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A year in Hollywood


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Don't worry, I already lectured JLewis on PM about how

A) Lucas didn't direct HtD (IMDb is your friend),

B ) Lucas was basically giving projects to his old obnoxious American Graffiti buddies, to 

C) Try and raise money for Skywalker Ranch--And when he couldn't, had to sell off his old CGI unit instead...Guess what happened to that one?

 

If all you remember about the 80's was Howard the Duck, you just weren't there, and JL says if it isn't all he remembers, it's all he's interested in.

 

(I had to go back and look at the beginning of the thread--Okay, so the thread actually IS about the history of the industry and not the movies themselves.

I wasn't paying much attention to the corporate-studio industry, so all I know is the movies and how they reflected their times.)

 

Well the movies denote trends and indicate how corporations stayed profitable (or not). So I encourage you to look at the films you remember from certain time periods and then figure out how their content was reflecting society at large as well as the studios' bottom line.

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I will be kind and gentle towards dear George. No, Howard was not his fault.

 

Actually a film like that isn't necessarily a "bomb", but an interesting reflection of the era it was produced in. If you want to really "get to know" The Eighties, that is the "Go To" flick to investigate.

 

In contrast, the contemporary released Top Gun with Tom Cruise puts me to sleep.

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(I had to go back and look at the beginning of the thread--Okay, so the thread actually IS about the history of the industry and not the movies themselves.

I wasn't paying much attention to the corporate-studio industry, so all I know is the movies and how they reflected their times.)

 

I dunno... I have gone off on the scenic route a lot here. I am sure you will do fine with these. I think you should at least do '82 if that's your favorite year... the year of My Favorite Year. '86 was also a big year for Cineplex Odeon, expanding their film production and video marketing because their theaters were struggling a bit in competition with the video stores. One way you can do this is pick a cross selection of titles that you feel best reflect that year's events and trends. Maybe even how you felt about them at that time too. I really did NOT like Platoon when I saw it late in 1986 and assumed that film would not win the next Best Picture Oscar. Boy, was I wrong! Of course, no look at 1985 would be complete without Rambo, which Roger Ebert apparently liked.

 

I guess I will go ahead and plop '81 now. May be too busy later. You can decide by the end of the week which of us should tackle '82. Despite ET: The Extra Terrestrial being the "feel good" pick, that was a rather dark year with The Twilight Zone tragedy shaking up Tinsel Town and prompting too-too many court battles regarding who was responsible for three deaths. Also Creepshow. Alas... somebody will have to figure out how to include Stephen King here.

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A Year In Hollywood: 1981

 

Part 1: All About The Image

 

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Thirty years after he starred in BEDTIME FOR BONZO, Ronald Reagan entered the White House, thus making many old movie plots of presidents played by actors now a reality. He was also blessed with two back-to-back strokes of good luck at the start of his term: the freeing of the American hostages in Iran and surviving successfully his own assassination attempt. Like the movies, the Reagan administration was All About The Image. Each glittery dinner in Washington played host to a who's-who of old time stars including Charlton Heston, Claudette Colbert, Frank Sinatra and even Ricardo Montalban, more famous now for FANTASY ISLAND. Some joked that the White House was resembling Norma Desmond's house of “waxworks”.

 

The death of John Lennon in December of 1980 marked the end of one era in popular music and the rise of MTV, launched the following summer, marked the dawn of a new one. Again this was All About The Image. Now musicians were required to create actual movies, quite often on actual 35mm film, in order to sell records (with compact discs and itunes not yet a reality). The MTV look would soon penetrate the theatricals as well as a new cross-promotion was discovered between the two industries of film and pop music, already intertwined by shared conglomerate owners (like Universal/MCA for example). For right now, before the great transition, animated features like the Gerald Potterton backed Canadian-US co-production HEAVY METAL and the still-in-production (over in the UK) PINK FLOYD - THE WALL were peddling out that last stage of “anything goes” experimental rock-seventies before technique got glossier and smoothed over.

