Half a century ago, as the final year of the Sixties unfolded, Hollywood studios looked at the youthful trends of the previous year and loaded themselves up with inexpensive campus political dramas, left-wing fare that would be ready for release in the spring and summer of 1970. “The Strawberry Statement”, “The Revolutionary”, “Revolutions Per Minute” and “Zabriskie Point” were one-sided bets on what audiences at the dawn of the Seventies would be eager to pay for—sympathetic, appealing violent dramas and coarse comedies about campus rioters who sleep around and curse a lot. To the chagrin of Hollywood planners, who were usually stuck with two-year lead times on feature film projects, they bet wrong. There will always be an audience for violent drama and coarse comedy; it was the “rioters” aspect, the anti-police violence as entertainment that proved to be an astoundingly tin-eared wrong step on Hollywood’s part. It would cause an enduring, decades-long counter-reaction that at the time was dismissed as a transient “backlash”.
The Vietnam War was still near its height as springtime ’70 brought on the protesting season, as it’s been in much of western Europe since the 1830s or thereabout. The first Earth Day was planned for April 22, and would be the most peaceful of the year’s mass demonstrations. The campuses were already primed to explode. Mine literally did in March, when a homemade bomb killed its radical builder and leveled a Greenwich Village townhouse. When President Nixon announced an incursion into Cambodia—okay, raids, an invasion, let’s not be too fussy—the semester was nearly over anyway and many campuses, although non-violent, were also non-functional. When four students were killed at Kent State University on May 4th, school ground to a halt all over the country.More