Volume 2, Number 2 -- February, 1997
by Dean Shutt
The idea was simple yet elegant. Five of the best movies of the eighties, chosen by committee, viewed back to back over a ten hour period. Why five movies? Why the eighties? Why all together? Good questions all, and were I the sort that worried about what the normal people say I might be daunted by them. I am not concerned with convention, though - I feel that anyone who needs to ask these questions couldn't handle the answers anyway. That is why I was here at nine o'clock on a Friday night, a few stout companions gathered around, prepared to embark on a wonderous journey through the finest of eighties cinema...and perhaps beyond.
I suppose now I ought to set the players, the brave souls who would accompany me on this journey into the American psyche. First up was Dave, who, though a dirty lying scum, I consider a friend. Next was his lovely and charming significant other Tami, who had promised to bake brownies for the occasion. Then we had Rick, a man who could be depended upon. Also joining us was Tony, a man who I had worked with in the past and whose limitations I was well aware of. Finally there was me, the driving force behind this little social experiment. I wanted to know, could we collectively go back in time through the movies of our youth? Might we somehow recapture that lost spirit of idealism and innocence we had all possessed when these films were first released? Was it possible to find in the subtext of these movies, the defining characteristic of a cynical generation? More importantly perhaps, could that many people pushing thirty stay awake for that long?
The selection process was simple and as I found out, laughably ineffective. We would all choose a couple of movies and then argue about which ones to watch. Looking back, something a bit more standardized might have been prudent, but then, standardized processes have never been our strong suite. It soon became evident that I hadn't been nearly precise enough in my definition of "eighties movies". Rick had brought us The Neighbors and Lost in America, two seventies movies that just happened to made in the eighties. Dave had chosen The Survivors, obviously unaware that any film involving Walter Matthau could not be considered an eighties movie. Tami picked 9 to 5, but then she was making us brownies, so we allowed her to stay. Tony had come through in a big way though, The Sure Thing, Dream a Little Dream and The Breakfast Club. The first, a John Cusack classic (and you really can't do an eighties marathon without John Cusack) costarring a young Dapne Zuniga and Anthony Edwards with a full head of hair. Dream a Little Dream, though made in the late eighties, is significant because it is the best work done by the Coreys (Haim and Feldman), two actors whose careers died so quickly, they did about four more movies together before they realized it.
The Breakfast Club is self explanatory, you cannot have a serious discussion of eighties movies (or a loud drunken one for that matter) without The Breakfast Club being involved. It is not only the ultimate representation of the eighties movie, it is the pinnacle of not just one, but many careers. As Tony so succinctly put it, John Hughes shot his wad on this movie. I would only add that Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Emilio Estevez and Anthony Michael Hall shot theirs as well. I had managed to find a couple of true gems, Can't Buy Me Love and Valley Girl. Can't Buy Me Love starred Patrick Dempsey, the definitive eighties geek turned stud. It also featured Amanda Peterson, an actress who gave Deborah Foreman of Valley Girl a run for her money in the fastest career death category, and the black cowboy hat Amanda wears at the end of the movie. This could be the only time in history that a hat deserved star billing. Valley Girl is the mother of all eighties teen romances. It featured Nicholas Cage in one of his first starring roles and the the aforementioned Deborah Foreman.
We started with The Neighbours, as I said, actually a seventies movie that happened to be made in the eighties. Rick was sulking at the derision we had heaped upon his choices by this time. We all felt that if we didn't at least watch one of his movies, we might lose him altogether. What none of us realized was that The Neighbours would be so bad that we would have to pound Rick even more mercilessly for his abhorrent taste in films. Imagine if you will, a movie in which John Belushi plays the straight man to Dan Ackroyd. Calling the casting a mistake is sort of like calling the Jets a bad football team. The Neighbours was so bad in fact that it nearly killed the evening before it started. By the time the movie was finished, we had all started drinking, something that would not help us stay awake later. By the end of The Neighbours, Rick was in an even deeper funk. The rest of us were sitting in the midst of an uncomfortable silence brought on by the desire to strip Rick naked and drop him at the local cineplex and the knowledge that the wrong word could cause him to snap and kill us all. All the while chanting "Toga, Toga!" and dreaming of Belushi's glory days. Action was needed and I was just the boy to take it. I snatched The Neighbours from the VCR and dropped in The Sure Thing. While it wasn't one of my alltime faves, it was the consensus choice of my peers. I had planned to use it in the third or even fourth spot in lineup. A sort of pick me up at three in the morning when spirits were starting to flag. At the rate we were going though, we wouldn't survive Dream a Little Dream and make it to that point.
Don't misunderstand, even though The Sure Thing isn't on personal list of great eighties movies, I do appreciate its importance. The film stars John Cusack (eighties god) in a role that he could play in his sleep. A cool man, perhaps too cool to be appreciated by those around him, but not too cool for the audience to appreciate. We know that it is merely a matter of time before he gets what he wants, he just needs to find out what that is first.
The Sure Thing had it's intended effect on all save Rick. He was bound and determined to be pissy about the whole business. I figured I could either pull him aside and gently explain where he had gone wrong with his selections, or I could beat him into unconciousness with a piece of firewood. What can I say, Rick was always more fun to be around when he was unconcious. The rest of us were flying, though, shouting out the dialogue, grooving on the soundtrack, we had found the vibe.
After The Sure Thing I decided it was time for Dream a Little Dream. I had initially wanted to run this film second in the line-up. The problem with DaLD is that it can be a tad difficult to follow after a few beers. With all of it's mysticism and body swapping and Jason Robards dancing in his pajamas, you really need to get it out of the way early during an experiment such as this. The effect on morale was disasterous, Rick woke up and stumbled groggily home, probably wondering what had hit him (oak, for the record). Tami and Dave turned on me like jackals, heaping scorn and derision on my selection. Tony just stared at me quietly with pity in his eyes. I was apologetic, I knew I should have dropped DaLD from the evening's entertainment, but had been too stubborn to do so.
We attempted to save the evening with The Breakfast Club. If anything could get us on the right track at point, it would be TBC. Unfortunately, nothing could save the shambles this evening had become. Dave was in his cups, screaming that he would destroy Judd Nelson and his father Ricky. Tony was in a fetal position on the couch, while Tami pelted him with half-baked brownies and questioned his manhood. What had become of me, you might ask? I was on the floor, wondering when it all had gone so wrong. I'll grant you the planning of the event wasn't all it could have been, but then planning wasn't something that had ever affected our little jaunts in the past. No, I decided in the end that it was all my "friends'" fault. After all, I was the man who stayed focused through nine movies in thirty hours. Suddenly, when I allow my "friends" in on the act, we are incapable of doing three in a row. Pathetic, I suppose the bigger question here is how I managed to accomplish as much as I had with these losers holding me down.
The last two films, The Breakfast Club and Can't Buy Me Love were viewed by Tony and myself. Our mood was somber as we watched what should have been the pinnacle of our achievement. Instead, we watched them upstairs on the little television, Rick gone, Dave and Tami doing "God knows what" in bed next door. It should have been a triumph, new sociological ground broken, our names in the annals of cinematic history, crowds chanting our names. No, we watched quietly from Loserville as the march of history trampled our geek necks.
Perhaps all this was as it should be. Perhaps this was needed to open my eyes to the truth. My life of danger and adventure was not meant to be shared, my next mission will be alone or maybe with an attractive blonde.
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