 

MTV made good use of the emerging computerized imagery, along with older animated techniques (like claymation) to sell to its youthful demographic. Concurrently, the Disney studio had Steven Lisberger's TRON in production all year long as the first Hollywood feature with substantial computer generated imagery involving several companies: Information International Inc., Digital Effects, MAGI, Robert Abel & Associates, all alternating between California and New York. Yet there was still a long way to go with “cgi”, since many short subjects advancing the new look in 1981 were little different than earlier seventies offerings. Imported from the UK, John Halas and Joy Batchelor's DILEMMA was a Cannes Film Festival favorite that wowed the critics at the time, but today's audience would consider it downright prehistoric:

 

 

 

Needless to say, Halas & Batchelor studios had a more lasting reputation with “straight” animation since the 1940s and “straight” animation, including stop-motion, was still preferred in making the impossible possible on screen. Stop-motion that involved inanimate figures altered one frame to the next was fine-tuned considerably at the wonder city of special effects, George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic, with the Paramount/Disney co-production DRAGONSLAYER and Phil Tippett's “go motion” technique that blurred individual frames to match live-action films (in addition to puppets and animatronics for close-ups as in the future JURASSIC PARK a dozen years later). For example, a reptile's leg would be depicted with the new camera effects as out-of-focus just like an actor's leg in fast motion in a standard live action movie. One problem with stop-motion before this time was that the image may be too consistently sharp, thus adding the very unreal appearance of the creature, especially when shown alongside human actors in backscreen or split-screen. Although DRAGONSLAYER merely broke even at the box office, it was judged as slightly more advanced than the competition... and there was plenty of competition. Two longtime veterans of the business were capping their careers with some of their most famous work: Jim Danford's (with David Allen) comical dinosaurs in the comedy CAVEMAN helped make that Ringo Starr vehicle a springtime sleeper of sorts (with audiences if not critics), while Ray Harryhausen received plenty of promotion for his final epic, CLASH OF THE TITANS.

 

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By this time, award recognition was finally being given to specialty departments previously ignored when a film's success was measured. This year saw a trio of werewolf pictures competing for screen time, four decades after Universal's established hit with Lon Chaney Jr. John Landis' AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (released in August) had the edge over the earlier deposited THE HOWLING and WOLFEN when it would eventually earn the first Academy Award for “make-up”, not the Max Factor kind but the Rick Baker prosthetic kind. Previously smaller awards like the Saturn were presented to the all-too-neglected horror genre, including Rob Bottin's work in WOLFEN. As is often the case, great editing, staging and an actor's performance aided as much as the special effects. Perhaps the most enduring image of 1981, if derivative of past scenes like Frederic March in DR. JEKYLL AND MISTER HYDE fifty years earlier, was AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF 's David Naughton morphing into The Beast in time with Sam Cooke's very melancholy rendition of “Blue Moon”. His anguish in his “what is happening to me?” terror drawing much sympathy from viewers.

 

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The early eighties was a golden age for the printed movie publication, including specialty magazines catering to the above genres like Fangoria. Both horror films and Ronnie Reagan's non-horrific BEDTIME FOR BONZO were profiled in Dan Peary's first of three Cult Movies books that became best-sellers to the new movie geek. Unfortunately most titles that he profiled still had to be caught on late night TV, holiday airings or a revival house since the expansion was still gradual for Betamax, VHS and laserdiscs, a disc-format being a preferred choice in the beginning for major studios investing in home entertainment, and there was not yet an extensive “go-to” inventory for instant viewing.

 

Alternating with Britain's Leslie Halliwell and his Film Guide (a necessity for any modern TCM fan since he included extensive credit information) was Leonard Maltin's longer running and more simplistic Movie Guide (originally TV Movies), the most popular paperback popularizing the four star rating system that had now become commonplace (though not the first to use it). Maltin avoided just one star by using a “bomb” rating instead. Halliwell only gave stars to films worth watching, meaning that a one star rating in his book was essentially a two and a half star “slightly above average” rating in Maltin's. Also hilariously stubborn Halliwell refused to give any four star ratings for anything made after BONNIE & CLYDE, his reviews always being most colorful and sarcastic, as if writing his nastiest commentary while sucking on a lemon.

