Those Eighties Movies


Further to the Ferris Bueller post I got to thinking about our mindset in that strange time. Creeping in around this time, at the first wave of corporate excess, came a cruel racism that manifested itself in characters like Andrew Dice Clay, who I remember referred to immigrants as ‘the urine-coloured people’. John Hughes’ movies  (and other films like ‘Better Off Dead’ and ‘Say Anything’) kept the national mood at bay, although I think if ‘The Breakfast Club’ was being remade now it would hopefully include a slightly improved ethnic mix.

Hughes’ movies are pretty white, but that reflects the truth back then. We did not have so many friends of other ethnicity, and it was not through lack of trying but lack of opportunity.

The Hughes films are all massively quotable, the pinnacle being ‘Trains, Planes and Automobiles’, but even ‘Pretty In Pink’ has them; ‘His name is Blaine? That’s a major appliance.’ He made some clunkers like ‘Weird Science’) but then there’s ‘Home Alone’, and my personal favourite, ‘Vacation’. The reason for this last film being so good is that Hughes was first and foremost a comedy writer. He only directed eight movies but wrote dozens, plus a huge number of articles for magazines, especially ‘National Lampoon’.

‘Vacation’ is a surprisingly well-observed comedy based on a short story about the accidental shooting of Walt Disney (Warner changed the reference). Chevy Chase’s finest hour is filled with great moments, from the pan-shot of everyone asleep in the speeding car (including the driver) to Imogen Coca’s ghastly grannie, dead in the family roadster whose colour is described by the salesman as ‘Metallic Pea’. Chevy Chase’s awkward efforts to bond with his children are terrific.

I rather optimistically tried to buy the rights to Hughes’s short story when I was 21, not realising that 21st Century Publications, who owned the Lampoon, were also connected to Warners. The short story is darker and funnier, and was toned down for the movie.

Darker tones in eighties films don’t rely on jokes about body fluids but on character development. John Candy and Judd Nelson both get scenes in which their characters reveal sad truths about themselves, and in ‘Gremlins’ Phoebe Cates delivers the darkest tale of them all about the death of Santa Claus.

My favourite American comedies from this decade (because I loved a lot of world comedies too) were ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’, ‘A Christmas Story’, ‘Raising Arizona, ‘The Blues Brothers’, ‘Big’, ‘Heathers’, ‘An American Werewolf In London’, ‘Pee Wee’s Big Adventure’, ‘Three Amigos’ and ‘Beetlejuice’, which also has the great Jeffrey Jones in it and and endlessly quotable script.

So, because Aretha Franklin has left us, let’s have her great moment from ‘The Blues Brothers’ today.


12 comments on “Those Eighties Movies”

  1. Brooke says:

    Ah yes, the SNL crew and Hollywood do blaxploitation. (at :03)

    In the eighties, people of color in the US found a tiny window opening for them in film. A range of approaches resulted, from the typical Hollywood Trading Places and Glory (Matthew Broderick again) to Lee’s 40 Acres and a Mule productions, from Purple Rain to Krush Groove. And we continue evolving.

  2. Sally Erickson says:

    There will never be another Aretha. Thank you for showing that wonderful film clip.

  3. Jan says:

    When you think on it Eddie Murphy did some pretty brave stuff at the height of his popularity. Can’t remember all the titles but the film(s?) he did with all black castings (apart from occasional odd individual white character) made people stop and think . Made filmmakers and filmgoers look at the world differently.

    “Trading Places” is one of my all time favourite films.

    The world was a very different place back in the ’80s “Loadsa money” was the mantra of many. Greed is good.
    Deregulation of the City of London (with the seeds at that point being sown for the financial crash of 2008 ) The miners strike. Reagan’s “trickle down” theory of economics. Feels like ancient history but so much that’s good and bad in our now stems from the thinking done back then.

  4. Peter Dixon says:

    Take a jump back to 1974 and we see ‘Blazing Saddles’, one of the funniest movies of all time that wouldn’t get past a sales pitch nowadays. Mel Brookes had lots of complaints ‘but mostly from white people’. Richard Pryor was one of the writers but didn’t get to play the lead because of his drug convictions.
    Seems we all went backward from this point.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    First time the list of titles resonates with me. All the way from Roger Rabbit to Blazing Saddles. I mentioned to some friends that Blazing Saddles was one of my all time favourites and had them shrink away in horror, “that’s such a racist movie” I was surprised to learn from my husband that the destruction of the red line buses was exactly the way it’s shown in Roger Rabbit, another all time favourite. Think I’ll put that on tonight.
    Somehow I haven’t seen Blues Brothers but if it has Aretha Franklin singing it’s got my vote. I think I know what Brooke means by blaxploitation but other than the backup singers in this clip I don’t see it and MS Franklin’s performance makes you want to stand and cheer.

  6. Wayne Mook says:

    I always had a soft spot for Weird Science, it featured Killing Joke’s Eighties, but I guess I was the age it was aimed at then.


  7. Wayne Mook says:

    PS meant to say if you want a Hollywood Blaxploitation film, try Live and Let Die.


  8. Ian Luck says:

    I love ‘Weird Science’ and detest ‘Home Alone’ ‘Weird Science’ has lots of little nods for the sci-fi/horror movie fan, the best of which is having guys from ‘Mad Max’, and ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ (“Could we keep this between ourselves – I’d hate to lose my teaching job.”). It has a very young Robert Downey junior, and the late, great Bill Paxton, as the montrous Chet, from whom comes the best thing ever to say to someone with a bad hangover: ” Would you like a greasy pork chop, served in a dirty ashtray?” I can’t top that, so I’ll go.

  9. Peter Tromans says:

    These films benefit from excellent actors, Chase, Wilder, Martin, Candy…, who make the most of the material.

  10. Jan says:

    You know when you think about your favourite pictures I wonder if they are best thought of in terms of the decades they were made in.
    Me favourite films of the 1970s, 1980s etc. Films from different eras are hard to compare some how.

    Helen for some reason I am having right trouble with this blessed tablet sending you these pictures of Tivertons canal. I have a load and when I am compiling photos for Facebook posts it’s easy I just pick a few and form an album. Doddle even if photos 3 years old.

    Now for some reason I am 2 thick to figure out I have to scroll back 12 months pick out a picture put it on an e mail then scroll all the way back again. I’m worn out. Am going to Tiverton again in a couple of weeks I just like the quiet and the horse plodding along the tow path it’s so beautiful the route along the canal. . Providing it isn’t tippling down will take a few pics for u. I KNOW there must be a shortcut to this photo album contraption. Ruddy thing.
    At least we will find out if there’s been any progress reinstating the railway line. Probably like a busy building site. With no peace @ all!

    Not booking this trip for photo taking purposes as I have been defeated by Amazon honestly!

  11. Helen Martin says:

    Mercy, Jan. I am on Facebook if that’s easier, although printing off Facebook is harder. My man is still in hospital with no internet access but is cheerful and saying he can feel improvement. The physioterrorists are pleased too and he should be going to rehab soon. The canal should be just the thing.

    I have just found Hadley Freeman’s “Life Moves Pretty Fast” and am reading about Dirty Dancing. It’s very idiosyncratic but says a lot of good stuff already about 80s movies and I’m only on page 25. (Another author whose name made me think she was male. I’m waiting for families to believe their daughters can succeed in life without having to hide under a male sounding name.)

  12. Chris Everest says:

    My brother told me Pee Wee Herman was funny. He lied.
    I suspect it was because I told him the Quiller Memorandum had a brilliant ending.
    He went to live in Aberdeen.

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