson believed it would advance her career.
       Principal photography began 13 Oct 1969 in San Francisco, according to 17 Oct 1969 DV production charts. On 16 Oct 1969, DV reported a five-minute break in shooting on the previous day to honor the nationwide “Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam.” ... More Less

The film was based on the 1969 book by James Simon Kunen, comprised of his diaries chronicling the 1968 Columbia University student strike, originally published anonymously as a series in New York magazine. As explained in the 8 May 1969 NYT, the title was inspired by a Columbia dean who stated, “Whether students vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on an issue is like telling me they like strawberries.” The strike occurred after the university attempted to squelch student dissent over its involvement in weapons development for the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), and its plans to demolish nearby Morningside Park, in the predominantly African American Harlem neighborhood, to build a segregated gymnasium.
       The 3 Sep 1969 DV noted that playwright Israel Horovitz recently completed the script. A news item in the 9 Oct 1969 edition stated that unit production manager John W. Rogers returned to Los Angeles, CA, after scouting locations in and around San Francisco, CA. An article in the 16 Nov 1969 LAT revealed that actress Kim Darby and her agent, Bill Robinson, declined a $275,000 salary from an unidentified production in favor of The Strawberry Statement, which offered half that amount plus a percentage of profits. Darby reportedly wanted the role, and both she and Robinson believed it would advance her career.
       Principal photography began 13 Oct 1969 in San Francisco, according to 17 Oct 1969 DV production charts. On 16 Oct 1969, DV reported a five-minute break in shooting on the previous day to honor the nationwide “Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam.” Although some local activists believed a larger gesture was in order, producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff insisted that the film was a “peace statement and more beneficial to the cause than a work stoppage.” The entire cast and crew participated, with the exception of fourteen technicians. A news item in the 22 Oct 1969 DV noted that the production moved to Stockton, CA, after San Francisco officials denied permission to film a demonstration scene, and the use of eight schools as locations. The next day, the 23 Oct 1969 DV announced that twenty members of the University of California rowing crew joined the cast. The 6 Nov 1969 DV and LAT both reported that Irwin Winkler and director Stuart Hagmann attended a performance of the nude stage revue, Oh! Calcutta! with the intent of casting actress Rhonda Copland as a nun. She was arrested during the show for indecent exposure. According to the 20 Nov 1969 DV, Stockton officials ordered the producers to complete their business in town by the following day. The city was responding to conservative residents who objected to their county courthouse being surrounded by “barbed-wire barricades (props) for the student riot scene.” Officials also denied the use of Stockton City Hall as a location. On 12 Dec 1969, DV stated that Israel Horovitz had left for New York City, following completion of principal photography. Four days later, the 16 Dec 1969 issue reported that post-production was underway. The 31 Mar 1970 DV estimated the budget at $1.75 million. As stated in the 9 Feb 1970 LAT, author James Simon Kunen refused to appear in advertising for the picture, as “it might hurt his reputation.”
       The 24 Apr 1970 DV reported that The Strawberry Statement would be entered in competition at the 1970 Cannes Film Festival. Two other Winkler-Chartoff productions, Leo the Last (1970) and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969, see entries), were also entered, with the latter in a non-competitive screening. An article in the 17 May 1969 NYT noted that the picture, which climaxes with police violently arresting unarmed demonstrators, was shown the day after four students were killed by National Guardsmen at Kent State University in OH. A full-page advertisement in the 22 Mar 1970 DV announced that the film was awarded the Jury Prize, and received enthusiastic notices from European critics.
       On 19 May 1970, DV reported that distributor MGM cancelled a series of New York City press screenings, revealing that the print shown at Cannes was in need of minor edits, color correction, and additional sound dubbing. It was also rumored that studio executives were considering “more extensive” edits, including the picture’s unflattering portrayal of police. Ten days before the 15 Jun 1970 New York City opening, the 5 Jun 1970 DV reported that MGM was suing theater owner Don Rugoff for refusing to show the film at his Cinema II. The company accused Rugoff of breaching a 30 Apr 1970 agreement to schedule the film for mid-Jun 1970 run at Cinema II, or at Rugoff’s Plaza theater if the former was unavailable. Rugoff instead scheduled the British production Performance (1970), released by Warner Bros. Pictures. Although MGM planned to prevent Rugoff from scheduling any other pictures, sales executive Doug Netter described the incident as a “misunderstanding” and expected a settlement to be reached quickly. On 8 Jun 1970, DV announced that the release of Performance was being postponed, reportedly to re-record some dialogue sequences. Meanwhile, a New York City court made a default judgment in favor of MGM after Rugoff failed to offer a defense.
       The Strawberry Statement opened to mixed reviews. While the 12 May 1970 DV considered it the first major Hollywood release to seriously examine student unrest, the 16 Jul 1970 LAT was highly critical of first-time director Stuart Hagmann, claiming the picture was littered with the sort of gimmickry he learned in television advertising. In his article for the 19 Jul 1970 NYT, writer Dotson Rader, also a veteran of the Columbia strike, expressed contempt for Kunen and accused Hagmann of commercializing the anti-war movement. Israel Horovitz responded in the 5 Aug 1970 LAT and 16 Aug 1970 NYT, explaining that the screenplay was not written for “radicals,” but rather for “15-year-olds and their parents,” with the hope of inspiring the children while bridging the generational divide with adults.
