Saturday, March 01, 2014

Acidemic's Best Films of the 1980s

Jack Torrance wants to say hi - but you have to see him first. See him in there - dead center?

Ugh, February, the month of hassles and cold and weariness. Slogging towards March like a slouchy Bethlehem that evaporates on clammy handed contact. Another March 2nd means another year older for your humble narrator, another step closer to the grave. I've been looking for a way out, and I found one --the past! Thirty very odd years ago, to the 80s, a time when American became, once more, tragically uncool. NatGeo is showing their entire 80s series today - Sat. March 1st -- right now they're saluting Reagan. And now skate parks... I'm watching, in soggy despair. They're missing so much!

To me, the 1980s begins the now-forgotten Betamax vs. VHS war. Before there were video stores, when you rented tapes from the appliance store back room, and it was split half-and-half with Betamax and VHS formats. That's how it began.

My generation, the non-film critics, are currently trying to assemble a Best of 80s canon, mostly crap that evokes nostalgia to them, like Ferris Bueller (which I loathe on principle) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (or acts of admittedly brilliant but manipulative bromide pap like Tootsie and Terms of Endearment.  Someone, me, needs to step in and take the best-of list pencil away before these nostalgia-bewitched old yuppies hurt themselves.

Don't think I don't love some of the aforementioned too, in my fashion. I can quote them endlessly (because of the VCR), namely, Tootsie and Raiders (we had them both on tape). Here, can you guess which lines are from which movie (these all off the top of my head): Was ist los? Warum schläfst du!? Nobody cared... nobody showed; Blow it up! Blow it back to God; That is one nutty hospital; Too bad you don't speak Hovito, you might have warned them; I could have done without the dancing. Truth is... truth is you were okay company; Why don't you tell where the ark is, ah right now?; Michael, I begged you to get some therapy; The charmer's name was Gaffe... I'd seen him around.

Wait, that last one is Blade Runner's now excised voice over, and thank god - how we hated that damned voiceover. We hated everything about the 80s, aside from the rise of the advent of the VCR. That was a miracle and we were saved by it. Then, in 1987 of course, when--in college sophomore year-- I discovered another miracle.

 We could escape the 80s altogether.

With the right set and setting we live in the 60s.

But now, in the 10s, the 80s, especially its cinema, which now glows with tactile pre-CGI analog 35mm celluloid brilliance, having been converted flawlessly to Blu-ray... for-widescreen-HD-TVs.

(the below descriptions are taken from past posts or are new - links appear where applicable). 

Top 15 of the 1980s (in reverse chronology)

(1982) Dir. Jean Luc Godard
...Godard assumes his audience has seen many films, and so comes to his with pre-set responses to cinematic iconography (and that includes the meta-iconography of 'a film about filmmakers')--he riffs on these the way Ornette Coleman might riff on "Melancholy Baby." We're made aware of how dogmatically we're conditioned by a lifetime of filmgoing and story hearing. When a film adheres too closely to predetermined narrative formulations, we have cliche, When a film deliberately screws with them we have Godard: a medieval knight on a horse is seen trying to scoop up a naked, running maiden while racing a horse around a circular spinning scenery wheel --thunderous classical music on the soundtrack, hoofbeats, her frightened panting and shrieks--this generates a certain preconditioned response: Will we see this chick being carried off? Will we see the hero ride to her rescue? Where is this hero? Your stomach might clamp in suspense, used to a thousand permutations of the same immanent virginal violation. Suddenly the horse pulls up short so it doesn't bump into a moving camera; the naked maiden runs off set and hides behind the cameraman; the knight rides after her; she climbs up into the lighting rigging to escape; the knight dismounts and goes to have a smoke.. The Stunt Man is suddenly as bound up in linear single-line narrative reality as DW Griffith by comprison... (more)

14. AKIRA 
(1988) Dir. Katsuhiro Otomo

The quintessential cyber punk anime, Akira occurs in a riot-scarred "Neo-Tokyo" on the verge of some massive unnamed catastrophe and peppered with amok biker gangs, conspiratorial cops, cute anarchists, riots, flying vehicles, telekinetic mutants, and teddy bear hallucinations, all so gorgeously illustrated that time melts and even the tear gas flows gorgeous enough to leave your already-dropped jaw so low it distends off your skull and HDMI-ready flesh tendrils reach out, connecting your tongue directly to the screen.