 

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Maltin would later become a familiar face on TV, like Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert on PBS and Joel Siegel on ABC's GOOD MORNING AMERICA. His future show was ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT, syndicated five or six days a week after a debut on September 14th, 1981 and, then as now, shot on the Paramount lot a.k.a. “the heart of Hollywood”. Although viewed as an innovation at the time, the inspiration was not new: theaters had previously stocked their short subject programs with behind-the-scenes “visits” such as Columbia's long-running SCREEN SNAPSHOTS that Ralph Staub and Harriet Parsons supervised in the 1920s-50s and later lengthier promotionals for MGM, Fox and other studios stretching from the '50s to the present time. However a film like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK certainly benefited from a “making of” promotional made for both theaters and ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT. Despite exposing to the curious how stunts were done and how some of the “magic” was achieved, the already educated audience still flocked to see the Spielberg-Lucas showcase anyway since they knew they would have a good time with their popcorn. All that ET did (the TV show, that is, not to be confused with Spielberg's next movie that was filming this fall and already being promoted many months before its release as well) was give all of this back stage information increased coverage in an era before the internet.

 

Some movies were unsuccessful with critics but still popular with fans, becoming cults later profiled by Dan Peary and company. MOMMIE DEAREST with Faye Dunaway hamming up her best Joan Crawford imitations and Bo Derek losing her garments faster than Maureen O'Sullivan in a rebooted TARZAN THE APE MAN were both recipients of multiple Raspberry Awards (Razzies) in addition to last year's HEAVEN'S GATE. The first official “worst of the year” award went to CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC, starring the Village People, on March 31st in John J.B. Wilson's own living room in Los Angeles. Already the new decade was giving the film industry a hyper-critical workout.

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A Year In Hollywood: 1981

 

Part 2: British invasions

 

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Director Hugh Hudson with Brad Davis on the set of CHARIOTS OF FIRE in 1980.

 

While Paramount boasted the top hit of the year featuring Indiana Jones, Warner Communications was actually the top dog of the industry. Ted Ashley officially retired with his company maintaining a lucrative deal with both the Ladd Company (producers of the Oscar-winning CHARIOTS OF FIRE) and Orion Pictures (featuring comedies like ARTHUR starring Dudley Moore). However, aside from a second SUPERMAN movie (released late in 1980) doing almost as much business as the first, only a couple of Warner's “in house” productions did particularly well this year.

 

20th Century Fox's fortunes often had a curious and amusing relationship with the oil business, starting a while back when it actually found some on its own properties. Now Marvin Davis of Davis Petroleum purchased the studio along with fellow investor March Rich. By this time, the company clearly was not just a movie and TV company, but boasted a wide spectrum of recreational investments to match Kirk Kerkorian's MGM, Universal City and Disney's Magic Kingdoms that included the Pebble Beach Golf Links and the Aspen Skiing Company. As for its theatrical output, Fox was all over the map with some re-hashed CANNONBALL RUN and a third OMEN, modest acclaim (if not ticket sales) for Walter Hill's SOUTHERN COMFORT and a major risk taken with the filming of a gay romantic drama called MAKING LOVE starring straight actors Michael Ontkean and CLASH OF THE TITANS' Harry Hamlin. Unfortunately the latter would not please the newer, more conservative, owners taking charge and had very limited promotion when released early the following year.

 

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The industry was continuing to evolve into a specialized market with separate genres catering to separate audiences and age demographics. With the final months of the year seeing the nation going through another of its economic slumps, there was fierce competition among the many productions overcoming their production costs. A case in point was PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, a remarkable experiment that tried to revive the older MGM musical. Yet audiences favored seeing Steve Martin in a more slapstick comedy instead of a Depression Era whimsy co-starring singing Bernadette Peters. Curiously Hollywood had a bit of the Depression “bug” at this time and was spending a lot as if there was no modern day Depression going on. John Huston wasn't terribly worried directing ANNIE the Broadway musical (and also with Bernadette, but in a supporting role) and re-shooting a huge musical number “Easy Street” after a million was already spent on a rejected film set.

