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Vintage? Or archaic?, posted by Enrique G

“You see, this profession is filled to the brim with unrealistic motherfuckers. Motherfuckers who thought their ass would age like wine. If you mean it turns to vinegar, it does. If you mean it gets better with age, it don’t.”

Marsellus Wallace, Pulp Fiction

Marsellus is talking about boxers in the above quote, but he could just as easily be talking about Hollywood or film in general.  Whether it is failing to utilize “actresses of a certain age” until they really need someone to play old old, or in a more technical light going back and touching up effects to erase wires and boom mikes that would otherwise be visible in the shot, film works very hard to facilitate an illusion.  Some of these sleights of hand hold up well no matter the number of years that have passed.  Others…not so much.

This came to mind recently in a discussion with some of my fellow basement dwellers about the film Independence Day.  As Sam put it, “I hadn’t watched it in almost a decade… and I was pretty drunk at the time.  It seemed pretty good when I was a teenager. And again when I was drunk years later.”  Now he and his lady fair were laughing at it when they weren’t cringing at how horrible the acting, dialogue and action were.

This observation struck me as odd, given their recollection of it is exactly what I remember being true about the movie then and that was part of it’s charm.  I think I described it back then as being The Poseidon Adventure with aliens, a disaster flick that is laughable for how seriously it tries to take itself.  The main thing that keeps it from being a 90s Michael Bay film for me is that it never quite goes over the line of taking itself too seriously.  Sam sees it otherwise, and as such the years make its flaws much more evident for him, where I see this cheese as a serviceably aged cheddar.  You wouldn’t put it out for guests, but melted on toast it does what it has to.

I got to thinking about the movies of my past that I love and which wouldn’t hold up so well for me today, now that I’ve worked to earn the label of movie snob.  Some of the movies I hold dear from my youth still have the same hold on me today they did then (Raider of the Lost Ark is the first to come to mind).  Others I look at and have to wonder what the hell I was thinking (Clash of the Titans, anyone?).

Later this year, Disney is going to be releasing a sequel to one of my favorite pieces of celluloid junk food from my youth.  Given the original had a shelf life considerably shorter than the average Twinkie, I considered five movies I loved from my youth that aged less than gracefully, and five that still embody the Don Lockwood credo of “Dignity…always dignity.”  It’s a rather arbitrary delineator, but I’m cutting the list off at anything that was released after I graduated from high school, and a movie can’t qualify for this list if I didn’t see it for the first time until after I went to college.

Moldy Cheesits

  1. Tron (1982) – It’s not just the effects work that has been left behind, though the light cycles are still wicked cool.  Listening to some of the tech-speak in this movies is downright painful for just how Clu-less it was even then.  I know the laptop I’m writing this on now has hundreds of times the power of your average consumer desktop from back then, but I still wince when I hear Jeff Bridges’ Flynn talk about how “Somewhere in one of these….memories is the evidence!”  As a kid raised in a video arcade, it will always be special to me because I loved the games it spawned.  But I’ll be happy to see the tech updated for modern times not just in the dialogue but in the finished product on screen.  If Ducati could make a cycle that looked that wicked awesome, I’d go out and get a license to ride one even if doing so would terrify me beyond belief.
  2. The Karate Kid (1984) – Part of me is actively ashamed that I ever liked this movie, let alone that I went and saw it multiple times in the theater the summer it was released.  Let’s be frank here: the role of Mr. Miyagi is pretty freaking racist in the way it plays to stereotypes of Japanese-Americans (and seriously…a nom for Best Supporting Actor that year?!?!).  Ralph Macchio gets on my last nerve with his whiny bullshit.  And it wasn’t a crush on Elisabeth Shue, as I don’t think I saw her in anything after until Leaving Las Vegas.  I recognize that there’s going to be a fair bit of teen angst in any coming-of-age flick, and this has the added handicap of being an underdog movie as well.  But for fuck’s sake…what was I thinking.  And while we’re at it, Bill Simmons needs to lay off the crack pipe.  There is no way in hell this is one of the 15 best sports movies of all-time.  You won’t argue about this Bill because THERE IS NO ARGUMENT!  You’re on drugs, end of story.
  3. Krull (1983) – I have no excuses beyond being a really stupid kid for digging this movie when I was 11.  The only justification that I can recall was being enraptured by The Glave. the star shaped weapon that Ken Marshall slung around this horrible sci-fi/fantasy hybrid.  Bad effects work, worse story, worst acting.  I think the Glave effect was a holdover from the discs of Tron.  That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
  4. Iron Eagle (1986) – Ok, forget how utterly implausible the premise of this movie is in a post-9/11 world, how in the hell did the idea seem believable pre-9/11?  Doug Masters (Jason Gedrick), son of an Air Force pilot shot down and held prisoner in a rogue Middle Eastern state, conspires with his dad’s old wingman Col. Chappy Sinclair (Louis Gossett, Jr.) to steal two F-16s from an Air Force base, fly them halfway around the world, bomb the base and rescue his dad.  The only thing this movie does for me today?  Gossett, Jr. winning the Oscar 4 years prior for An Officer and a Gentleman starring in this makes Jamie Foxx doing Stealth make sense.
  5. Modern Problems (1981) – I hadn’t thought about this movie in a long, long time.  It came up as I was combing the lists of box office results from the 80s trying to think of movies that I went nuts over at the time.  I think I probably only saw this movie because as memory serves, my parents absolutely loved it when it came out and it got a shitload of replay on Showtime in the year or two after release.  Chevy Chase as a strung-out loser air traffic controller who gets imbued with telekinetic powers when exposed to radioactive waste.  Yes, this is something that was greenlit in the 80s.  To it’s credit, the “sex” scene he has with Patti D’arbanville is still kinda funny (and I use the air quotes around sex in this context very deliberately if you’ve never seen the movie).  But seriously horrible 1980s comedy excess at work.

