Friday, June 11, 2010

It's Feeling 1984* Up in Here (*the year, not the Orwellian Dystopia)

If one had fallen into a coma sometime in the autumn of 1984 and woke up today you may have a hard time convincing them that twenty-six years had passed if the first thing they see is a movie theatre marquee touting a selection of A Nightmare on Elm Street, The A-Team and The Karate Kid or the NBA finals featuring the Lakers and Celtics.

The pop culture recycling mode seems to be stuck in the mid 80's for the third year running. Another Indiana Jones film is being discussed, the Star Trek film franchise has been reborn and toy lines and morning cartoons from the era are being turned into big budget live action (and turgid) summer movie blockbusters.

Last year, to mark it's 25th anniversary, I was dabbling with doing a retrospective of the 1984 Summer movie season. My subtitles for the never materialized project were to be either "The Year Hollywood Learned to Stop Worrying about Art and Love the Blockbuster" or "The Greatest Movie Summer Ever to be an 8 Year Old Boy".

In terms of the former, it was the year that the producer had officially become the power player and the director continued to fall down the totem pole, not to say there were not interesting directors helming big budget Hollywood films, there were: Spielberg, Joe Dante, John Carpenter to name a few, but ambitious auteur driven works like Once Upon a Time in America, Streets of Fire, Under the Volcano and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai languished while high concept franchise potential fare with cross marketing appeal (toys, clothes and Saturday morning cartoon) flourished, spawning, by my count, 30 films (be they sequels or remakes) that continued their respected franchises after summer '84, and that number will probably only rise. (note: I have a breakdown at the very end of this article of the "spawn of Summer '84", please let me know if I missed anything.)

As for the other claim, yes I was an eight year old burgeoning cinephile in 1984, and it's the first year I really remember seeing all the big films of the summer. Furthermore, it seemed as if all the films were pretty much aimed towards me and/or my proclivities (which they were).

While I have many happy memories of that summer, it was also a pretty difficult one for me personally, my Dad was unemployed for a large part of the year after losing his own business and my parents were on the cusp of separating, eventually divorcing within a year. In that respect the fantastical and exciting world mainstream cinema offered provided much needed escape and solace to my impressionable self.

With that in mind, I present a countdown of my ten favorite films of the Summer 1984, circa the summer of 1984. To clarify, basically what I am doing is raiding my memory bank by 26 years and providing a list of what my eight year old self considered the cream of the crop cinema wise at the time.

Before though let me offer this caveat, I am of the increasing mindset that nostalgia is really becoming the killer of good taste. Just because you enjoyed something when you were young and had yet to fully experience cognitive development doesn't mean it's actually good. Yeah, I loved The Goonies too, at age nine, let's not confuse it with one of the pinnacles of cinematic achievements though. We need to seek out challenge and evolution in our art and stop letting happy childhood memories cloud our judgement. If for no other reason than what are we going to be remaking and prequeling in twenty years? Some of the films in this list are bad, and I fully acknowledge that. This is by no means a Best of the year list, mainly because I wasn't exactly watching stuff like Amadeus, Stranger Than Paradise, Paris, Texas and Once Upon a Time in America at the age of eight.

Now with all of that out of the way, I present to you:

Lil' Colonel Morty's Favorite Films of Summer '84 (circa 1984)

10. Conan the Destroyer

See I told you that there would be some bad films on this list. A recent attempt to watch this film on cable was an endurance test I checked out of after about ten minutes. After the success of the first way better, and more violent, Conan the Barbarian, Universal trying to eek out more money from kids too young to see an R rated film but who loved the comic books and the Universal Studios live action show, replaced machismo laureate director John Milius with Richard Fleischer and toned down the savagery to garner a PG rating. Basically allowing for someone like me to see it. One thing Destroyer does have going for it is one of the more bizarre collection of supporting cast ever assembled, including Wilt Chamberlain, Mako, Grace Jones, Olivia d'Abo (the sister from Wonder Years) and Andre the Giant.

9. Purple Rain

In an article on the ESPN website, writer Bill Simmons once contemplated that for men of our generation their first encounter seeing breasts in a movie was either those of Joyce Hyser in 1985's Just One of the Guys or Apollonia's in Purple Rain. Due to my dad's lenient nature, and the fact that it wasn't uncommon in the era for a PG movie to feature brief nudity, I doubt that was the case for me, but let's just say 26 years later, that scene is the only one from Purple Rain that I really recall. I find it funny that Prince was so ubiquitous on MTV and radio in 1984 that most parents didn't give a thought to the film's R rating, despite the general lasciviousness of his music itself.

8. Top Secret!

Top Secret! actually garnered my first celebrity sighting, as we saw Val Kilmer, who wasn't really a star yet (this was his acting debut) coming into the opening night screening at the Bruin theatre (I think, could have been the Village) while my family was vacationing in Los Angeles. While I was too young to get a lot of the old rock n' roll and war film references that Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker were parodying, there were enough sight gags: the big eye, the large breasted woman emerging from sand and of course, the cow with galoshes along with catchy music and furious action to make this a favorite. And now that I get the references, it's even funnier!

7. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Another film that we caught at one of the great Westwood single screen theatres on the same vacation. I don't have any recollection of seeing Wrath of Kahn during the summer of 1982, all of my cinematic memories of that year revolve around rewatching E.T. over and over again, so it's possible that this was my first experience with the Star Trek series, and while it didn't supersede my love (at the time) for the Star Wars trilogy, I became a fan.