 

Several old time stars were still performing on screen this year even if the films themselves had hit and miss support from an increasingly younger audience. Universal's ON GOLDEN POND (co-produced by ITC) featured the two Fondas and Katharine Hepburn and proved to be the one huge hit of the establishment. Less successful was another distributed by that same studio, GHOST STORY, featuring a smorgasbord of Fred Astaire, Melvin Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., John Houseman and Patricia Neil. Milŏs Forman rounded up James Cagney and Pat O'Brien of ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES fame for their final screen appearances in a Dino de Laurentis production RAGTIME, started in 1979 and taking quite a while to reach the big screen. Despite a pleasing early 20th century setting in NYC and Atlantic City, a surprise cameo by Jack Nicholson (and some early appearances by “who are they, again?” Samuel L. Jackson, Jeff Daniels, Debbie Allen, Elizabeth McGovern, Mary Steenburgen and Stuart Milligan), the reliable veteran James Wong Howe behind the cameras and music by popular Randy Newman, this was the kind of film expected to get nominated for a few Oscars but only do so-so for distributor Paramount.

 

Historical epics were always a risky venture because more costs added to making costumes accurate and keeping the sets looking authentic. REDS featured two established stars, Warren Beatty (also director) and Diane Keaton along with award winning Maureen Stapleton, Gene Hackman and Paul Sorvino in supporting roles. However, its Russian revolution setting wasn't quite DR. ZHIVAGO-ish romantic enough to reel in the masses, although it still fared better than the competition and managed to overcome its costs. Columbia Pictures was justifiably nervous about the lengthy filming of GANDHI on a colossal scale.

 

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January 31, 1981: 33rd anniversary (almost) of Gandhi's funeral is recreated with 300,000 extras.

 

On the plus side (for GANDHI at least), anything British or Australian had a pretty good chance of making inroads on American screens, including the all familiar Muppets, mostly “Americans” working in London but actually shown in London in THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER. If a British import was a fantasy film like Terry Gilliam's TIME BANDITS, all the better. CHARIOTS OF FIRE was different than your standard athletes-succeed-against-the-odds drama with its period 1920s setting and careful attention to detail, although many today think of it more by its theme muzak by Vangelis playing in most dentist offices. CHARIOTS' British producer David Puttnam, however, was gaining increasing power in Hollywood now and would later head Columbia a few years later.

 

High on the public's avatar were back-to-back Australian hits featuring American Mel Gibson: Peter Weir's GALLIPOLI and a sequel to MAD MAX. The World War 1 setting of the former may have seemed like an unlikely topic for the popcorn market at the time, but it included an interesting involvement by Australian news tycoon Rupert Murdock, heading Associated R&R films with Robert Stigwood. His father had been a journalist visiting Gallipoli back in 1915, so his interest in that project was greater than usual. We will be hearing more from Murdock in the coming years after he migrates to America and also acquires a movie company in the process.

 

Independent companies continued to rely on low budget horror films for their bread and butter and the screens of 1981 were flooded with ax hackings, blood squirts and lots and lots of zombies. (In the meantime, George Romero took time out from zombies to release a little multi-drama KNIGHTRIDERS instead.) New Line Cinema had been around since the sixties, but would establish itself as a leading distributor in horror films with the mostly forgotten today ALONE IN THE DARK and the instantly infamous THE EVIL DEAD. Sam Reimi co-produced this latter $400,000 production with star Bruce Campbell and, while its initial gross was a nice but modest $2.6 million and the critics were less impressed than audiences, it eventually became an archetype “sleeper” film of its era. Occasionally major studios like Paramount would invest in these scare-cheapies such as the second installment of the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise after another indy, Georgetown Productions sold their first film to them for a mere $1.5 million in late 1979.

 

 

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A bigger budget, along with Steven Spielberg's name attached, would convince production-supervisor at MGM-UA, David Begelman, to invest in a more expensive follow-up in THE AMITYVILLE HORROR genre. POLTERGEIST finished shooting in August with director Toby Hooper of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE fame, although it was widely known that Spielberg supervised a bit himself despite only getting producer billing. Yet company head Begelman was struggling with most of the other films he took charge of for Kirk Kerkorian's newly merged company, a merge that gradually took place between January and May with the help of Kerkorian's operating company Tracinda and an exhausted Transamerica all-too eager to get rid of United Artists post-HEAVEN'S GATE.