The plot may hinge in the end on one of those typical Asian male friendships between differing misfits (one of whom goes crazy) but there's a cataclysmic beer-after-liquor-never-sicker sort of apocalypse involved this time, as the government-sponsored Methuselah syndrome psionics try to reign in Akira's crazy friend who's become godlike and fallen in love with smashing half the city. When things get quiet enough you can hear Walt Disney's frozen head explode deep in a bunker beneath Magic Mountain. 

(1987) Dir. Norman Jewison

Does a mainstream ethnic humor rom-com film like this really belong on a disreputable but oh-so artsy list like mine, you ask? How dare you? What would you put instead, Tootsie? I thought about it, but I saw it recently and it hasn't aged as well. We've grown hipper about patriarchal subtext so we're wise to Dustin Hoffman's whole 'better woman than a woman' schtick, now (re: Molly Haskell). But Moonstruck eschews stealth-patriarchal pop and instead looks to the great Italian operas (and Dino) for its soundtrack, and Cher is luminous. If you never quite 'got' the appeal, see her in this and be a believer. Her chemistry with Nicolas Cage sizzles right through the cast iron skillet. She has the best walk of shame ever; watch how she comes wafting in to her mother the next morning and as soon as she hears her fiancee has returned, starts taking off her make-up and dressing back down from the opera and into a frumpy (but still glamorous) sweater, all while engaging in several layers of dialogue with Olympia Dukakis as her mother.

A relative unknown at the time, Nicolas Cage brings so much mushmouth ferocity to lines like "Gimme da knife so I can cut my froat!" and "Get in my bed!" that we all would have fallen off a cliff for him if he asked and given us one of those hooded stares. Never before had we laughed at and with and swooned over someone at the same time. Between this and Raising Arizona (also 1987) and The Vampire's Kiss (1988), Cage became instantly iconic, akin to what Brando must have been 30 years before but harnessed to wild John Barrymore-in-Twentieth Century level lunacy: that infectious mix of madness, heat, wit, beauty, and ferocity, unleashed at the right time, electrified the house like Castle's tingler. Interestingly enough, all three of these Cage films from that era are dark comedies, though Jewison's is only dark literally. Its beautiful palette of black clothes, red roses, perfect clothing (was there ever a more beautiful--uniquely Italian/New York City-dressed couple at the Metropolitan Opera?) and silvery  giant moon-lit nights helps balances the comic-earthy hues of the characters and brings tension without need for animosity and comedy without slapstick. It all climaxes in a family breakfast where all grievances are aired, love declared, and Olympia Dukakis steals all her scenes with little more than a series of resigned sighs. Forget Scorsese, it was this film that made me proud to be dating overlapping Italian-American chicks at the time. Seeing it today, it holds up way better. The more viewings the richer its mythic sweep, allowing all the myriad details to seep in. 

(1986) Dir. Pedro Almodóvar

Already his fifth film, Matador marks the turning point of Spain's beloved Pedro Almodóvar from a post-Franco celebratory shock cinema queer anarchist to something infinitely darker, yet more tender and compassionate and above all, more brave in gamely crossing meta-borders vis-a-vis intertextual cinematic reference. After a disturbing credit sequence involving a toreador (Nacho Martinez) masturbating to a a tape editing together death scenes (from Bava's Blood and Black Lace and others I'm not familiar with), we find him lecturing a class on the proper way to kill a bull in the ring, intercut with a strange woman (Assumpta Serna) killing her lover in just such a way, piercing him in the back of the neck with a hatpin. Almodovar tacks on plenty of other links between serial killing, bullfights and sex, so we're not really sure if this is his attempt at a sun-drenched horror film. But then Bernardo Bonezzi's small minor key piano motif plays over it all and it becomes an almost Sleepless in Seattle-level romantic melancholy reverie. Suddenly we want, we need, these two sick fucks to meet. Avoiding last second 'life wins' interruptions we're in the zone between Lewin's Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951 - also set in Spain with bullfighting allegories) and 1934's Mediterranean-set Death Takes a Holiday. With Hitchcock / Wellesian / Bunuelian homage, death drive-to-the-floor Freudian psycho-savvy, color-coded symbolism, a theater playing King Vidor's Duel in the Sun, and a solar eclipse, Almodovar strews roses on the path forward to a romantic lover's climax so free of the usual last-second morality and phony sentiment it restores one's faith in cinema. Dub it a downer if you want but then you'd best run back under the censor's skirts for protectionbecause cinema's true heart is darkness, not sentiment, no matter how remorseless beats the Spanish afternoon sun.

