Thursday, March 14, 2013

Films I was probably too old to see when they came out

John Hughes: 16 Candles, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and The Breakfast Club all came across to me as groups of born-yesterday teens workshopping the carpe diem philosophy. I saw these in my 20s and they felt cutesy and forced. I could see some poignant issues raised but these were all but masked by the squeaky clean sheen of Hughes attempts to make the comedy palatable to all, teen and parent of teen alike. Wether grinning in recognition of daily life or recalling it, audiences who were meant to sig teh sugar without noticing the medicine. While not as hateful as 80s teen fare from the Spielberg diaspora, Hughes movies nevertheless always seemed to cop out with something goofy at the apex like the marijuana scene in Breakfast Club or the cringey Twist and Shout bit on the parade float Ferris Bueller. Would I have responded better if I'd been five years younger? Would I have relaxed into it like everybody else and enjoyed the ride? Dunno. I do know that at the end of the decade Heathers felt like a slamming response to all of the above and achieved everything they had failed.

Also, for honourable mention, Risky Business which delved much deeper into the darkness of adolesence and competition was better even though it came across like a Hughes movie (saw it on tv years after its release) even to the extent of the Chicago setting. Still nothing in the field beats Heathers.

I joked in one of my remake posts that The Breakfast Club should be remade as a severe Swedish black comedy.  As long as Lasse Hallstrom is not involved that would work for the lot.

Star Wars: I've already covered this a fair bit here but the short version goes like this: I saw this when I was fifteen and immediately loved the detail of things like rust on spaceships which felt like sci fi was being pushed forward. But then the cantina scene began to ruin it as it just felt cute. Everything after that, even if more solidly dramatic, just felt like a con, like teacher who went all goofy when faced with a hard question and tried to cover it with a joke.

Fairly recently, an acquaintance was surprised to find my antipathy to this series stemmed from seeing it while young. "Why didn't you like it?" he bellowed, "because it wasn't Breathless?" Well, no. While the year 1977 for me meant punk rock, alternative culture and the still-surprising programming of movies like Zabriskie Point, Husbands and Five Easy Pieces on the local commercial channel did make anything mainstream fade on sight, the real reason I hated Star Wars was that its cuteness made me cringe. My acquaintance's bizzarre assumption that if I didn't like Star Wars then I must be some overrefined snob just reveals his reverse snobbery.

Would I have enjoyed it more younger? Maybe, but I knew so many people my age who dug it and then Grease and Raiders of the Lost Ark (both of which I grimace to recall). I don't remember feeling particularly mature or sophisticated I just disliked what I started seeing as market-designed culture rather than things created from passion. That's a naieve position and has long since been tempered by experience to separate the wishfulness from the annoyance.

Actually, I think I would've enjoyed Star Wars if I'd seen it before 1977. Whether I would recall it fondly now, even with nostalgia which comes in handy when remembering the garbage of one's childhood years, I don't know.

Tarrantino: The one that did impress me was Jackie Brown. You're meant to say that but in this case it's true. I'm not a fan of the endless quoting and cleverness substituting for content ..... anymore. Anymore for QT began with Reservoir Dogs. I have enjoyed every one of them I've seen and then I've forgotten them. I'm just beyond thinking that laboriously constructed self-reflexive gags are anything but annoying. If I'd been an undergrad when I'd seen them I bet I'd be a big fan today. That's not a slight. The context is that I'd already seen it done more subtlety and style by Scorsese for over a decade by the time Dogs came around. Then it looked like teenage overstatement. I don't buy cinema tickets for his stuff anymore.

Wes Anderson: The cuteness and whimsy might have appealed to me if I were still in my twenties. This is possibly why I still like early Hal Hartley films but gag at Anderson's. I was in my twenties when I first saw Harold and Maude and still rank it among the best American films of all time. Anderson's films seemed intent on recreating the experience of that film and its cousins as though trying to make a new Shakespeare from a drawing of his DNA sequence. Trying to imagine liking his stuff if I were younger brings to mind a lot of trash I went to see and raved about then that I'd seen at arthouses when there were arthouses. I know that I feel almost none of the fun of Repo Man that I felt first go. There are so many others. So, maybe not, all up, I'd still see the lazy writing and sudden explosions of drama amid the precious quirky bullshit as misfires.

Blues Brothers and Animal House: I revere Landis as a film scholar. He doesn't just have an encyclopedic knowledge of the form but a very even handed approach that allows effortless comparison of sacred cow classics with 2c grindhouse fare. But I dislike the movies that he makes. Two in particular because they are aimed at such a neanderthal sensibility that the idea of riding along with them and laughing at all the gags makes me feel unclean. I can see where it comes from. Wouldn't it be funny if a marching band kept trying to march forward in a dead end? Imagine at the end the two guys have more guns than in the entire state of Texas pointed at them. This kind of thing is funny when you are young and unused to intoxicants and can't tell the difference between their IQ suppressing power and your own powers of invention. Nothing wrong with that until you spend insane amounts of money putting it on a screen. These films make me cringe. They made me cringe when I saw them in my late teens and early twenties. But maybe if I'd been ten to twelve and watching them on home video ....

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