So what still holds up over the years for me?  Raiders as mentioned above is a given.  After that:

Fine wines and aged cheddar

  1. An American Werewolf in London (1981) – I don’t remember exactly how it was I managed to get to see this at such a young age.  My parents weren’t draconian about me not seeing R-rated features, but even then this would have been a bit extreme for them to allow.  Must have been on cable.  All I remember from then and still know now: the scares it throws at the viewer still make me jump, and the transformation scene is still fucking magic.  As a plus, as an adult I appreciate the wry humor of the movie so much more.
  2. Ghostbusters (1984) – Time hasn’t been kind of some of the effects work, especially in the age of HD.  The green screen is pretty painfully obvious with the gargoyle scenes and some of the long shots of Mr. Stay-Puft. But the movie’s still brilliantly funny, well written with great, memorable scenes.  My guess is that I saw this more than a dozen times in the theater (back when admission was still a dollar or two, and God doesn’t that make me feel old).
  3. Poltergeist (1982) – Is it the clown?  A little person (god rest you, Zelda Rubenstein)?  Drowning in the half-done pool in the backyard?  The gnarled old tree?  This movie hit on a lot of phobias for a lot of different people, never mind the creepy little girl that Carol Ann Freeling (the late Heather O’Rourke).  Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg hit all the right notes on this one.  I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing up just thinking about that damn clown.
  4. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) – Not much I can say to this beyond that it was a teen movie then that resonated with a lot of adults.  Almost 25 years later, that’s still the case.  I was Cameron back then.  I don’t know that I’m any closer to being Ferris today, but I know I’ve let some of my inner Cameron go, and am thankful for that.
  5. The Fly (1986) – I was too young then to get Cronenberg’s whole thing with the New Flesh.  Was way too young still for Videodrome or Scanners, and I still don’t know I get that Videodrome now.  Back then, I thought it was both the coolest and the grossest thing I’d ever seen when Jeff Goldblum first showed Geena Davis how Brundlefly would “eat”.  Today it’s still really gross…and really freaking cool.

Honorable mention on the latter list for The Last Starfighter, which holds a similar place in my heart to Tron.  I welcome your recommendations for your favorite vintages of film, or that cinematic leisure suit you’re embarrassed to admit you loved once.

6 Comments

  1. You need to remember that when Independence Day came out, I was a teenager. Explosions equaled Awesome. Everything else was easily ignored.

    I mean… I’d get distracted when Braveheart was playing in the background from making out with my girlfriend by the stuff burning on the screen.

    Posted on 15-Mar-10 at 9:00 pm | Permalink
  2. Hmm… I like 4/5 of your cheesy movies and 4/5 of your classic movies. I’ll have to make my own list soon. ^^

    Posted on 15-Mar-10 at 9:15 pm | Permalink
  3. Derek

    I showed both Last Starfighter and Krull to my family at various times over the last couple years.

    Apparently Last Starfighter held up, and Krull didn’t. Even I was a little embarassed I had liked Krull.

    Dragon Slayer was still kinda good though.

    And I still have a fondness for Beastmaster.

    Also, um, Star Wars?

    Posted on 16-Mar-10 at 7:56 am | Permalink
  4. Enrique G

    Sam: And I think that’s sort of the point, how the things you appreciate/value in a film sometimes evolve over time as your tastes change. Or some things that entertain you will always be eternal.

    Carlos: Which flick didn’t make the cut on each side?

    Derek: Here’s one for you – did you ever play the Krull video game? I actually remember it somewhat, think I played it at the arcade by the theater where I saw it. The (then) Montwood 3 in El Paso. Yes, I remember the theater. Yes, I need help. I also think Starfighter holds up better because of Robert Preston as Centauri and Dan O’Herlihy as Grig. Good performances there from both.

    And re: Star Wars…there are certain films (like Raiders as well) that I think are canon and just go beyond this debate into something else entirely because they are classics. And Star Wars winds up spinning into a whole different debate because of the way Lucas mucked with them after the fact on the effects work, something for which he needs to spend eternity getting violated by a double-ended light saber with in a dark circle of cinematic hell. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

    Posted on 16-Mar-10 at 8:04 am | Permalink
  5. I didn’t like Iron Eagles or the Fly back in the day. (No idea why I didn’t like the Fly; it seems like the kind of thing I would have enjoyed). I haven’t seen either since I was a kid, though- I’ll have to try them again some time. Perhaps if they show up on TV. Or I have some kind of mental illness that compels me to suffer. ^_^

    Posted on 16-Mar-10 at 8:41 am | Permalink
  6. Enrique G

    Derek, you probably saw this in your googling, but figured I’d share: http://www.arcade-museum.com/K/Krull.html

    Posted on 16-Mar-10 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

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