A very young Antonio Banderas plays Diego's psychic, vertigo-stricken protege; Eva Cobo is Diego's model girlfriend who dresses in red like she wants to be the cape waved by this once-star toreador; Almodóvar regulars Carmen Maura, Veronica Forque, Chuz Lampreave also appear in memorable bits, and the astonishing drag-ilicious Bibi Andersen is a flower girl; Almodóvar himself cameos as a fashion designer. Great as they are, though, the film belongs to Martinez's cobra-hooded toreador and the very sexy Serna's femme fatale, so voluptuously bloodthirsty Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct is but an ice tray-cracking naif by contrast. Most American fans of Almodóvar started out with the 1988 hit Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown or Todos Sobre Mi Madre in 2000, but rich, hilarious, brilliantly acted and subversively life-affirming as those films are, I'll take Matador... to the bloody grave!

(1981) Dir. John Boorman

Time has been kind to this deeply Jungian retelling of the Arthur legend. It takes a few dozen viewings to really understand what's going on, especially if you see it only on a second generation pan and scan VHS dupe for 20 years. But thanks to the beautiful Blu-ray I have finally figured out most of it, and even if incomprehensible there's the beauty and the Wagner and the natural magic. A mythic interpretation of how lust can wreck the noblest intentions, it has something close to the stirring manly grace that only loyalty to a worthy king can provide, and may be John Boorman's most perfectly realized film, once you unscramble what kind of masculine Jungian shizz he's after. He also stocks the film with an array of dreamy class-A Brit thespians players incl. Helen Mirren, Liam Neeson, Nicol Williamson, Gabriel Byrne, Patrick Stewart, Nigel Terry, all drinking the same Wolfram von Eisenbach-laced Kool-Aid through glistening glasses that make armor gleam like mirrors. See it and become a fan of "Siegfried's Funeral March" from Wagner's Ring cycle forever and ever. In homage, it made it onto the climax of my own Arthurian retelling, Queen of Disks (2005).

(1981) Dir. Andrzej Zulawski

Perhaps the only way to really understand and love this film is to be temporarily insane yourself, or at least to remember what it's like to have the terrifying freedom of flying fast and loose atop the ever-inward spiral of the maelstrom and have the experience now forever etched in your Silver Surfer memory. I'm thinking of Poe's story "A Descent into the Maelstrom," wherein a sailor finds himself on a damned ghostly boat hovering ever on the edge of a vast never-ending whirlpool wave. Our hero eventually escapes and is rescued only to find his ship mates no longer recognize him: "My hair, which had been raven-black the day before, was as white as you see it now. They say too that the whole expression of my countenance had changed." Sometimes that change of countenance has to happen: you've seen too much; you've peered beyond the veil and the veil has left its gnarly mark. 

Such things happen all the time, to those who dare to take the voyage into the maelstrom or walk that yellow "brick" road. Some of us are called to the curtain and bid look beyond, and some do, and they get white hair, if not a diploma. I've never seen a film before or since that made white such a violently post-modern wrenching force (not even in Kieślowski's WHITE or Argento's TENEBRE) except maybe in a humorous and romantic way, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, wherein white swallows up whole bookstores and kitchens of Jim Carey's memory. (MORE)

(1982) Dir. John Milius

Fuck it, I'm putting this in. We now know that 1982 was the single greatest year for sci fi and fantasy, giving us Blade Runner, The Thing, Road Warrior, Cat People, to name just a few. But of them all, for me, Conan has best survived the winds of change and become a classic as enduring as that ancient king's sword. The dead set opposite of many of the artier films in this list, it uses all the narrative tricks modernism eschews but brings such a heady focus, such an enraptured attention to even the smallest details, that repeat viewings just continue to reveal facets--especially in beautiful widescreen anamorphic and with some cut scenes restored. And best of all, surprisingly enough, is the love story between Valeria and Conan, one so touching it's been making fanboys of a certain age weep for the last 30 years. (more)

