I started working on this post about a year ago (at least conceptually) but, for whatever reasons, put in on the back burner. Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when I was invited to a “Film Chat” group on the Facebook. I participated in a few of the threads (e.g., “Best movie of 2014” (Nightcrawler), “Most Overrated Movie of the Past Few Years” (Children of Men), “Favorite Soundtrack of All Time” (Singles), “Favorite Movie of All Time And You Only Get To Pick One” (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?—yes, I’m not joking)). On one of the threads somebody mentioned Strange Days, which made me giddy with excitement. I only saw that movie once, when it came out in the 90s, but I remember it being one of those flicks that made me feel like I was on crystal meth after watching it. I’ve never actually done crystal meth, but I can appreciate a movie that gets me so amped up I want to run around the block and break things (hey, I was 14 years old—what do you expect?). Despite having only watched it once, I remember the movie very well, in particular, the kiss at the very end. I was actually going to write an entire blog post entitled “On The Kiss At The Very End of Strange Days.” As far as I’m concerned, it’s the single greatest kiss in cinematic history, beating out the “purest kiss in the history of kissing” in the finale of The Princess Bride, Han and Leia’s smooch before Han is frozen in carbonite at the end of Empire, and, dare I say it, even trumping that scene with Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly in Bound. For those of you who don’t remember, let’s take a look (and I apologize–I couldn’t embed the video):
First of all you have Ralph Fiennes, who is coming off of serious roles in Schindler’s List and Quiz Show to transform into a washed-up, heartbroken, drug-addicted (if we can call SQUID a drug) loser with long flowing hair and a “fuck it all” ‘tude. Is there a heterosexual man in the 90s who did not have a man crush on Ralph Fiennes after watching this movie? And then you have Angela Bassett, who taps her inner Pam Grier to portray a seriously badass limo driver/bodyguard wearing a tight black cocktail dress while kicking ass and inciting a riot—the stuff adolescent fantasies are made of. It’s New Year’s Eve, the ball drops (so to speak—the movie actually takes place in LA), confetti is flying everywhere, and Fiennes puts Bassett in a car as if to send her away. At that moment, my buddy with whom I was watching (on VHS in his attic) yells out, “aren’t you going to fucking kiss her?”, and Ralph Fiennes turns around, opens the car door, pulls Basset out, looks in her eyes, and kisses her like only Ralph Fiennes can. I’ve had a number of New Year’s Eve kisses since then and I’m ALWAYS thinking of (and trying to emulate) that passion. Not sure I’ve ever quite gotten there, but I’d probably go the extra mile if Angela Bassett were involved.
I’m just setting the mood here—this post is going to be broader in scope than that one kiss. Movies have affected me profoundly throughout my life, providing inspiration, entertainment, and distraction, making me laugh hysterically, lock all my doors and sleep with the lights on, and shed more tears than I’d like to admit (damn you, Armageddon!). Without giving away too much here (because I do want you to actually read the damn post, and none of this “TL:DR” bullshit), I’ll say this much: if you’re in your early-to-mid thirties, be prepared to be nostalgic as fuck.
One more note before we begin our stroll down celluloid memory lane (not to be confused with “cellulite memory lane,” which is the subject of a much different post). I use the word “movies” and not “films”; unless you’re British, I find use of the latter term to be obnoxiously pretentious (and this is coming from an insufferable snob). I remember back in college there was this one girl I thought was really cute, and near the end of sophomore year we had to declare our majors and she explained her decision. I don’t recall her exact words, but it was something to the effect of this: “Yeah, at first I was thinking I wanted to be a history major, then I wanted to be a lit major, then a science major, and then I decided on film because it’s really a combination of all of those and all the other majors. Majoring in film is like majoring in life.” After that, (1) I didn’t find her to be so cute anymore and (2) I became repulsed every time I heard that particular f-word.
I just Facebook stalked her. Okay, she’s cute—in fact, I probably lied when I said (1) above. Also, she has the same last name she had in college (not that that means anything in the year 2014).
But I digress. When you’re talking about movies with a child of the 80s, you need to start with the 3 greatest children’s movies of all time from the 80s. You know what they are already, and if you don’t, I’m embarrassed for both of us.
I already mentioned the first one above. Although it might not have the best movie smooch of all time, there is no doubt that no post on movies would be complete without
When this movie first came out, the film critic for the SF Chronicle gave it an empty chair, thus sparking my life-long hatred of film critics and distrust of SF’s daily rag. It’s difficult to express in words how much I love this movie. Oh wait, no it’s not: I love this movie “a shit-ton.” Is there a human being among us who does not think of this movie every single time we hear the word “inconceivable”? Have any of us never looked into our love’s eyes and said “as you wish”? And when was the last time you went a month without being prompted to shout “my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!”? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
And then there was
Actually, if we’re gonna talk about this movie, we really need to include the theme song:
That’s gonna be stuck in your head all day. You’re welcome.
