Friday, March 23, 2007

IT JUST DOESN'T DID MATTER (AKA, MIKE GETS FRIGHTENINGLY SERIOUS ABOUT A VERY UNSERIOUS MOVIE)

It's Friday. The first Friday of Spring. And the second Friday after I opened the floor to reader requests. Last week I did Hardbodies, so I figure what the hell, let's go with one of the flicks that lost out in the tightly-contested battle for FSMOMYOTD supremacy. What the hell am I talking about? I have no idea. Anyhow, let's get to it. Ladies & gents & children of all ages, may I present for your coffee-supping enjoyment, the Friday Silly Movie Of My Youth Of The Day, the 2nd runner-up in the readers' choice vote, none other than . . .

Meatballs


1979. The very core year of what I think of as the "late 70's." Decades, in the cultural sense, always arrive a bit late. "The 60s" began around 1964 or so: just after JFK's assassination; when the Beatles arrived in the US; as the Civil Rights struggle went into full swing; the Gulf of Tonkin Incident never happened, etc. "The 70's" probably started sometime during 1973 -- when the Watergate story broke, the first Energy Crisis struck, and the US gave up on the adventure in Southeast Asia -- and 1974, when Nixon resigned and the US economy started its long slide into the shitter. And that wackiest of decades ended, by my estimates, around 1982 or so, when the Reagan Revolution took hold, the Stock Market began its bull run, and people began to see mousse not as a food, but as a hair-styling product. Essentially when men's hair remained uncomfortably long, but no longer in a style that covered the ears.

(Or maybe it was when parachutes became pants?)

Whew. Enough of the history lessons. 1979 was, therefore, the middle of the "late seventies." And "so what?" you ask. Well, among other things, that means it was the height of the straight/white wave of the disco era, along with its very straight & very white "Disco Sucks" reaction. Disco Demolition Night, at Comisky Park? Summer of '79.

What else? FSMOMYOTD, The Warriors, with its concommitant wave of subway violence, graffiti, and hordes of gang-bangers dressed as Bucky Dent.

What else? The Iran Hostage Crisis began; the USSR invaded Afghanistan; the Stampede (and deaths) at The Who concert in Cincinnati. Finally, the Second Energy Crisis hit, the US inflation rate hit 13% by year's end, and everyone believed the US was destined for third-world status by 1985. Good times alllllllllll around.

Not to say I didn't think life was grand & peachy keen in 1979, because I did. I fucking loved it. I was 11 years-old, I thought the hair-styles and the clothes were great, I dug the cute girls in my classes and at the roller rink with their feathered hair and skin-tight designer jeans. As you all know, I loved the Warriors.

For crissakes, the Rangers even made the Stanley Cup Finals.

And it wasn't a time of respect for authority. Hard to remember that in the times we now live in. We were supposed to "question" authority. Cynicism was "in." Old traditions and standards were under interrogation, under a glare, and under attack. And it was in this world that Meatballs came out: the world where not only did you root for the underdogs, the underdogs were obviously right! How could the "establishment" be right???

The world of movies reflected the world around it: One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest won the Best Picture for 1975. In terms of youth-oriented movies, The Bad News Bears set the stage in 1976, with its cursing & smoking kids, a beer-swilling coach, out-of-control parents who gave not a damn for their children. And a non-earnest, non-righteous, yet unmistakable message that it doesn't matter whether you win or lose, but it very much does matter how you play the game. Two years later, Animal House blew the stage up, with a combination of a sharp slap in the face of authority, and its irreverent & ridiculous combination of sub-sophomoric food fights, dead horses & jiggling boobs. Man, and what a revelation it was.

And over the next few years, before the 70's unofficially ended, Hollywood actually gave us a series of mainstream movies embracing this anti-authoritarian ethos. Some good, some bad, many quite cynical, these films nonetheless expressed something in America's post-Nixonian mood, with its anti-heroes who were nevertheless decidedly unheroic. And rather selfish (the Me Decade indeed): The Blues Brothers, Stripes, Used Cars, and even a bunch of movies I haven't written about in this series. Even in E.T., for crissakes, the villains were the authorities. Think about it: the aliens were the good guys, the government the bad.

