Back in the colourful sixties, motivation for demonstration came from anti-war beliefs and pacifistic desires. Against the Vietnam War, against weapons, against, against against… Imagine a world where all idealistic requests come true… Give power to the people, light the fire and break on through to the other side! That`s the basic idea for most sixties activities. This was the first time that the bulk of any demonstrations, social concerns and new revolutionary ideas came from universities — under the powerful influence of leftist political figures like Che Guevara, Marx, Lenin and Mao, and cultural icons like John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix and Melina Mercouri. You can watch and feel all of this in The Strawberry Statement.
The story of this movie is based on the documentary-novel by James Simon Kunen. The story was about his real-life experiences at Columbia University and the ousting of the office of the dean by student protesters from the April of 1968. These protesters strike against imperialistic American politics all over the world, against the anachronistic educational system and the conversion of the university to a research center for weapons. The title comes from an ignorant statement made by the professor of political philosophy, Dean Herbert (Herbert L. Deane) at Columbia University. On student views on the general policy of the university, he distastefully stated: “The student opinions about university administrative decisions have no more importance to me than if the students had said they liked the taste of strawberries”.
The soundtrack of the movie also became incredibly popular, including various political songs and singers like John Lennon and “Give Peace A Chance“, Joni Mitchell with “Circle game“, “Helpless” by Neil Young, and the famous “Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss.
The main character within the movie is Simon (Bruce Davison). He decides to strike, in order to prove to himself that he is alive. Maybe he doesn’t understand what might happen, but he tries to analyze everything in any way that he can. At the start of the movie, we experience the idyllic side of the sixties – love, peaceful demonstrations, strikes and soft drugs. Was this the truth of that time? Was everything so beautiful, like the candy house in Hansel and Gretel? Of course not. There is always an evil witch. And here, in this instance, the witch takes the form of violence. As we enter the middle of the film, we start to feel the real world. Thieves, cops, tear-gas – all of this engulfs Simon as it invades his world ruthlessly. And towards the end, the violence gets worse.
Perhaps the most emotionally charged scene in the film involves the students making concentric circles in the university’s basketball stadium, protesting and singing. The students and black protestors unite, sing “Give Peace A Chance“, shout for justice and peace, hit their hands on the floor — before an army of angry cops break the door down and resort to violence to subdue the protestors.
Generally, the movie isn’t anything special. It’s something in between a documentary film and a requiem for political movies of that decade. But everything we feel when we watch and listen to the film, which for its time was considered too militant and was forbidden in several countries throughout the world, makes it a piece of legendary cinema. The Strawberry Statement stands out for its inspired direction (it was the debut of Stuart Hagmann and winner of the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival), for its wonderful music and for the realistic story that it tells.
The Strawberry Statement at IMDb
The Strawberry Statement (book) at Wikipedia
The Strawberry Statement (film) at Wikipedia
Columbia University protests of 1968 at Wikipedia
The Strawberry Statement at Rotten Tomatoes
The Strawberry Statement (awards won and nominated for) at IMDb