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Getting Straight (1970)

February 11th, 2009 by Anne Richardson · 1 Comment · 1970's, Oregon film, Oregon film new definition, Oregon film old definition, Oregon location (primary), Oregon writer

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Getting Straight was the second feature film made about university life in Eugene. Ed’s Coed (1929) was the first. Yes, that’s Harrison Ford who opens the door, and Candace Bergen inside.

Here’s the NY Times review, by Roger Greenspun.

A BRILLIANT, mercurial performance by Elliott Gould steadies and vivifies but cannot save “Getting Straight.” The extraordinary magnetism and supple skill of this strapping hirsute young man, with his probing eyes and bristly walrus mustache, fires this misguided picture with a fervor and wonderful comic sense of reality.

Sadly, for this is a truly promising project, these two qualities sail right out of the movie toward the home stretch. A serious-minded, freewheeling comedy, pivoting on student unrest and rebellion on the contemporary campus scene, succumbs to theatrics and, structurally, the very conventions it deplores.

Initially, under the crisp direction of Richard Rush, and with Gould front and center as a flip, hip veteran of Vietnam now teaching and working toward his master’s degree, the picture is highly persuasive and searching. So is the hero, a glib-spoken idealist and a catalyst between restless student factions and a cautious faculty. He also has a nice, loving mistress in a student colleague, played by Candice Bergen, who for the first time comes to life for the camera.

And then, whammy? The picture breaks its own spine, with numbing triumph, by staging a bone-crushing, bloody suppression of a bulging campus assembly, not a riot, by a mass of helmeted, club-swinging uniformed militia. This frightful mess, into which the camera careens with something approaching relish, pulls the rug from under what follows, ever so conventionally, with Gould and Miss Bergen in a long, over-drawn lovers’ alienation. The picture closes, after a devilishly adroit but grotesque oral examination of the hero by the faculty, as the students run wild, chaotically taking over the school.

“Whoopee?” says Gould, as he confronts a student pal gleefully smashing windows. And the two sweethearts melt together amid the melee. Even with such sideline brilliance as the sad-funny performance of young Robert F. Lyons almost matching Gould’s, the picture ends as a cop-out of its own professed principles and initial honesty. It does so even with a technician, listed as title-animation assistant, named Abe Lincoln Jr.

Getting Straight is three times over an Oregon film. Shot in Eugene, it is based on the novel by the same name by Ken Kolb, from Eugene, and features a performance by Leonard Stone, from Salem.

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