6. The Last Starfighter

If I wasn't at the cinema in 1984, it was likely I was at the arcade playing Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Air Hockey, Skeeball or Tron. So the combination of sci-fi and action tropes within the world of video games was a perfect concoction for me. Sure it's protagonist, the working class dreamer with his head in the stars destined for greatness is a note for note stealing of Luke Skywalker's character, but at that age it didn't even occur, or matter, to me. Color me shocked that a remake with a Wii or PlayStation 3 instead of arcade as the instigating portal isn't already in the works (cue Variety announcement in five, four...)

5. The Karate Kid

Take martial arts add equal parts average middle class kid fighting back at tormenting bullies (and getting the girl) with director John G. Avildsen (Rocky) prowess for training montage sequences and the result are karate studios popping up in suburban strip malls throughout the country. Who didn't replicate the Crane kick in their backyard or try to catch a fly with chopsticks (I actually accomplished this once using my fingers as chopsticks) after watching this film? Interesting piece of trivia, while The Karate Kid was the fifth highest grossing film of 1984, it never reached higher than # 3 in the weekly box office cume.

4. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

For the second year in a row, Return of the Jedi prior, my Dad got me out of school early to get in line for the big Memorial Day weekend release. While Temple is slagged on by some, the utter enthusiasm in Spielberg's filmmaking, the whole last act is as close to an actual rollercoaster that film can achieve, makes it the second best of the Indiana Jones series (IMO, I guess). Sure, Kate Capshaw is annoying, but I get what Spielberg was aiming for with her character even if it's not achieved. And I really don't get the Short Round hate at all, maybe because he was about my age when I saw the film thus allowing me to pretend that I could possibly be Indiana's sidekick clouds my judgment, but I think giving Jones a man Friday or Robin adds some nice interaction and some emotional resonance to the character, besides displaying what type of dad he would be (not so great). Along with the number 3 film on the list, this film resulted in a new rating, PG-13, for such scenes as the dining on monkey brains (Temple is not the most culturally sensitive film) and the heart removal scene, which of course, were big favorites for this eight year old boy.

3. Gremlins

Out of all the films on this list, Joe Dante's subversive satire on the Spielberg boy and his pet/alien aesthetic (made all the more impressive due to the fact that this film was executive produced by Spielberg himself) and children consumer culture in the mid-80's which led to in- store parental fights and the black marketing of such highly sought after toys as the Cabbage Patch Kids and Care Bears, holds up the best. While at the time of the release, the subtext may have flown over my head, I was a huge fan of the aforementioned Spielberg aesthetic and a burgeoning horror film enthusiast, so the combining of the two proved alchemic.

2. Ghostbusters

I think pretty much everybody loves this movie, no matter their age, and twenty-six later lines of dialogue are sprinkled in people's everyday conversation: "Dogs and cats living together" "I've been slimed" "Yes, it's true, this man has no dick", etc. Bill Murray pretty much invented the smartass reluctant hero here. And I am pretty sure t-shirts with the Ghostbusters logo were given away to boys living in suburbs at some point.

1. Cloak and Dagger

This might be a surprise to some of you, but for a brief period of time, pretty much age 8-10, I thought this was nothing less than THE GREATEST FILM EVER MADE. Obviously, it's not, but I caught it again about five or six years ago and it's still a quality enterprise. Director Richard Franklin got his start making well crafted thrillers for the Australian exploitation market like Road Games and Patrick, he also studied under Alfred Hitchcock for the last few years of Hitch's life. He made his American directorial debut with Psycho II and then helmed this Hithcockian thriller aimed at the adolescent set without condescending to its audience.

Superficially, I was a perfect mark for the film that combined action, suspense, some PG rating boundary pushing (the grandmother with the missing fingers), Henry Thomas coming off of E.T., ATARI games and Christina Nigra who was one of my first childhood crushes (eerily, my wife looked a lot like her as a girl). But on another level, a reason this film resonated with me at the time is that the essential theme is about a boy who does not spend enough time with his father, and while my relationship with my father has always been great, one of the results of the divorce was that he was no longer living with us full-time.

So what was your favorite film of the summer of 1984? Or if not 1984, which summer movie season caught your imagination?

The Spawn of Summer 1984 Glossary

-Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom kept the franchise alive for two more entries
-There were seven more Star Trek films and one remake with a sequel on its way (not counted) after they successfully searched out Spock
-Ghostbusters, Gremlins and Purple Rain (or had you forgotten Graffiti Bridge?) each had one sequel
-The Karate Kid had three sequels and a remake
-While Conan the Destroyer was the last of the original series, a new Conan film is being released in 2011
-The Bachelor Party has a straight to DVD sequel
-The Muppets had three more sequels after taking Manhattan and a reboot is in the works for a Christmas 2011 release (not counted)
-The Neverending Story had two sequels (hey, it never ended) and a remake is in the works (not counted)
-Revenge of the Nerds had three sequels (one theatrical, the others TV movies) and a remake has been discussed for several years now
-There were two straight to video sequels that followed in the wake of Meatballs part II
-A Red Dawn remake has been made and will be released whenever China allows us to

1 comment:

Mummbles said...

Great article, as your younger brother I couldn't help but be affected by your movie tastes. I think you had a big influence on me in my own movie choices over time, which stems from our father. I wish he would take me out of school but I guess being 4 didn't really help my cause.

I recently re-watched Gremlins and Ghostbusters and those movie still hold up, it is amazing how much more adult they seemed at the time. I do not have a list of movies released in 1984 but I have seen most of the movies on your list (sorry to Purple Rain, Star Trek III and Conan). I respectfully disagree with your Indiana Jones ranking, it was the third best IMO, but damn that pulling out the heart was badass!!

You have a 49ers picture here as well, but no mention. Is it because they kicked the Dolphins ass in the Superbowl? I think so!

ps- sorry it took so long to comment we just got internet working yesterday.

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