 

As for the studio that Begelman once gave his Midas Touch to, before all-hell-broke-loose with his embezzlement scandal back in 1977: Columbia Pictures, would soon be taken over... not by Begelman's newer boss (who had tried several times before)... but by a soft drink company headquartered in Atlanta. Atlanta would become another “Hollywood” in the eighties as fellow neighbor CNN's Ted Turner also would cast an eye over to the movie industry, along with others in NYC's Wall Street and, later, Tokyo as well...

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Nice work, Jlewis. MAKING LOVE is one of my favorite films from the early 80s. Often overlooked by critics and audiences, it's certainly bold for its era.

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Harry Hamlin is perfectly fearless as Bart...he sets the standard for how these characters should be played in a mainstream studio movie. He succeeds in eliminating all traces of self-consciousness (which most actors approaching this sort of role are unable to do). As a result of his performance and the work of the other two leads, it remains a very accessible story about sexual confusion and lasting relationships that more people should be able to appreciate.

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That one was covered in The Celluloid Closet, a documentary probably worth mentioning when we get into the nineties. Movies like that would hardly raise an eyebrow today.

 

Right...and at the time, it was a big deal. I remember when MAKING LOVE aired on network television (CBS I think it was)...there was a "viewers discretion is advised" note on screen before the movie began. And some people were unhappy it was broadcast.

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I recall seeing Sunday Bloody Sunday on PBS in the 1980s too but I can't remember if the famous kissing scene (yeah... big whoop) was cut or not.

 

Then again... ha ha! I remember seeing the birth of a baby on TV sometime in the mid seventies. THAT created a lot of talk since the woman was nude having it. At least it confirmed babies were not delivered by storks.

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A Year In Hollywood 1982

 

Part 1: Light Hollywood vs. Dark Hollywood

 

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. So wrote Dickens in A Tale Of Two Cities. MY FAVORITE YEAR, starring Peter O'Toole and Mark Linn-Baker, might have been 1954, but this year was nonetheless a key high point of the decade in terms of both the best (and worst) that American cinema had to offer. At least the new Cineplex theater in West Hollywood's Beverly Center Mall had 14 different screens available and there had to be one feature showing worth the money.

 

Steven Spielberg's ET: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL was the highest grossing of the lot. Its iconic image of Henry Thomas riding his bicycle through the sky with his “pet” alien became an emblem for everything Hollywood wanted to reflect: its spirit of optimism, imagination and the cinematic sense of wonder. Both Universal and Hershey's Reese's Pieces benefited greatly, with the latter ironically not even paying for its on screen promotion. It did not take long for all of the major food, fashion and toy marketers to quickly realize what a gold mine there was here. (Then again, some already knew for quite awhile. By 1982, Saturday Morning and weekly daytime kid's TV had essentially morphed into one long multi-hour animated “informercial” for popular toy brands and comic strip heroes; with Mattel's He-Man moving from DC pages to TV screen in only a year.)

 

Hollywood's Dark Side was represented by a helicopter bursting in flames. During the filming of the “Time Out” sequence in an omnibus feature recreation of the TWILIGHT ZONE stories, actor Vic Marrow and two child actors, Myca Dinh Lee and Renee Shin-Yi Chen, were tragically killed in an accident during the early morning of July 23rd. A long court battle opened a can of worms involving director John Landis and his crew, calling into question why child actors were used in the middle of the night (violating California state laws) and why certain transportation precautions were ignored. Huge changes would take place that would involve a lot of additional paperwork cleared before any cameras could begin rolling on any production involving stunt work. Small wonder that computerized special effects would explode on screens rather than the real thing by the end of the decade as film producers looked for other ways to get around all of the legal red tape.

 

Again, as in other tragedies impacting the industry, rumors circulated that some of the production personnel was high on drugs, even though it was never officially confirmed. (Kenneth Anger would simply assume so later in his gossipy Hollywood Babylon II just as he assumed a lot of things.) The early eighties did see the industry hooked, in part, because only those in that pay bracket could afford it (until the arrival of “crack” two years later for average lower-waged Americans). Drug related accidents and deaths were constantly in the news: on the morning of March 5th, top star John Belushi was found dead at the Chateau Marmont with a lethal overdose of cocaine and heroin, dubbed in the press as “speedball”.

