Hollywood gave this old center of student radicalism a glimpse of the future of politics tonight. It was the most bizarre event of the political season.

There was one helicopter, three huge floodlights, a huge screen, plenty of television cameras, a cast of thousands and free soup. The production, staged on the flag-draped steps of the Wisconsin state capitol, was called "The Shape of Things to Come."

It was a surrealistic multimedia events directed by Francis Ford Corpola, whose other credits include "Apocalypse Now," "Patton," and "The Godfather."

It was stage-managed by Bill Graham, a rock-concert producer whose other credits include managing the old Filmore East and Filmore West concert halls.

And it starred Edmund G. Brown Jr., whose other credits include being governor of California and a presidential aspirant.

Brown gave a stunning performance in a bone-chilling drizzle and biting wind. Standing on an art deco stage audience, he topped off his standard stump speech with a confession that his father's nights away from home as governor had a profound effect on him when he was young.

"I didn't like politics," he said. "I wanted a different way of life."

Then, with floodlights bathing his face, he closed by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

The crowd of about 3,000, many of them students from the University of Wisconsin, didn't know what to make of it all. "I think Jerry has gone off his existential edge," one said.

Asked later by a reporter if voters would think of the event as bizarre, Brown said, "When you have 3,000 people standing in the freezing weather listening to a discussion about the future of the world, it takes a very distorted mind to say that."

The production was the second unusual political event today in this university city. Earlier, 5,000 students out to see Illinois Rep. John B. Anderson, a presidential hopeful scarcely any of them had even heard of a few months ago.

It was the largest crowd for a political event here since the heyday of the antiwar movement.

The crowds may have little to do with the ultimate making of a president 1980. But they showed that politics has returned to the campuses after a long absence -- and that Republican Anderson and Democrat Brown are locked in an intense battle for the campuses in this state.

"I haven't seen this intensity in years," said Andy Boehm, a veteran of antiwar politics now working in the Brown campaign. "The accumulative interest over Anderson and Brown is almost as big as it was for McCarthy in 1968 and McGovern in 1972."

The Anderson crowd was all the more impressive for the onslaught Brown forces have brought against the Illinois congressman during the last week.

Brown has imported Tom Hayden, onetime antiwar leader, Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers union and former senator Eugene McCarthy to campaign in his behalf. All are dear to the hearts of what some here call the "old leftovers."

Anderson is "superficial," declared McCarthy, whose student crusade against the Vietnam war drove Lyndon Johnson from the presidency. "I can't understand how any liberals can turn to Congressman Anderson. He supported the war in Vietnam to the very end, and now he supports the neutron bomb."

All week Brown organizers have been blitzing the campus with a flyer on "the Brown-Anderson difference." It portrays Brown as a "man of courage and conviction" who has been a leader against the Vietnam war and nuclear power and a "critic of the Trilateral Commission." Anderson is characterized as a supporter of nuclear power," and a "member of the Trilateral Commission headed by David Rockefeller."

"We've managed to drop the name Neutron John around," says Boehm.

"That hurt us," said Liz Halton, a student working in the Anderson campaign. "It put us on the defensive. There's no doubt they've been gaining on us."

Yet at noon thousands of students with stocking caps and down-filled jackets stretched out shoulder to shoulder across the library mall to see Anderson as a recording of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" played over the speaker system.

"I don't care what they call me as long as they don't say there's a man with no ideas," Anderson said in a loud, booming voice."I have not hesitated to challenge some of the popular wisdoms or whimsies. Some have said my candor smacks of arrogance, but the times cry out for bold thinking. This is no time to take refuge in the platitudes of the past."

The winds whipped at his tan trench coat and through his snow-white hair as he spoke.

His message was strikingly similar to the one Brown has been delivering at campuses across this state, which holds its primary election April 1. "i'm talking the politics of sacrifice, which is a new term in the lexicon of American politics," he said as he plugged his plan for a gasoline tax of 50 cents a gallon. He, like Brown, said he was against the draft, for the Equal Rights Amendment and for women having the right to choose whether to have abortions.

He was heckled briefly by antinuclear forces. But the general response was polite and enthusiastic.

"I need the help of the young people of America to build the new coalition that I'm trying to build," Anderson declared. "Most of you are too young to have become affiliated with either party. Most of you are probably in that 30 percent of Americans who call themselves independents. But don't be so independent that come next Tuesday you don't vote. You have the opportunity to start the new coalition and the new politics here in Wisconsin."

The campus vote is desperately important to Anderson in his Republican primary and Brown in his Democratic one. Both are struggling against incredible odds to get a toehold in the presidential race.

Wisconsin allows crossover voting, which enables a voter to choose either the Republican or Democratic ballot. It also has a tradition of progressive, independent politics, and of voters who love to "send message" during presidential years. And it was students here who helped both McCarthy and George McGovern send a message against the Vietnam War in the 1968 and 1972 primaries.

Until a few weeks ago, Anderson was the overwhelming favorite on campus and in the second congressional district, which includes this area. Many Democrats were expected to cross over and vote for him. Then Brown decided to make a major effort in the state, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy pulled a major upset in the New York primary.

Brown has more than 125-full-time volunteers in Wisconsin, has mounted an extensive advertising campaign, and by next Tuesday will have spent parts of 17 days this month in the state.

There's little doubt that he is far more organized in the Madison area than any other candidate. The only question is whether he has bedrock support. "Organization can turn a potential into a reality," says his field coordinator, Marshall Ganz. "But it can't create a potential unless you have the time. And we've been here only three weeks."

The campus' most successful politician, University Student Association president Jim Mallon, looked at today's political activities with bemused dismain. His "Pail and Shovel Party" has been the only political movement to capture widespread student interest here in recent years.

It did so by sueh zany antics as building a replica of the Statue of Liberty on the frozen waters of Lake Mendota, declaring war on other campuses, throwing mudpies at pictures of Mallon opponents, implanting 1,000 pink plastic flamingos on campus and forming his own army. "It's a draft army. They only drink draft beer," he says.