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