Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
Back around 1970 there were so many movies about radicalism on the campus that they became a joke; does anybody remember Anthony Quinn as the professor and Ann Margret as the student in "R.P.M.?" None of those movies had a clue about how college students looked, acted, felt or spoke. But one of them, "The Strawberry Statement," contained 13 songs - the first student protest musical. Then for a long time there weren't any films at all about that turbulent period in American history. Now there is a new, serious and fairly persuasive one, "A Small Circle of Friends."
It's set at Harvard between about 1967 and 1971, and it follows the lives of several students who enroll as typical, straight arrow freshmen, and who are gradually radicalized along with the society around them. Occasional news events help us to mark time: LBJ's announcement that he will not run for re-election, the assassination of Robert Kennedy, the first draft lottery, violent protests on the campus, the birth of the violent Weathermen underground.
What's a little uncanny about "A Small Circle of Friends" is the way it incorporates these historical mileposts into a fairly conventional story of a romantic triangle. The three central students are Leo (Brad Davis), Jessica (Karen Allen) and Nick (Jameson Parker). Leo's *determined to edit the Harvard Crimson by his senior year, and does. Jessica, a serious student, becomes his steady girl. Nick, a premed student, is their best friend but is also in love with Jessica.
Their three-way romance develops conventionally, accompanied by changing styles of appearance and dress: We mark the years as the men's hair grows longer, beards appear, everybody dresses like a cross between the hippies and the Army, and Jessica gets her consciousness raised and her hair cut. It's a little difficult to take the film's personal relationships really seriously, maybe because the film asks us to form assumptions about them on trust.