 

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As if that wasn't enough, David McClintick published Indecent Exposure: A True Story of Hollywood and Wall Street, his scathing chronicle of the David Begelman embezzlement scandal that rocked Columbia Pictures in 1977 and haunted Begelman even after he had joined MGM (now MGM-UA), courtesy of Kirk Kerkorian. As fate would have it, poor Begelman would get sacked in July, just one month before the book hit stores. However the reason was different this time. Begelman did nothing wrong under Kirk Kirkorian. He just couldn't make money like he did in his pre-scandal Columbia days of backing THE WAY WE WE WERE, SHAMPOO and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. His one big blockbuster hitting theaters this summer, was the Steven Spielberg produced, but Tobe Hooper directed, POLTERGEIST; yet that wasn't enough. As a popular saying went in Tinsel Town: do whatever you want sex-wise, drug-wise, crime-wise or any other-wise, but the moment you fail to keep a studio in profit, you are O-U-T.

 

Columbia Pictures, well covered in Indecent Exposure, had a rather interesting year itself. On January 19th, the New York Times reported that the Atlanta-based Coca-Cola (with Robert O. Goizueta in charge) was forking over $750 million to buy it. In May, just before the take-over was completed, Columbia bought out a TV company started by Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg to compensate its own declining TV production by acquiring established shows like FANTASY ISLAND and HART TO HART. The company had been focusing more on theatrical screens than small screens in recent years, but costs were outrageous and profits less secure than ever. Enter the cable networks, specifically HBO (now the biggest and owned by Time Inc. before it would take over other companies of importance), to step in with a special arrangement to show all of Columbia's movies on their pay TV networks in exchange for financing 30% of the studio's production costs. Late in the year, HBO would also combine forces with both the studio and also arch-rival CBS Television to pool sources together under executive Victor Kaufman and split costs further with a secondary studio that would appear in 1983: Tri-Star.

 

In November-December, Columbia released its biggest hits of the year, neither expected to do as well initially even though one might wonder why in hindsight. GANDHI was an epic biopic with an epic production (spanning November 1980 through May 1981, followed by another full year of careful editing), but was released after several prominent historical epics had failed at the box office. Directed by Richard Attenborough with Ben Kinglsey in the lead role, it was co-produced by Goldcrest Pictures, a British company started by Jake Eberts that enjoyed most of its successes with rival Warner Brothers during this era, including the previous Best Picture winner CHARIOTS OF FIRE. Although one of the better received MGM-UA releases back in February featured Julie Andrews posing as man impersonating a woman in VICTOR VICTORIA, there was still some slight hesitation about Sydney Pollack's TOOTSIE starring Dustin Hoffman... posing as a woman and falling for a woman while avoiding the romantic interests of her father.

 

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TOOTSIE was billed as “hopelessly straight”, but one may wonder today why it even mattered

 

Just as 20th Century Fox wasn't sure how to handle the honest gay romance MAKING LOVE, other studios were not quite sure how to handle films that weren't heterosexual enough despite how very heterosexual the characters played by Julie and James Garner and Dustin and Jessica Lange all behaved on screen. It seems that Billy Wilder's much older SOME LIKE IT HOT had less of a problem decades before. The changing times were lacking a gay sense of humor, especially with the rise of the religious right dominating politics. (Both Jerry Falwell and Pat Buchanan voiced strong fire-and-brimstone opinions of the AIDS crisis at rallies, there was an unsuccessfully promoted but popular Family Protection Act and, meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Defense was busy acting upon Directive 1332.14 by this time.) Overall, mainstream society was pushing many back into the closet in retaliation against the more free spirited seventies. Yet 1982 audiences weren't quite as skittish about lesbianism as they were male/male intimacy and cross dressing as several features gained better box-office than expected, including PERSONAL BEST with Mariel Hemingway and Patrice Donnelly. Roger Ebert praised this one, stating “This is a very physical movie, one of the healthiest and sweatiest celebrations of physical exertion I can remember” (and not just regarding the competitive athletes), while Rex Reed groaned over the other early-in-the-year release PARTNERS: “Hollywood's latest crime against humanity in general and homosexuals in particular is a dumb creepshow... stupid, tasteless and homophobic, this sleazy, superficial film implies that gay cops can't be trusted to work with straight cops because they might fall in love with them.” Meanwhile MGM-UA gleefully supported the filming of THE HUNGER with Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon, although this was a vampire flick... the safe genre for ladies to get affectionate with each other as far as Tinsel Town was concerned.