Ok, enough of that seriousness. For those of you who fell asleep, come back. Let's look at the movie itself: a bunch of goofy kids have no self-esteem & no chance to defeat Camp Mohawk in the Camp Olympics. So Bill Murray takes a break from chasing skirt (or short, short gym shorts in this case -- 1979, remember?) to "teach" the kids that it just doesn't matter, let your dick swing no matter what, and kick ass if the ass-to-be-kicked allows it happen.

Or something like that. You know what? It really just doesn't matter. Let's get to . . .

The Cast? Other than Murray, not a whole lot of famous folk in this one, being low-budget, and Canadian and all that. It had Kate Lynch, who actually won a Genie, or Canadian Oscar for this. Cute movie, but a best actress nod? I know it'd be nice for the Academy Awards to realize after 75 years that such a thing as the "comedy movie" exists, but this is pushing it. Kate was also in Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives!, which I'm gonna go ahead and put in the "sequels that never should've been made files." Not only was it a sequel, making it 97.4% likely to be SOA, or Sucking On Arrival, but the title contained the dreaded exclamation point, which is a sure sign of disaster in all-but crazy comedies made by the ZAZ Boys (i.e., Airplane! or Top Secret!).

In fact, I'm declaring a new, inexorable law right now: if both a roman numeral and an exclamation point appear in the title of a movie, it Must Suck. I defy any and all to find an exception to this law.

(By the way, for my money, the best sequel ever, in terms of ratio of first movie greatness to second movie greatness, is not Godfather, Part II, but Empire Strikes Back. While GFII is an unmistakably great film, it's not as good as the original. ESB, however, is far superior to the first Star Wars. Ok, back to our regular programming.)

Lynch also went on to log appearences in The Shower (featuring IMDB keywords, "Adultery," "Baby Shower," "Male Nudity," "Sex in Bathroom," and "Sex in Shower) and Amy Fisher: My Story, with former football-star & Heisman runner-up, Ed Marinaro as Joey Buttafuoco.

Safe to say a Genie doesn't guarantee a top-flight film career. Yikes.

Also appearing in Meatballs, as A.L., was Kristine DeBell, who played Alice in the 1976 "independent" version of Alice In Wonderland. If any of you have seen this, you'll know it's the "pornographic, musical" version of Lewis Carroll's opium dream-based fairy tale.

(No, I swear I didn't make that up. Check out the link, it's legit. Really.)

Chris Makepeace played Rudy, the nominal protagonist of Meatballs. He went on to star in 1980's My Bodyguard, about yet another wimpy kid who hires a tough guy to protect him (because he didn't have the coolest camp counselor in history to bail him out that time). It's been many years since I saw My Bodyguard (probably 27 years), but I remember thinking it was decent at the time. I won't say I remember now, but apparently Matt Dillon was in it, as the bully, "Moody." My Bodyguard was the second of three movies in a 2 year run that saw Dillon play under-age tough guys, schoolyard bullies, or straight-out juvenile delingents: Over The Edge, My Bodyguard, and Little Darlings, in that order. Again, we're talking 1979-80 here. Teenagers who smoked butts, smoked dope, got laid, broke stuff, talked-back, fucked with authority . . . and those characters were largely sympathetic. This is the world I grew up in.

By 1984, though, Dillon turned his other-side-of-the-tracks thing into upward mobility, in The Flamingo Kid, a Garry Marshall film. Not a bad movie, but a different beast than he portrayed in Over The Edge, that's for sure. And in The Outsiders, he played Dallas Winston, a role he was born to play. But while Dally lived an outsider's life, filled with violence & whores & drugs and such, he died for his sins! Don't forget that. The book (which I loved so much as a kid I really can't speak coherently about it now) was written in 1967, and the movie came out in 1983, or Year One of the Real 80's. Only in the 70's could an anti-hero live a life outside of societal norms and survive.

It would take the renaissance of "alterna-cinema" in the spectacular movie year, 1989, to get things "back on track" for Dillon.

And playing the bodyguard in My Bodyguard was Adam Baldwin, who is not a long-lost Baldwin brother, but did play "Animal Mother" in Full Metal Jacket. ("If I'm gonna get my balls blown off for a word, my word is poooooon-tang.")

