Ah, yes. The proverbial high school reunion. I am waxing nostalgic because this past weekend I had the distinct (dubious) pleasure of attending said event and it became clear to me that 2o-25 years seems like a looong time (although it feels like yesterday… literally!). I spent the evening drinking substandard red wine, eating finger foods and trying to figure out just how the hell I remember the names and not the faces, the faces and not the names or the manes and not the names. After all, the 80’s was a time of big hair and big dreams. As the (terrible) D.J. played some of the worst music from 1976 to 1997 (maybe he didn’t get the memo that it was an EIGHTIES reunion), I thought about the movies of the 1980’s. Not the big moneymakers or Oscar winners necessarily, but the movies that that were important to me, either for the environment, the company or the impact on my film consciousness. Here are some of those movies, in no particular order, just as they crowd into my mind:
Say Anything… (1989) – To be fair, I saw this when I was in my early 20’s but I scream at the grievious crime that kept this film from being released ten years earlier, at the start of my illustrious high school career. If I could have had watched at the tender age of 14, loveable yet ambitionless Lloyd Dobler chase and win valedictorian Diane Court, oh, the great changes that would have been wrought in my life. Okay, maybe not, but John Cusack’s performance has cemented him for all time as the poster boy for dweebs with a dream (female, not computer). Director and writer Cameron Crowe has made the smartest, wittiest, sweetest teen film ever and everything else pales in comparison (sorry, Twilight fans). Every character is fresh and original yet someone we know; the dialogue is constantly a surprise yet exactly what that character should say and the plot has enough romance to woo the girls, humour to win the guys and the music is timelessly perfect. Suffice to say, this movie makes me wish I could relive my teen years, as crappy as they seemed at the time.
Gandhi – This is the one that first showed me the separation between movies (entertainment) and film (art). No one would see it with me so I trekked up to the Capitol Theatre in Chatham, Ontario by myself because I heard it was “good”. Before this, my tastes tended to Porky’s, James Bond and Star Wars, but for three hours, I sat mesmerized by a film that played epic yet private and personal. Richard Attenborough’s direction was letter perfect and Ben Kingsley’s performance as the small man with a giant influence was nothing short of brilliant.
Friday the 13th 3-D – Okay, not much of a watermark but it was the first movie I saw that used something akin to the modern 3-D technology I absolutely love in theatres today. I had seen some poor 3-D in the past but I sat in awe as there was real depth to the sets and when that eyeball popped out of that guy’s face and into my lap, I laugh out loud in appreciation.
Phenomena (Creepers) – My best friend Dwayne and I had a tradition, two dollar Tuesdays. Every Tuesday, we would go to a movie, regardless of what was playing and sometimes this was difficult. Before the current predilection towards first weekend boffo box-office, movies used to have what is called in the industry ‘legs’. These are movies that hung on….forever. It was not uncommon for a movie to play for literally months and with only three theatres in town, this would wreak havoc on our tradition. Well, Creepers was not one of these movies. In fact, Creepers was a filler. When a big movie was opening on Wednesday instead of Friday, the Capitol would throw in something no one had ever heard of to fill the space for a big five days, from Friday until Wednesday, to disappear into oblivion. That Tuesday, we saw the poster that showed a young girl holding a handful of insects, with the tagline “From Dario Argento, the master of terror”. Who? How could someone we’d never heard of be the master of terror?, we joshed as we paid our two bucks. Well, what I watched for the next 83 minutes was horrific, convoluted, nonsensical…and I loved it! It turned out Dario Argento really was the ‘master of terror’…in Italy! Creepers, it seems, was the gutted version of Argento’s Phenomena, 30 minutes shorter, for some violence to be sure, but also major plot points. It was wacky, yes, but the gorgeous frame composition, bravura camerawork and elaborate murder set pieces, all Argento staples, were jaw-dropping. I became a rabid Argento fan, finally finding many years later, a subtitled complete version of Phenomena, which I now own. Honestly, it didn’t make much more sense but it was still so enjoyable. Note of interest: the 14-year-old star of Creepers? Future Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly.
Purple Rain – I was a metalhead. I loved Rainbow, Scorpions, Van Halen, AC/DC…you get the idea. That’s why it was a miracle that we went to see Prince’s seminal film (okay, he didn’t make very many). That miracle, though, became an epiphany when Prince Rogers Nelson took the stage. We went to see Purple Rain four times that year and wore out the LP at home. I watched it recently with my wife and was surprised how broad and ridiculous the script and acting was (except for the under-rated Clarence Williams III as Prince’s dad) but the music and performances…that’s where it’s at. Prince took absolute control of every moment when he was performing, brash, profane, funny, heart-breaking, a tumult of sheer lavender energy. The icing on the proverbial cake was nabbing tickets for the opening night of the Purple Rain tour, still one of the best concerts I’ve had the pleasure of attending.
Dune – Dwayne and I were spending the night in downtown Windsor, doing some Christmas shopping (a very different time when Windsor was a place we looked forward going to) and we decided to see this new sci-fi movie to waste the evening. Neither of us had read the book and we thought it could be the new Star Wars. Could we have more wrong? Frank Herbert’s classic novel, which I have since read twice, was thought unfilmable and had David Lean (!), Ridley Scott, Salvador Dali and Alejandro Jodorowsky tied to it at one time or another. It was bizarro David Lynch (that’s meant affectionately) who finally took up the gauntlet after his success with The Elephant Man. Dino de Laurentiis gave him virtual carte blanche and he turned out this…monstrosity (again, affectionately). Surreal, epic, and silly at the same time, it was like a drug trip without the drugs. I saw it again in the hopes it would make more sense, but thankfully it didn’t. Lynch, unhappy with the result and resultant TV cuts, took his name off the movie (Directed By Alan Smithee). Obviously we enjoyed it more than Lynch, for the wrong reasons. We would spout lines from the movie for laughs for months (“Tell me of your homeworld, Usul”). I have recently obtained a ‘fan edit’ version which is said to be closer to Lynch’s original script at 3 hours…I haven’t had the ambition to watch it yet.
What 1980’s movies made an impact on you? Or if you’re older or younger, what movie most embodies the high school years for you? Let me know!