Tuesday, June 10, 2008
cinema obscura: MGM Feeling Groovy, Circa 1970
"Oh, Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore!"
That immortal line, of course, was spoken by Dorothy Gale in "The Wizard of Oz," but I've a hunch that the same sentiment was uttered by some confused MGM executive as the most staid of the major studios found itself confronted by the counterculture of the late 1960s.
Metro self-consciously inaugerated the new year and the new decade with its February, 1970 release of Michelangelo Antonioni's "Zabriskie Point." It was a very big deal - and an even bigger flop. But that didn't stop Metro.
In May of the same year, the studio screened, with much fanfare, its hot-potato campus-unrest flick, "The Strawberry Statement" at the Cannes Film Festival, concurrrently releasing its X-rated sex comedy about love children, "The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart," in New York city.
"Zabriskie Point" is still remembered - and the critical reaction to it has been adjusted upward in some quarters. But "The Strawberry Statement" and "The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart" have long been forgotten.
It's impossible to see either one.
"The Strawberry Statement," directed by Stuart Hagmann from a script by Israel Horowitz (adapted from a novel by James Kunan), is an overwrought, exploitative drama about a clueless kid (Bruce Davison, hot off Frank Perry's "Last Summer") who joins a student revolution as a way to meet girls and eventually gets caught up in campus violence.
Talented Kim Darby, who was a protegé of the great Kim Stanley at the time, had the female lead and her role here was supposed to rescue her from the memory of the very square "True Grit" (1969), her breakthrough movie. But it was not to be. She eventually found a good role in Robert Aldrich's lost film, "The Grissom Gang" (1971), but actually had better luck in an earlier movie, Harvey Hart's "Bus Riley's Back in Town" (1965).
Leonard Horn's "The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart," based by Robert T. Westbrook on his autobiographical novel, is actually a buoyant, racy little comedy with an appealing young cast - Dianne Hull, Victoria Racimo, Holly Near, Michael Greer, the extraordianry Linda Gillen, who could have been a major film comedienne, and in the title role, a game and very randy Don Johnson. The film is little more than a series of vignettes about aimless, uncertain kids seeking their identities, which includes a lot of sexual experimentation and, for Stanley Sweetheart, masturbation (hence, the film's original X rating).
Horn keeps everything well paced and clearly empathizes with his youthful cast. And as a bonus, he includes hilariously arty little films-within-the-film, knowing, misguided spoofs (of shorts) made by college dropout/wannabe filmmaker Stanley.
This film is worth rescuing.
Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.
(Artwork: Post art from "The Magic Garden of Stanely Sweetheart" and "The Strawberry Statement," two counterculture attempts from Metro)
Posted by joe baltake at 7:16 PM