       According to an article by film writer Stephen Farber in the Winter 1970/1971 Film Quarterly, pictures such as The Strawberry Statement were condemned by critics who perceived their release as a cynical attempt by Hollywood to profit from recent campus shootings. Farber explained that the picture was not intended as “a serious, realistic movie about the issues that pertain to campus rebellion,” but rather a subjective interpretation from the perspective of protagonist “Simon James,” who is “enchanted by movie and TV memories.” As an example, Farber cited a comical scene in which Simon is reminded of The Graduate (1967, see entry) while being seduced by a young woman. However, that scene was removed from later prints, along with a flashback sequence in the picture’s final moments. Regardless, Farber declared The Strawberry Statement to be “one of the finest movies about young people ever made in America.”
       Although the 23 Jun 1970 DV reported encouraging receipts of $21,943 from the opening week in New York City, an MGM executive later told the 3 Sep 1970 DV that he hoped the film would earn back the company’s investment. On 6 Jan 1971, a DV news item stated that the picture was re-released in Los Angeles on a double bill with M*A*S*H (1970, see entry), with expected earnings of only $2,700.
       Late the following year, the 29 Dec 1971 DV noted that MGM recently licensed several of its titles to the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) at a cost of approximately $30,000 each. Among them was The Strawberry Statement, described as a critical and financial failure.
       The 27 Nov 1970 LAT reported that the film was banned in Greece by the “army-backed regime,” which disapproved of the anti-government and anti-American sentiment it inspired during its one-week run in Athens.
       The 15 Oct 1969 DV identified Stan Brossette as the film’s unit publicist.
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
3 Sep 1969
p. 2.
Daily Variety
9 Oct 1969
p. 2.
Daily Variety
15 Oct 1969
p. 14.
Daily Variety
16 Oct 1969
p. 12.
Daily Variety
17 Oct 1969
p. 10.
Daily Variety
22 Oct 1969
p. 2.
Daily Variety
23 Oct 1969
p. 9.
Daily Variety
6 Nov 1969
p. 2.
Daily Variety
20 Nov 1969
p. 2.
Daily Variety
12 Dec 1969
p. 2.
Daily Variety
16 Dec 1969
p. 16.
Daily Variety
31 Mar 1970
p. 2.
Daily Variety
24 Apr 1970
p. 3.
Daily Variety
12 May 1970
p. 3, 8.
Daily Variety
19 May 1970
p. 3.
Daily Variety
22 May 1970
p. 5.
Daily Variety
5 Jun 1970
p. 1, 4.
Daily Variety
8 Jun 1970
p. 1.
Daily Variety
12 Jun 1970
p. 3.
Daily Variety
23 Jun 1970
p. 3.
Daily Variety
3 Sep 1970
p. 1.
Daily Variety
6 Jan 1971
p. 3.
Daily Variety
29 Dec 1971
p. 10.
Film Quarterly
Winter 1970/1971
pp, 24-33.
Los Angeles Times
16 Nov 1969
Secton P, p. 1, 20, 21, 23.
Los Angeles Times
6 Nov 1969
Section F, p. 14.
Los Angeles Times
9 Feb 1970
Section C, p. 22.
Los Angeles Times
16 Jul 1970
Section C, p. 14.
Los Angeles Times
5 Aug 1970
Section F, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
27 Nov 1970
Section H, p. 25.
New York Times
8 May 1969
p. 45.
New York Times
17 May 1970
p. 93.
New York Times
16 Jun 1970
p. 54.
New York Times
19 Jul 1970
p. 76.
New York Times
16 Aug 1970
pp. 9-10.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam asst
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairstyles
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit prod mgr
Scr supv
Action coordinator
Stunt coordinator
Stills
Gaffer
Grip
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Strawberry Statement: Notes of a College Revolutionary by James Simon Kunen (New York, 1969).
MUSIC
Concerto in D Minor by Alessandro Marcello
Thus Spake Zarathustra by Richard Strauss.
SONGS
"The Circle Game," words and music by Joni Mitchell, sung by Buffy Sainte-Marie
"Something in the Air," words and music by John Keene, sung by Thunderclap Newman
"Helpless," words and music by Neil Young, performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
+
SONGS
"The Circle Game," words and music by Joni Mitchell, sung by Buffy Sainte-Marie
"Something in the Air," words and music by John Keene, sung by Thunderclap Newman
"Helpless," words and music by Neil Young, performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
"Our House," words and music by Graham Nash, performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
"Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," words and music by Stephen Stills, performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Crosby
"Long Time Gone," words and music by David Crosby
performed by Crosby, Stills & Nash
"The Loner" and "Down by the River," words and music by Neil Young, sung by Neil Young
"Give Peace a Chance," words and music by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
15 June 1970
Premiere Information:
Cannes Film Festival screening: 5 May 1970
New York opening: 15 June 1970
Production Date:
13 October--early December 1969
Copyright Claimant:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
Copyright Date:
6 May 1970
Copyright Number:
LP38101
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Metrocolor
Duration(in mins):
103
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
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 ... +


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. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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