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  Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart, The Bloody Students
Year: 1970
Director: Leonard Horn
Stars: Don Johnson, Linda Gillen, Michael Greer, Dianne Hull, Holly Near, Victoria Racimo, Brandon Maggart, Sandy Baron, Karen Lynn Gorney, Parker McCormick
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Stanley Sweetheart (Don Johnson) is a student at Columbia University, but his studies are not so much engrossing him as is his potential as an underground filmmaker. He composes new scenes for himself in his head: if a taxi driver is rude to him, he imagines the incident going better and with Stanley taking the upper hand, and when he's in the language lab for Spanish lessons, he's so bored he looks around and catches sight of another student, Cathy (Diane Hull), so she becomes part of his fantasies as well. However, she is genuinely interested in the real person, and they get to chatting...

Thus Stanley gets a girlfriend, but whether he was ready for a steady relationship, or indeed if he'll ever be on this evidence, was up for discussion. This was based on screenwriter Robert T. Westbrook's own novel, a semi-autobiographical discourse on his wild times at the university; now a successful mystery author, at the time his biggest claim to fame was that his mother was a lover of F. Scott Fitzgerald's for a while, and after making this film Westbrook didn't publish anything until the late eighties. Not that this movie was the obvious reason, as while it was another flop hippy flick from that brief era where every studio was seeking the next Easy Rider, in some ways it was fairly accomplished.

The main problem was that it was an accumulation of incidents rather than a proper narrative, so Stanley drifts through his life trying to get laid and maybe fall in love, then get high, then find some way of expressing himself, but not necessarily in that order. We do see his student short which predictably ends in him rolling around with a naked woman, which suggested the film was more self-aware, even self-parodic, than audiences of 1970 were prepared to take on board, and there are instances of us being goaded into laughing at Stanley and his pretensions, not to mention his mess of a love life, because outside of his coming of age confusions he's not the most likeable of protagonists.

That appeared to be wholly deliberate, creating an interesting tension which could have been stronger should it not have been a loose melange instead of tight as a drum storytelling. As it was, Stanley and Cathy do fall in love, though in his case it begins just as much as falling in lust which leaves him frustrated when she refuses to give up her virginity to him, then when she finally relents he opts more by accident than design to seduce her roommate, the plump and game Fran (Holly Near, now best known as a folk singer and humanitarian). As if juggling two girlfriends wasn't complex enough, he finally ends up in a threesome with two free-spirited lesbians, Barbara (Linda Gillen) who wants to be renamed Shayne, and the more enigmatic Andrea (Victoria Racimo).

Needless to say, with the relaxation of censorship around this time, director Leonard Horn was able to show all these cast members naked at various stages throughout his movie which the producers must have been counting on to bring in the punters. It didn't work - they were barely out of the sixties and the hippy ideals were already turning sour for many, so the self-absorption of the characters didn't do them any favours even if that was by design (a telling moment sees a news broadcast about the war in Vietnam pointedly switched off). It could be that this was growing dated from its first release, so you can imagine how it looks today with its pot parties, LSD freakouts and group sex, though there's just as much soul-searching going on which is tricky for someone as shallow as Stanley. The Don Johnson appearance (this was his debut) ensures some interest for fans of Miami Vice, or at least those fans who wished he would take all his clothes off, but there was more to this - it was just hidden rather blankly.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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