For some reason I saw this movie in various pieces when I was younger and never watched the entire flick from beginning to end until I was around 12. Because of the weird time lapses, I think I was convinced that the movie was truly never-ending (my older sister probably also convinced me of that fact—she managed to trick me into thinking all kinds of crazy shit when I was younger, but that’s another story for another post). Also, Gmork (the wolf-servant of the Nothing) scared the bejeesus out of me and gave me all sorts of nightmares. Other movie bits that scared the bejeesus out of me and gave me all sorts of nightmares in the 80s: the end of The ‘Burbs, Large Marge from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, and the opening library scene in Ghostbusters.
Speaking of “bits” in movies:
Obviously this rounds out the trio of important childhood movies of the 80s. When I was in the drama club in high school, I was in an artsy interpretation of Maurice Sendack’s “Outside Over There” and I’m convinced that this book must have been an inspiration for Labyrinth. In fact, according to Wikipedia, “The closing credits of the film state ‘Jim Henson acknowledges his debt to the works of Maurice Sendak.’” Go figure. If you haven’t read OOT, check it out—it’s actually the third in Sendak’s “childhood development” trilogy, after “In the Night Kitchen” and of course “Where the Wild Things Are.”
Speaking of Jim Henson, when I first started doing this blog I at one point contemplated doing a piece “On the Muppets,” but instead I decided it would be more fun to intersperse Muppet clips throughout various posts. For this post, I include my favorite Muppet movie clip, which happens to come from my favorite Muppet movie, The Great Muppet Caper:
Down the street from where I grew up there was a woman named Betsy who owned a video store called Intavideo. I think Betsy was the first crazy cat lady I ever encountered, and her feline companions would often be strolling among the VHS racks, popping out and surprising you from behind a copy of Caddyshack II. Betsy knew each of her customers likes and dislikes and would make individualized recommendations. You’d come in and say “Betsy, I’m kind of sad today, give me something to cheer me up” and she’d recommend LA Story. Or you’d tell her “Betsy, I want to laugh harder than I’ve laughed in months,” and she’d hook you up with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Or maybe you’d confide in her, “Betsy, I want a movie that I’ll watch dozens of times right now as a nine year old, and then when I’m 33 and watching TV at 1 AM on a Thursday it will be on FXX and I’ll get super-excited to watch it, even though it’s kind of stupid,” and she’d point you to Three Amigos.
Wait a minute—did Betsy recommend all of these Steve Martin movies to me because she knew I liked him, or did I like Steve Marin because of Betsy’s recommendations? I suppose it’s a chicken-and-egg question.* All I know is that my parents were mighty confused when I approached them in my Darth Vader PJs after watching The Jerk and said, “I was born a poor black child.”
Betsy had a huge projection TV in her store that was always playing one of her favorite flicks (if you’ve ever been inside a video store you know what I’m talking about, but it just occurred to me that my 6 year-old nephew may very well never actually set foot in a video store). One day, when I was maybe 6 or 7 years old, I went into Intavideo with my dad and Betsy was showing The Empire Strikes Back (speaking of my Darth Vader PJs—so yes, chronologically, this was before I first watched The Jerk). We walked into the store during that scene where Darth Vader has just finished talking to the Emperor and the mechanical arm places his helmet back on his head. I was really confused, and my dad tried to explain what was going on, but my pops has never been very good with details and he mistook the Emperor for Darth Vader (I know—I know). Needless to say, the only solution was to rent the whole trilogy.
It’s cliché to be obsessed with Star Wars, but I can safely say that the study of the Jedi and the Force has been somewhat of a lifelong obsession of mine. During middle school and high school, my father and I had a tradition in which, the night before my first day of classes, we’d rent the trilogy and begin watching around 9 PM. My dad would usually pass out during the Battle of Hoth but I’d stay up until 3 AM watching, and then arrive at school 5 hours later ready to face another year of painful organized education. Ironically I was a straight-A student in middle school and high school—perhaps I should have kept up the tradition in college and law school.
But there was more than that, of course. You’d better believe that I read the Timothy Zahn novels and Dark Empire comics and owned/memorized the Star Wars Encyclopedia. Rebel Assault was my favorite video game when it came out (by that point, I had finally gotten over Day of the Tentacle and Sam and Max). I had a friend in high school who broke up with his girlfriend because she had never seen the trilogy and refused to do so. This instantly became part of my battery of litmus tests (along with “name all four members of the Beatles.” On an unrelated note, I’m still not married). Episodes I-III came and went—I saw each one once and immediately forgot about them. I’m mildly excited about Episode VII, but I did not watch the teaser that came out last week and I have no intention of doing so.
