The review by "kellyadmirer" is pretty spot-on regarding THE STRAWBERRY STATEMENT. It is not hard to perceive -- or ridicule -- both the naiveté and the shallow thinking of many '60s radicals from the perspective of 40 years later, but naive and shallow they were. For the first 90 minutes or so of THE STRAWBERRY STATEMENT, screenwriter Israel Horovitz and director Stuart Hagmann were able to perceive that naiveté and shallowness at roughly the time it was happening -- and gently satirized it. In the last 20 minutes or so, however, they change course about 150 degrees and, suddenly, the student "revolutionaries" become martyrs, victims of The Establishment and its brutal police lackeys.
I've never read James Kunen's book, on which the film is based, but I recall having little sympathy for the Colombia University students whose attempted takeover of that institution in the spring of 1968 is the basis for THE STRAWBERRY STATEMENT. I entered college the following year, but I thought of myself as an educational consumer rather than an owner or investor in the institution I attended. If I didn't like the fact that the university was doing military/defense research or offering ROTC classes, I could always go to school elsewhere. The students were transients; the trustees, faculty and staff (and in the case of the state university I attended, all of the citizens who supported it) were the ones with the long-term interests of the school at heart. Students who called for "strikes" to protest policies they didn't like were playing at being proletarians. Hell, I was in school to get out of the working class.
I guess my antipathy to most student protests of this ilk (as opposed to anti-war statements and demonstrations that respected the rights of the non-political or apolitical members of the university community) may have blinded me to the satirical edge of THE STRAWBERRY STATEMENT when I first saw it at the end of my freshman year. The national traumas of the 1968 Chicago convention riots (in which Mayor Daley's police definitely over-reacted to largely peaceful protesters) and the Kent State shootings of May 1970 were still fresh when this film arrived in theaters. That may have led Horovitz and Hagmann to add the climactic scene of the film (which changes the tone drastically) for the sake of timeliness. Of course, the contrast between the preceding 90 minutes of idealism and pseudo-revolutionary rhetoric with the stark reality of the last 20 minutes may have been the filmmakers' point -- but if so, they do a lousy job in setting up the ending. The sudden radicalization of Simon is pretty hard to believe, and the film ends ambiguously, as though Horovitz and Hagmann are afraid to come down on one side or the other.
Up until that transitory moment of radicalization, however, THE STRAWBERRY STATEMENT contains some shrewdly observed scenes. The obsessive horniness in the midst of "revolution," the verbal masturbation of the student politicos, the "non-violent" radicals' fascination with violence, and the resentment of the working class cops toward the "privileged" college students are well-portrayed. But the need for a big, dramatic and yes, violent climax really undercuts the subtlety of most of the film. Too bad, because it reduces THE STRAWBERRY STATEMENT almost to the level of cliché.
For Hollywood filmmakers -- concerned mainly with attracting the college-age population that most obsessively went to the movies -- portraying "the Sixties" meant depicting the "counterculture" and ignoring the fact that most Americans weren't a part of it. THE STRAWBERRY STATEMENT is a movie about a rather small, if heavily publicized, slice of The Sixties -- and a rather wishy-washy film for all the sly humor that promises so much for the first 90 minutes, and then falters.