Getting back to Meatballs, appearing uncredited was Brett Baxter Clark, who ended up in a number of movies that . . . had influence in the five years or so after Meatballs: Wrath of Khan, Night Shift, Bachelor Party, and Malibu Express. Not a bad run there.

And finally, getting to one of the real gems of my cast-search, we find that playing one of the Camp Mohawk baseball players was Brian Backer. Brian Backer, Brian Backer? That name sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Yes. Because it is familiar: Brian Backer was Mark Ratner! Yes indeed, Mark Ratner, unrequited lover of Jennifer Jason Leigh in her first of 700 clothes-shedding roles. And more importantly, buddy of the one-and-only Mike Damone, played by Robert Romanus, brother of Richard Romanus, who played loan-shark Michael Longo, who arranged the shooting death of Robert DeNiro's Johnny Boy in Mean Streets.

Got all that? Doesn't matter, so long as you remember that it's all connected.

Getting back to Backer (who rides sidecar in Romanus' "what the hell happened to him?" motorcycle), I see he actually parlayed Fast Times into . . . well, into pretty much nothing. His last role came in 2000, in Loser, a film directed by Amy Heckerling, the woman who brought us Fast Times in the first place. Loser. Damn, sometimes things have their own symmetry.

Because Fast Times At Ridgemont High, remembered incorrectly as one of the true "80's Movies," was in many ways the consummate 70's film: dope-smoking, sex-craving, rudderless children; a casual, almost off-handed treatment of real-life issues like abortion, employment, race, gender, and class; characters living life to its fullest without consequences (Spicoli, let's remember, wins the jackpot for doing nothing other than watching Brad Hamilton save the day); and an emphasis on fun, being young, and moral choices as opposed to morality as handed down by rules or authority figures. All very 70's themes. And what year did Fast Times come out?

1982. The last year of the 70's. A quarter of a century ago. They can keep the inflation, the hostage crises, the baseball stadium riots, and even the hair-styles (though I wouldn't mind the short-shorts). But I want a little of that anti-authoritarianism back. We need it.

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16 Comments:

Anonymous John Royal said...

IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER! IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER! IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER!

Thank you, Mike. Thank you. But how dare you try to spoil my memories of "Meatballs" by linking it to trash like "ET.:

Oh, and Jennifer Jason Leigh -- I would think 1000 movies in which she's taken off her clothes, but why quibble over numbers? I just remember that a guy I went to college with used to call her J.J. Lay -- just thought that was funny.

And I think I saw that "Alice In Wonderland" thing many years ago when I had Skinemax.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

E.T. was just a point of comparison. Even Spielberg thumbed his nose at The Man.

10:56 AM  
Blogger DCup said...

Holy crap. This post just walked me through the greater part of my adolescence. The only thing missing is the lip gloss, comb in my back pocket, and Little Kings in the back seat of a 1976 Ford Granada.

Thanks!

11:31 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

DCup, you're most welcome (and with a profile pic like that, not sure why I'd think otherwise if came here and called me an asshole).

lip gloss, comb in my back pocket, and Little Kings in the back seat of a 1976 Ford Granada

Must've seen you at the roller rink. Were you the one wearing Jordache, Sassoons, or Calvins?

12:02 PM  
Blogger George said...

Even in E.T., for crissakes, the villains were the authorities. Think about it: the aliens were the good guys, the government the bad.

Yeah, but ET learned English and was kind enough to shill for Reese's and AT&T. You can't get the illegal immigrants to do that these days....

12:42 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

kind enough to shill for Reese's and AT&T

This is true. Even when flexing his anti-authoritarian muscles, Spiels was still Spiels.

1:04 PM  
Anonymous Applesaucer said...

Nice one -- you worked a lot of good stuff in there.

Question to the forum: As has been discussed many a time, when Ratner plays Kashmir in the car, he's playing s song off Physical Graffitti, even though Damone has advised him to play Side Two of Led Zeppelin IV.

Did the Director screw this up, or did the fictional character screw it up? I can't imagine they'd be so clever for it to be the latter, but you never know.

5:15 PM  
Blogger DCup said...