Other than Star Wars, my father’s main contributions to my cinematic upbringing were introducing me to Hitchcock, Mel Brooks, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (we had a VHS tape with an IAMMMMW / My Cousin Vinny Double Feature—arguably the most hilarious 5 hours ever), and A Thousand Clowns, which is my favorite black and white movie ever (and don’t worry, it has nothing to do with clowns). My sister tried to introduce me to horror films, but I was a scaredy-cat and couldn’t fully appreciate them until I was older (now horror is my favorite genre—but the only time I will ever lock my door when I’m home is after watching a scary movie). By the time I was 10, I was ready to develop my own tastes. After a rather disastrous/embarrassing foray into the Police Academy movies (“Why do you think I took you to see all those Police Academy movies, FOR FUN? I DIDN’T HEAR ANYONE LAUGHING, DID YOU? except at that guy who made sound effects”), I discovered Monty Python (and Terry Gilliam in general), and those films gave me years of enjoyment until 1994 came around, bringing Pulp Fiction and Hudsucker Proxy into my life. These introductions to Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers would, of course, be life changing.
I’ve seen Reservoir Dogs well over 20 times. I owned the screenplay and used to read it non-stop. There was a time when I had memorized the entire opening diner scene, and would recite it on command (or usually, not on command).
And then there’s The Big Lebowski.
David Lynch fits in there somewhere too. Mulholland Drive is probably my favorite, followed by Blue Velvet. When the former came out I was in college and Lynch came to my campus to promote it. He spoke in the big physics lecture hall and the administration allowed him to smoke cigarettes while giving his talk. I remember thinking he was so badass because he could smoke in the classroom while nobody else was allowed to do so. He talked about the new movie (which I had already seen in a preview screening) for about 5 minutes and then spent the next 55 minutes talking about Dune and how although it was the biggest failure of his career, he learned more from it than any of his other projects.
My movie interests would eventually become more obscure. While I was at Columbia they opened a location of Kim’s, formerly the largest independent video store in New York, right by our campus and I burned through all of the cult movies I had time to watch (with a focus on Troma films). I spent three years of Japan and watched dozens of Japanese horror films—not just Ringu (The Ring) and Ju-on (The Grudge), but also a bunch of esoteric shit of which you’ve never heard. These days I’m mainly watching random independent thrillers on Netflix. I think Pontypool is my favorite so far.
For the most part, though, my favorite movies, the ones that had the most impact on my development and understanding of pop culture and the world around me, were those I mentioned above before that last paragraph (oh, and during the Steve Martin years, there was also a healthy amount of Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Eddie Murphy). I think this is common—most people my age can identify with these movies—and I believe they are, in part, what defines our generation.
My screenwriting instructor at Columbia is the one professor I had in college with whom I am still in contact (and bear in mind that I majored in math, not film). He grew up with classic romantic comedies like All About Eve and His Girl Friday and gangster films like White Heat and Rififi. He still watched most interesting movies (read: non-Hollywood blockbusters or cheesy rom-coms) that come out, but when he was trying to give us inspiration in class he would always reference his classics—and I always thought it was cute that he assumed that Columbia students had actually seen all (or any) of those films. When somebody would sheepishly admit that he hadn’t actually seen Bringing Up Baby (you know—the classic ‘screwball comedy’ with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn?!), the professor would shake his head and say “the ‘generation gap’ is a misnomer. It’s really a ‘generation abyss.’”
While this may sound like the desperate rant of a senile curmudgeon, I can definitely relate whenever I talk to somebody younger than I. Think about it—how can you possibly pretend to relate to somebody who doesn’t see a hole in the desert and immediately think of the Sarlacc Pit? How can you make any meaningful connection with somebody who doesn’t understand what you’re doing when, at a campfire, you take a bunch of marshmallows and form them into a little humanoid figure and say “Look, it’s the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man!” And in the legal world, how can you expect me to work with somebody who doesn’t catch the reference when I refer to a pair of teenagers as “two yutes”?
For all you parents out there, this is why you must teach your children well. Raise them on a steady diet of Transformers (the original cartoon, of course, not the Michael Bay travesties) and The Secret of NIMH in their infancies. Introduce them to the most important cinematic trilogies (Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Back to the Future) long before you corrupt their minds with Lord of the Rings or, G-d forbid, The Hunger Games. Show them Coming to America, Animal House and Strange Brew and shout to them “THIS, MY CHILDREN! THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS TO LAUGH!” But don’t take it too far: when I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy (which was a completely boring, trite, pathetic drip of monkey spum), I was seated next to a man in his forties with a son around 12 or 13. After the “bonus scene” at the end of the credits, the son asked “who was that” and the father answered “that was Howard the Duck–we’ll have to see if they have it on Netflix.” Absolutely not necessary.
And there you have it: my musings on movies. In short, I don’t know about y’all, but I’m sure as hell glad I was a child of the 80s.
I know this piece was kind of jumbled and didn’t really move in a linear manner, but I’m not going to apologize. Did you miss the part where I talk about how much I love David Lynch?
*A chicken and an egg are lying in bed when the egg pulls out a cigarette and lights it up. The chicken says, “well that answers that question…”