 

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A Year In Hollywood 1982

 

Part 2: My Favorite Year

 

Hollywood had no problem keeping the musical soundtracks gay, if not the people on screen (including Universal's THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS). Paramount, which kept its budgets a bit lower than the competition thanks to a stronger emphasis on comedies, including a sequel to AIRPLANE! and 48 HOURS, teaming Nick Nolte with the latest star from SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE Eddie Murphy, enjoyed considerable mileage with Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes' “Up Where We Belong” song for AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN (well promoted by Island Records). With Michael Eisner and Jeff Katsenberg among the executives still in control at this stage, Paramount was quick to incorporate the MTV look in a new string of modest musicals such as the Polygram co-production, FLASHDANCE, and yet another John Travolta recycling of the SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER's soundtrack, titled STAYING ALIVE (both filmed this year for '83 release). This company could hardly be accused for being unpredictable.

 

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The sci fi films this year contrasted from the musicals with a very dark and pessimistic edge, from the Australian outback posing for a post-apocalyptic world in MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR (released overseas in '81, but hitting American screens this summer) to Klaus Kinski realizing his creation is too human for comfort in ANDROID, made on a budget by Roger Corman's New World. Harrison Ford followed his Indiana Jones success with Ridley Scott's less successful BLADE RUNNER, based on Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? This ambitious Ladd/Warner Bros. offering would do better on VHS than it did on theatrical screens (becoming a cult favorite worthy of Dan Peary's mention in his third book six years later), but was quite representative of the era it was made. The futuristic cityscape is presented much like Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS but with an eighties' over saturation of advertising; ads for everything from Budweisser to Warner's own Atari grow along the tenement buildings as a replacement for nature's own vines since the world of the future seems almost devoid of plant-life. In another future vision CAFE FLESH, aimed more for the adult market, the vast majority suffers from a nuclear disease not unlike AIDS and can only enjoy sexual satisfaction as voyeurs watching the very few who can on theatrical stages... much as porn became the most popular genre in VHS sales in 1982, since watching “it” was now safer than doing “it”.

 

When Disney's TRON, echoing America's obsession with video games, made it into the flooded market of special effects driven June releases, it was both praised as a noteworthy breakthrough with its computerized graphics and also panned for its overall “coldness”, a problem facing many films of the period that were getting too caught up in The Look and not enough into the story and character development. Disney fared better experimentally and visually in smaller projects, since (as they say) some of the best things come in smaller packages.

 

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VINCENT was a clever stop-motion (less than six minute) horror-spoof with Vincent Price narrating and a 24 year old Tim Burton directing; Burton had started at Disney as a storyboard artist a few years back on THE FOX AND THE HOUND and had managed to get away with some ideas that were rather un-Disneyesque. Another popular shortie was Darrell Van Citters' FUN WITH MR. FUTURE combining live-action with animation. At the company's new EPCOT theme park in Orlando, less-than-half-hour travelogues shot in CircleVision (360 degrees around) were making a come-back after a few years' absence at Disneyland and Walt Disney World (those few earlier productions being made mostly in the fifties and sixties as an alternative to 180 degree Cinerama). At least three were unleashed almost simultaneously to large crowds of Florida vacationers: THE WONDERS OF CHINA, O CANADA! and IMPRESSIONS DE FRANCE.