Mike: Thanks! Calvins, baby, Calvins. And the roller rink was a favorite haunt when we could get a ride there. Otherwise, it was hanging at the DQ.

6:36 PM  
Blogger Dwilkers said...

Gawd almighty. Meatballs. I actually thought I was high that year and it had never really been made, that it was just a bad dream.

The Battle for Algiers is sitting on the bar right now waiting for me to cram it in the DVD this weekend.

7:08 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

when Ratner plays Kashmir in the car, he's playing s song off Physical Graffitti, even though Damone has advised him to play Side Two of Led Zeppelin IV.

Not to be a pain-in-the-ass, but this is the final, essential piece of Damone's 5-Point Plan: And five, now this is the most important, Rat. When it comes down to making out, whenever possible, put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV.

Side one, not side two. But more importantly, the advice to to play LZIV when it came down to making out. "Kashmir" was on when they were driving to the Schnitzel palace. The making oit moment came in Stacy's bedroom when Ratner wussed out.

So . . . perhaps Rat felt Kashmir was ok for the drive in, but he was saving LZIV for later.

DCup -

Calvins, baby, Calvins. Well, as Brooke said, nothing got between her and her Calvins.

Dwilkers -

I actually thought I was high that year. 1979? You probably were.

Good move on Battle of Algiers. Curious to hear what you think.

9:31 AM  
Blogger Dwilkers said...

On The Battle of Algiers.

The foreign shoestring budget type film with subtitles isn't normally something I go in for. However the film is crafted in such a way that it doesn't come across the way these normally do. There is an almost documentary feel to the film.

Another surprise for me is I found myself enjoying the film despite being unsympathetic to any of the characters in the film or to either side of the fight. The revolutionaries are played as ignorant, brutal thugs willing to blow up children. The French soldiers are portrayed as brutal, lying torturers willing to do anything to succeed.

The topical nature is obvious - a western power occupying an unwilling Muslim populace, the clash of cultures, mores and customs, the conflict between fundamental Islam and secular democracy with all its "problems" of drugs, sexual freedom etcetera. The film is worth watching for the way it conveys all that alone.

I think it would be accurate to describe the film as documenting the horrors of war rather than sympathetic to either side. It displays both sides as cynical and cruel, mindlessly dedicated to their end goal and unrepentant.

I thought it was a very good movie and worth seeing in light of current events - I'd say it really should be viewed by people with strong opinions on our current conflict. I'd give it 4 stars and about a 2 on the watch stareometer.

We also watched The Devial Wears Prada this weekend, neither one of us liked it and it took 2 tries to sit through it all. 2 stars, 7 on the watch stareometer.

4:10 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Glad you saw it, and glad you enjoyed it. As you know from what I wrote last month, I generally agree with your take on it.

That even-handed treatment of the two sides is its best feature.

7:55 PM  
Blogger Otto Man said...

Spicoli, let's remember, wins the jackpot for doing nothing other than watching Brad Hamilton save the day

You know, I'm not sure if I do remember this. My Fast Times knowledge is all quotes and jokes, with little room for the plot. What happened again?

As far as Led Zep, I always took that as a sign that Ratner just couldn't seal the deal.

8:47 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Spicoli, let's remember, wins the jackpot for doing nothing other than watching Brad Hamilton save the day

You know, I'm not sure if I do remember this. My Fast Times knowledge is all quotes and jokes, with little room for the plot. What happened again?


You know, I think I screwed this up, myself. I think he just watched hamilton save the 7-11 situation with the coffee to the eye thing. But according to the American Graffiti/Animal House "Where are they Now" thing at the end, Spicoli saved Brooke Shields (?) from drowning and used the reward money to hire Van Halen to play his birthday party.

But I could be wrong again.

8:54 AM  
Blogger Otto Man said...

Yeah, Spicoli watches the coffee heroism.

The Brooke Shields-Van Halen thing is a dream, I believe. "Where do you get those jackets, dude?"

9:48 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

No. In the dream he just won some big surfing competition (and he was off to party in London with "Mick & the Stones").

I'm pretty sure he saved Brooke (or whoever the chick was) in the "where are they now" thing.

10:09 AM  

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