(1984) Dir. Alex Cox

Long before it split into a dozen subsets--straight-edge, goth, emo, and hardcore, etc--we alienated teens were all just one thing: punk, and the film that defined us was Repo Man. It had alien conspiracies (with roots in the real conspiracies rather than made up for the movie), oblique "lattice of coincidence" Greek chorus TV commentary ("He is risen!"), Emilio Estevez in the role for which we still love him (fuck Breakfast Club, man), consumer parody (everything's 'generic'), Harry Dean Stanton in the role for which he is now and forever considered cool by those who know, a Modern Lovers cover, and the Circle Jerks gamely going lounge. Along with Rude BoyGimme Shelter, and that great legendary T.A.M.I Show with James Brown and the Stones, this was part of a daily after-school TV party ritual for myself and my suburban punk brethren. We'd all imitate Dick Rude's whiny timbre, "let's go do some crimes" when going off to score booze or weed, and "I blame society" when we failed. When we went to work instead at our very first jobs, our very first taste of the grinding real world, Repo Man guided us like a drunk but cocksure shepherd. The Criterion Blu-ray finally reveals what we never saw on our ratty pan and scan taped-off-cable version, that director Alex Cox has a modernist knack for capturing not just the sunny desolation of L.A.'s seediest outer fringes, but its natural magic, each shot is like a piece of found object junkyard art. I still write within this film's kinetic but forlorn rhythms. And it made me a lifetime fan of the great Fox Harris ("I had a lobotomy, man!") - It's worth having Forbidden World (1982) on Blu-ray just because Harris is in it in kind of a similar role. It could almost be a prequel!

(1986) Dir. Oliver Stone

It's impossible to describe the effect this had on America and me at the time but I'll try: I was a sophomore in college in 1986, in upstate NY, where psychedelic molds and tie-dyes grow wild and my hippie-ish posse and I were all in the class America in the 60s (which PS- I failed). We had to see it while it was still in the theater, as homework. We called for a cab, piled in, smoked a joint with the driver at his request -- and the mushrooms we'd taken an hour earlier were kicking in by the time we sat down in the dark - our heightened sense giving the amazing jungle foley work an extra 3-D surround boost. Every humming bug and footstep dripped with possible ambush menace; humanity's potential for raw violent evil felt palpable in the jungle shimmer. We howled with relief when Sheen finally finds some a tent where everyone's smoking weed. Later, my buddy Jason had to leave for awhile when Bunny says those immortal words, "Sarge, did you see the way his head busted open like that?" But by then, I was enthralled, the psilocybin in my brain giving me rare access to the feeling of "hell yeah kill 'em all!" like I was channeling the madness of Colonel Kurz as a kind of rationalizing druggy courage, the mushrooms short-circuiting my pre-set empathic response, making everything I saw seem brand new and sans social sermon. The soul fear terror of the jungle was so palpable to me that the soldiers' level of sociopathic anger and violence seemed the only way to stay sane, if that makes any sense. If you ever took 'too much' of anything maybe you know the feeling: without a warrior howl, a game face, courage screwed sticky side-down, you'd wind up strapped down to a gurney, or freaking out your parents at dinner.

and his hair was perfect.
Seeing it later, on VHS, over and over, zonked out on whiskey and 3' graphix, was never quite the same as that magical afternoon in 1986, but I still have sympathy for the hardened Tom Berenger character and think Dafoe's hippy sarge is way too naive. Some elements are downright racist, (the Asian characters are all extra-alien and inscrutable, though that works for creating paranoia there's no excuse for making the black soldiers mostly cowardly and the first to fall asleep on guard duty) and Sheen's tacky voiceover ("They're the best I've ever seen, grandma") is almost as bad as the one, now excised, from Blade Runner.

But I'd heard of vet's cathartic reaction to the film, and I actually saw a sobbing vet-age man in the audience on the way out of the theater that afternoon, and even in the low house lights I could see he'd been crying, a cathartic wave of inky aura was fizzling around him like a fading wall of gnats, replaced by a pink light. He'd clearly been keeping a dark secret venom up in his nervous system for the last 15 years, and it was now broken open, leaking all over the sticky floor. I walked out on rubber legs and gave him one of those overly compassionate shroom looks. With Platoon, the horrible secrets of a nation seemed at last exposed to light as if some glorious combination award ceremony and drug intervention. This wasn't some silly Russian roulette gambit, a Willard going up river, or a paraplegic Jon Voight, this was maybe something like what the kind of low-to-the-ground eye view only a writer-director who was there at the time, with a gun in hand and people actively trying to kill him, could tell. The last time we were graced with such a survivor's eye view was the 50s, with Sam Fuller's Fixed Bayonets and Steel Helmet. --each of which made a comparable, if less publicized, mark on a generation of vets struggling to unpack their own collective traumas. But those boys had always been heroes; before Platoon, the Vietnam vets had been outcasts. Now, at last, we could begin to welcome them home. If that sounds corny, I guess you had to be there... or emerged within a convincing facsimile.

