“Wash day tomorrow? Nothing clean, right?”
This line, spoken to a naked Arnold Schwarzenegger by a punk kid about to lose his heart (literally), became more of a catch phrase with my gym friends than the more popular “I’ll be back”. Back in the day, movies and television would penetrate more deeply into more segments of the society, and it was fun. It was a good bet that after a weekend, somebody you knew had seen whatever the “big” movie was, and you could riff on it. Today’s full-on 24/7 all-inputs media saturation isn’t “bad” – but it’s paradoxically isolating – I can’t remember the last great movie convo I had (I’m reduced to listening to podcasts where other’s get to have the fun!)
“Out of the Past” is a catchall for mini-meditations on my youth, and it struck me that over the years (less frequently now sadly) my passion for film created both personal epiphanies and some real-life antics. My experiences seeing “Alien” and “Blade Runner” are mini-epics that deserve their own entries. But for now, picking a year at random, I want to tell you of the small moments, the insights and sheer joy I got from sitting in dark rooms with strangers…
I ran into my buddy (and gym coworker) Missile at the Fair Oaks Mall Crown Books, he had a glazed, giddy look in his eye. “Have you seen it?” I knew he was talking about The Terminator, we were of a sub-culture that had awaited it’s coming like some kind of religious festival, Arnold was a big thing. I replied something like “Nah man, was it awesome?” Missile looked pained that we couldn’t dissect it right then, but he didn’t want to leak any details that could derail the pleasure of going in cold. “You have to see it immediately, all I can say is ‘Wash day tomorrow? Nothing clean, right?’, you’ll know what I mean.” Missile was right, Arnold is set upon by three taunting punks (one memorably Bill Paxton in blue spiked hair), the scene ends with him ripping the still beating heart from the leader. This stuff is all old hat by now, with all your chop-happy Game of Thrones, but in ’84 it was straight-up mind-blowing. Oddly, Indiana Jones jumped on the heart-ripping-out bandwagon this same year, but there it just seemed theatrical. Here, it worked as succinct foreshadowing, you just met this guy and he ripped a guys heart out, he’s just getting started!
Amadeus may seem like a weird film for a 22 year-old to fan-boy over, but it felt like it was written just for me, a young artist surrounded by far more successful artists. Salieri’s sense of betrayal by God, favoring the loutish Mozart over him, not to mention his perfectly logical decision to exact revenge on God by killing Mozart all spoke to my massively inflated ego. The thing to know about young artists (any artists really, but it’s worse when testosterone is at high tide) is how amazingly serious we take ourselves. Everything is felt with Byronic intensity, and here this film was validating my madness. Loved it! It helped that the film itself was so satisfying, Miloš Forman’s realization of 1790’s Vienna is awesome, the compositions and performances chosen started a mini-Mozart revival, the performances are uniformly excellent – with special reverence reserved for F. Murray Abraham’s Salieri. The way he seems to physically consume the music, his genuine shock at the paradox of Mozart’s talent and debauchery, his despair at realizing that instead of possessing the great talent he imagined himself to have, he instead possessed mediocrity. I can’t remember if I cried, but I did the last time I watched it.
I had to drive into Georgetown to see Blood Simple, it was a little film that was getting a lot of buzz. The Coen Brothers were supposed to be some kind of cinematic wunderkinds and I’m a sucker for noir, be it classic or neo. I hate to admit this, but I have almost no memory of the actual watching of the movie – and it’s for two very specific reasons: M. Emmet Walsh and Frances McDormand. Don’t get me wrong, both of these actors are crazy talented, but I had deeply visceral reactions to both of them. Walsh had already repulsed me in “Blade Runner” as the sleaziest of sleazy cops, and here he was turning up the revulsion factor to 10. The guy just creeped me out, but like in real life, like I could smell the fried chicken and beer on his skin, he was so good at portraying a hideous person I reacted like I was sitting next to a hideous person. Took me clean out of the movie! Speaking of which, I loved McDormand in “Fargo”, but here I kept thinking “I don’t care how small this town is, she’s not hot enough to put all this in motion”, she was supposed to be all femme fatale-y and she just looked like normal woman. Watch “Body Heat” and this movie back-to-back and you’ll see what I mean – you could buy people dying all over the place because Kathleen Turner showed up. Anyway, this was a perfect example of a movie I wasn’t mature enough to enjoy!
The weird thing about Purple Rain was how much more I enjoyed The Time than Prince. They seemed to actually be enjoying themselves, and all their taunting of Prince seemed deserved. Morris Day popped off the screen, and the whole gag (appropriated from James Brown) with valet Jerome still cracks me up. That said, the portrayal of a vivid art scene driven by competition hit my sweet spot, and the music is still sublime (start to finish that album rules). Prince is a little guy, and on-stage it almost enhances his power, but as filmed I kept thinking that Apollonia could take him in a fight (plus he was kind of pouty)…kept wanting him to shut up and sing. Worth checking out if you’ve never seen it.
Let’s get this out of the way, Firestarter is a HORRIBLE film, but it is one of those amazing things that goes so far off the rails that it’s endlessly entertaining. I saw this with my pal Mike, and I’m not exaggerating to say that we continued to quote it for more than a decade. Explaining Firestarter is like trying to explain how much you love somebody, everything you’ll say will sound like a cliche. George C. Scott wears an eye-patch – sometimes on his right, sometimes on his left – later he just stops wearing it. Drew Barrymore can start fires with her mind, she starts fires when she’s upset (like a small blonde Hulk) but if she balls her fist and slams it against her leg grunting “back off, back off” she can get herself back under control. This movie screams “the 80’s”, almost more than Chuck Norris movies, and if you’re an aficionado of how things can go terribly wrong please check this out.
Worthy of Note
Dune – Nutty slice of Lynch, I was a huge Sting fan at time (he was great in Quadrophenia) but he was ill-served here.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – I don’t know, this is a well-made spectacle, but Kate Capshaw killed this for me. Plus, no Nazi’s.
Gremlins – This movie is awesome, Phoebe Cates is adorable, Gizmo is the shit. It deserves more than I’m giving it here, a true classic.
The Natural – Filled with powerful, subtle images, worth seeing even with the sound off.
Revenge of the Nerds – I’ve always been quasi-nerd, and I love an underdog story.
Conan the Destroyer – Arnold was on fire, Grace Jones rocked, still fun.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension – Another oddity very much of its time, I need to see it again and see if any of it holds up.
The Killing Fields – Man, this thing is tough, Cambodian genocide isn’t exactly an uplifting subject, but a powerful piece of work that stuck with me long after I saw it.