James Simon Kunen – Interview from On Screen – WBAI-FM – June 26, 1970 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Some things age well – some things age not at all and some things age poorly. In the Arts it’s a matter of subjectivity. Music we’ve heard and books we’ve read that, at the time we were convinced were so profound and moving, turned out to be enormousy embarrassing over the years. While some of that music and those books we’ve held in such high esteem have become benchmarks for the human experience and have gone on to become timeless. The Strawberry Statement, a movie based loosely (very loosely) on the actual events surrounding the Anti-war protests at Columbia University in 1968 became a studio film, released by MGM in 1970, produced by Chartoff-Winkler (who later gave us The Rocky franchise and a host of other groundbreaking films from the 1960s on) and starred relative newcomers and faces-on-the-rise Bruce Davison, Kim Darby and Bud Cort. The movie died a terrible death at the box office, it was roundly trashed by critics and, if this interview with James Simon Kunen, the author of the non-fiction book the movie came from is any indication, a movie disowned by most everybody involved.
In looking at recent reviews by people who have seen it via cable on TMC, The Strawberry Statement may have been a little too harshly criticized. I will say that I haven’t seen it since it was released, thought it was terrible at the time, bordered on being precious on the one hand, ham-fisted and overtly on-the-nose on the other, haven’t seen it since and have only seen original trailers for the film in recent years and my opinion has pretty much stayed the same.
The 60s produced an amazing number of truly memorable, groundbreaking and cornerstone films. The 60s also produced a lot of dreck that seemed to be only made as a commercial venture to cash in on an aspect of Popular Culture at the time. It is possible, very possible, that people who were born after the period in question may see the time from fresh eyes and maybe not be so prone to cringing out of sheer embarrassment. Someone born in 1990 may view a film like The Strawberry Statement entirely differently than someone who was around, and was protesting, in 1968. It prompts me to ask them “what exactly do you like about this?’ and maybe be blown away by the answer.
In any event, this interview with James Kunen pulls no punches and, may I add, is all too familiar to so many who have encountered the machinations of Hollywood with their work. It’s just the nature of the beast and the nature of the collaborative medium. Kunen did go on to pursue a career in Journalism as well as become a lawyer and Public Defender.
If you’ve seen the film you may relate to the circumstances, both of the era surrounding it and/or the creative process of putting it together – if you haven’t, it may prompt you to seek it out on Amazon or any one of a number of film services you can download it from and see for yourself.