(1980) Dir. Martin Scorsese

I remember hearing a WBNC talk radio review of this film (I would have been 13) on my dad's clock radio one morning while he was in the shower and I was trying to think of a good illness to feign so I could stay home from school. The way the announcer went on I thought this landmark movie was going to crack open the world. I felt like wow, this movie sounds soooo adult and dangerous. It's sad that you don't hear that kind of literally unrestrained enthusiasm anymore, as if critics no longer trust their own instincts, or is it the pictures that got small? Maybe Raging Bull was the last time they really knew a masterpiece had landed brand new in front of their eyes. Yeah, maybe.

Flash forward a decade, Seattle, 1990: my girlfriend coming home from a traumatic day of work with a bad headache; me loafing in front of our tiny TV, drunk; LaMotta in a Florida jail pounding the wall shoitng "Dummy! DUMMY!" over and over while I drank; her raincoat angrily dropping onto the floor; I was hoping La Motta would stop beating the wall soon, as I could see what the misery of that scene was doing to her. But he kept pounding and screaming, and our apartment was too small to escape it. On and on the pounding went, breaking our relationship apart. I was to drunk to defend Scorsese's choice, or to find the remote and press stop, or remember how long that scene dragged on from past (also drunk) viewings.

We broke up. I drove to Syracuse in time for the block parties. When I came back to get my shit she was already dating a jackass hippie whose claim to fame was that he curated an open mic at the O.K. Hotel. He whinnied like a horse when he laughed and danced arms akimbo when he walked. But he was so terrified of me he ran literally the other way when he saw me comin' - I'm not gonna hurt ya! I shouted. Come 'eah!

Sure, despite it breaking up my relationship, Bull is a towering masterpiece but it's not fun, or perfect. And after the string of Leo-starring bros-behaving-badly films Marty's given us this past fifteen or so years, Scorsese's inability to depict a strong female character (even Alice should have just whacked Harvey Keitel over the head with a frying pan instead of running away) and his over-reliance on manly violence rather than exploring his castration anxiety head on and cutting through, if you'll forgive the expression, the bullshit, shows a willingness to use flashy editing and resonant masculine humor to avoid using the mirror for anything except lines, coke or poetry - makes no difference; they're the same, ain't they? Come 'eah!

The result is that now Jake LaMotta seems an odd choice for such artful storytelling. He's a thug, a bruiser, and might be suffering from paranoid derangement brought on by consistent head trauma. One last thing I remember from that relationship: trying to sleep at her place while I was in the midst of a terrible fever (Syracuse = always sick). She was in the other room, painting (VPA). I got up and in my delerium accused her of having a lover in the closet - then after I looked, I knew he was under the bed, I looked there too, nothing, but then I knew he was back in the closet. I kept looking in the closet over and over. I knew he was there even if he wasn't. Even while she was all alone in the other room I could hear her conspiring whispers and a man's voice, even though it was just a Billie Holiday album. I heard males whispering about me, laughing quietly with her about how easily they could snow me.  So when I see LaMotta all supernaturally jealous I wonder if head trauma would be the same thing as my fever.

That's no excuse though, and either way, the film is certainly rich enough with the language and pulsing rhythmic emotion of Little Italy it doesn't need great psychological insight, and yet... there's Cathy Moriarty laying out by a sparking community pool, being lured over to the wire fence by LaMotta (and in some senses the most courageous thing he does in the film) and in her breathy agreement, as much worldly romantic poetry as in any other movie on this list, .

Aside from Valeria's of course. DUMMY! 

