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.