(1986) Dir. David Lynch

I'll confess it took me a long way to come around to this movie. I found the violent thuggery disturbing and without a cathartic resolution. After a few decades of film theory and great books by Todd McGowan and Zizek helped me unravel my private relationship to its Freudian subconscious Oedipal separation trauma, that attitude began to change. Turns out the purple and blue velvet apartment where Kyle McLachlan spies through the closet blinds isn't merely his anger/anxiety over a woman being hurt, but a primal scene as understood through the mind of a child who mistrusts the animal grunts of sex and seethes with resentment over the dad's power to shut him out of the bedroom at a whim. The problem was mine not the film's - I myself was Frank as much as Kyle. Damn, that's deep. It prepped us all for Twin Peaks, and therefore the '90s.

Highlights include of course the beautiful Dean Stockwell, lip syncing Roy Orbison as a nightmarish gay stereotype (see CinemArchetype 18: The Aesthete) while Kyle behaves like a frightened kid hanging out with his drug dealer to score coke in order to impress some girl, all for the very first time. The initiation these terrifying people provide him is invaluable, and eventually he becomes a mature man through their loving abuse. Lynch's subsequent works would all point back to this key moment, some improving on it (Mulholland Dr.) some not so much (Wild at Heart - though that too is open to debate and changes as a viewer's psyche). But Blue Velvet is Lynch's first great 'cracking it wide open,' his Picasso's "Demoiselles d'avignon" his Pollock's 1947 drip stick moment. It endures and like a dream you'll find that it's never the same movie twice.

(1981) Dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder 

There can be no sleep for the German people unless they take Naziism as a bump in their record album and return to track one: the glory of the Weimar era of the post-WWI era. Fassbinder digs that and, for this candy-colored econo-comedy (set in 1957), he takes the mythos of the The Blue Angel (1929) and wraps it like a sticky carmel apple in a post-war restoration/corruption sagas, so that--as we do in Marriage of Maria Braun (1979)---we're watching the booming neo-Weimar weeds spring up from the WW2 rubble, leading to a whole new kind of Warners pre-code/Columbia-post-code Babrbara Stanwyck opportunity for the right kind of sauced neo-Dietrich seductress who doesn't mind pretending to be interested in Asian art if it means winning a bet for 30 cases of champagne. She just might fall in love with her mark's world-weary wisdom; he was a WW2 officer and still hasn't found a country to come home to (could she be it?) but can he forgive the way everyone already knows she's a slut?

It's perfect casting with gorgeous Barbara Sukowa as naughty Lola, whose drunken resentment of the incorruptible (but totally progressive pro-capital) Von Bohm ( Armin Muller-Stahl) leads to a typical night caught in the storm and spending 'some time' in an old barn (a pre-code hook-up spot) and a heartbreakingly sweet bit of church singing that takes them both by surprise. One of the most quietly disarming characters in the Fassbinder lexicon, Von Bohmm's gentle wit and limitless tolerance proves a perfect match for Lola, whose sloppy drunken abandon is always real and beautiful to see. A perfect third in the romance is her pimp /club owner/building contractor boyfriend Shukert (the delightful Mario Adorf) and the three of them somehow rebuild Germany through their 'only-in-the-Weimar' era level of tolerance (ala Rudi and Marlene). It's all for the best; nobody dies and everyone can get rich as part of the New Deal here in the West side of the Wall. Von Bohn gets to avoid having eggs smashed onto his forehead and crowing like a jackass; he winds up married to the lady with "the sweetest ass in all of NATO." Even the insufferably idealist protesting drummer accepts an expensive cigar and realizes there is no bad here, so where is Fassbinder aiming his cynicism? The neo-Weimar flowers are sweet with dolorous savors! (See Peter K. Tyson's great piece on Lola here and my analysis of the German economy, prostitution, the post-war black market and Blue Angel hier)

(1989) Dir. Ron Clements

If The Shining set the uncertain scary tone at the start of the 80s, then The Little Mermaid signaled the glorious start of the ending. Tapping deeply into the Jungian dream core of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, it reinvigorated Disney and sent them scrambling back to animation full time. The voiceover work is uniformly strong (the congested kid playing Flounder the only exception) especially Ursula the Sea Witch, luxuriantly voiced by Pat Caroll as a zaftig, tentacled hybrid of Margo Channing and Ethel Mermen. And what's most impressive, Ariel (Jodi Benson) breathes in the currents of the deep and her eyes dilate when she's turned on. Not to mention the prince is named Erich, all of which make Little Mermaid the best example of resonant Jungian archetypal myth since The Wizard of Oz. It's universal, yet we all feel it belongs only to us, that it's about us, and that's what myth does when it's working.

(1980) Dir. Stanley Kubrick

This is really a 70s movie, or rather the last movie of the 70s, virtually creating the 80s to come in its molten intellectual crucible. It even has a whole documentary devoted to critics exploring myriad paranoid deconstructions. (Room 237: See: Ripped Danny's Dopey Decal, baby). The film is open to almost anything because the space of the hotel is so vast the Torrence family each falls into a separate cabin fever --no direct link to each other, the social order or linear time/space--they dissolve into the archetypal time warp created by their own unconscious minds, which are, for our purposes, indistinguishable from reality, and from the ghosts and dark energy of the hotel... if any. They are like an iPod that must erase its current contents to connect with a new hard drive (the family name isn't 'torrents' for nothing). Danny is erased from his body altogether, to be replaced by his talking finger, Tony. Jack-- in his writerly determination to not be 'a dull boy'--can't figure out how to erase enough RAM and so is compelled to literally sever his family ties so he can reboot; Shelly's inability to get a 'normal' connection from either of the Torrance males drives her into hysterics. There's no new hard drive waiting to fill her memory, the social connection won't erase. With each new viewing she's less annoying and more genuinely heroic. (See: Pupils in the Bathroom Mirror).

(1985) Dir. Elem Klimov

A stunning movie that changed me absolutely, left me literally trembling in awe, and yet I never want to see it again. It's just too beautiful and disturbing, taking the Munch-ish scream of Kubrick's Shining, flooring it to the ceiling and exploding through the wall of what is possible in depicting brutality and beauty at once, telling through a child soldier's eyes of Bellarus's suffering at the hands of the Nazis until it becomes a bizarre transhumanist poetry, staggering in the way it encompasses the best of Tarkovsky, Kubrick and even David Lynch and just keeps expanding from there, widening from the unfathomable horror of war wider even than insanity's parameters.

As a side note, one thing that's kind of deeply reassuring about WWII is the way the Nazis bound us to the Russians in a forced realization of our shared humanity. We knew they were human too because they felt the same soul-crushing trauma liberating the camps. There was no way not to shudder if you were human, and that bound almost the entirety of the world together in a common cause. In Come and See we are as viewers united in a similar way, watching the sparkle in this kid's eyes gradually replaced by a twisted Munch scream, something the boy and girl stars (Aleksey Kravchenko and Olga Mironova) were supposedly hypnotized to be able to provide, something beyond human, a face unseen before or since in any cinema, so haunting I can't even post a pic (except for below and top, folded into collage - can you guess which face?).  Still relatively undiscovered either here or overseas, Come and See dwarfs the more highly praised Hollywood offerings of Citizen Kane and Vertigo, or at least standing rightly amongst them, at peer-level, as the crazy genius cousin, the one whose mad artistic gifts threaten to tear the fabric between history and the present, life and death, art and reality, until it's all one giant X-ray eye.

So that's the 80s. It can be summed I think in the above collage - all those crazed purple stares into camera, the rationalization for greed and monstrous evil creating itself like Escher's sketching hands.


  1. Nice pick with Come and See. Would have liked it if To Live and Die in L.A. replaced the Little Mermaid. When Petersen's character got shot in the face (I was 12 years old and sitting next to my dad at the Plitt in Century City) was when I was jolted, very quickly, out of whatever childish viewing habits and expectations (of what movies were supposed to do and what constituted a good guy and a bad guy, etc., etc.,) I had up to that point in my life. That movie moment signified my paradigm shift. Also would have liked to see The Hitcher - the best film ever made by a schizophrenic about schizophrenia - chosen. The 80s are still a very underrated decade, as everyone seems to be still in thrall to the Golden Age of the 70s. Other great 80s movies: Skolimowski's Moonlighting; The Fly; Alan Clarke's Elephant ; The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover; Miracle Mile; Blow Out; and Landis' Into The Night, which is his masterpiece and a inadvertent dry run for what Tarantino was about to offer.

  2. INTO THE NIGHT! Yes, I was just trying to remember that title when JG was on Colber this past week. And also THE FLY is awesome. COOK, THIEF makes me too nauseous but I appreciate its formal elegance, and Helen Mirren in the bathroom et al, but good lord.

  3. jervaise brooke hamster17 August, 2014

    Poltergeist, Poltergeist II, and Poltergeist III, but only because Heather was in them obviously.


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