 

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Theatrical shorts enjoyed some renewed success at this time, partly due to an increase in film festivals showing them and the new market in VHS giving them a second life. Among the noteworthy non-Disney projects was Graeme Ferguson and IMAX's latest 37 minute HAIL COLUMBIA!, allowing viewers to relive last year's launching of the space shuttle with impressive widescreen visuals. Will Vinton, along with Barry Bruce, scored another Oscar nomination for THE GREAT COGNITO, a spoof in claymation of such prominent figures of President Reagan's generation such as the Andrews Sisters and John Wayne. A more traditional animated film, popularizing the sketchy storybook look fashionable of the period, was THE SNOWMAN; this being a British import from Dianne Jackson that was showcased over there on Channel 4, a major supporter of short films and TV specials that were invading American TV with a vengeance, including the spectacular claymation and stop-motion work of Aardman Animations. Later a prominent producer of “cgi” shorts shown theatrically was the fledgling Pixar studio (evolved from a company started by Alexander Schure eight years earlier) which was currently working with George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic in addition to aiding the computerized effects used in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN.

 

Among the popular shorts shown at EPCOT was Murray Lerner's MAGIC JOURNEYS which was reviving 3-D again. Right about this time, Hollywood suddenly developed a bit of that dormant-since-the-fifties bug. Demi Moore had a key early starring role in the abysmal PARASITE, followed by the Paramount's slightly better received (if hardly a masterpiece) FRIDAY THE 13th PART III. Universal was quick to cash in by using Sea World in Orlando as the backdrop for JAWS 3 which started filming on October 11th. While none of these products were on the same level of, say, 1953's KISS ME KATE or DIAL M FOR MURDER, at least they demonstrated that the popcorn market was willing to dust off the gimmick again.

 

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Horror films gained a further jolt of energy from the biggest name in the business: Stephen King. As a paperback (and hard back) writer, he was dominating the Best Seller lists consistently with his name promoted above each film title rather than the director, producer or stars. The omnibus CREEPSHOW, written by him with George Romero directing, did respectable business after it opened among very different competition at the Cannes film festival. Late in the year, the industry was suddenly obsessed with anything King: Christopher Walken was cast in THE DEAD ZONE (for Dino De Laurentiis/Paramount) and John Carpenter, who had suffered a critical failure remaking THE THING (previously made at RKO back in 1951 but updated with the latest gruesome eighties effects), reluctantly accepted Christine for his next project. In typical Hollywood fashion, executives at Columbia Pictures even pressured him to use Brooke Shields in the lead role. (She wasn't in the end.) There was also a bit of a bidding war for last year's best-seller Firestarter.

 

One criticism often voiced in reviews was that many of Stephen King's words on the printed page did not translate well as images on screen, since a certain amount of the imagination required by the reader was lost. This was also a common criticism of film adaptations of old time radio programs back in the thirties and forties as well, since it was difficult to bring the “theater of the mind” successfully to its visual representation. Eighties cinema was all too often over indulging itself on the latest special effects and losing sight of how much a movie-goer's mind must be enhanced as much by what is implied as by what is shown. Not to mention, the soundtracks were getting much louder as Lucas' THX high fidelity was just starting to be used and not often with subtilty as the decade progressed.

 

Regardless, 1982 was a still an overall good year in terms of quality and some may even argue one of the best of the new decade, even if the best reviewed didn't do as well with ticket buyers as such less esteemed projects like CONAN THE BARBARIAN and teenage comedies like the loathed-by-critics PORKY'S and the more fondly remembered FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH. In addition to the most prominent trio, ET, GANDHI and TOOTSIE, each of the studio majors and a few independents managed to come off with more winners than losers this year: DINER, MISSING, EASTING RAOUL, KOYAANISQUATSI, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, MY FAVORITE YEAR, THE VERDICT, SOPHIE'S CHOICE, along with British offerings like MOONLIGHTING and THE DARK CRYSTAL (hardly your standard Muppets). Imported from overseas (and mostly shown the following year) were FANNY & ALEXANDER and FITZCARRALDO. Was it a counterpoint to 1939? Hard call. This was not the cinema's greatest decade by any long shot, but it was still a year of great variety and a few titles that have lasted the test of time.

 

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Peter O'Toole: “I am not an actor. I'm a movie star!”

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 By 1982, Saturday Morning TV had essentially morphed into one long multi-hour animated “informercial” for popular toy brands and comic strip heroes; with He-Man moving from Marvel pages to TV screen in only a year.)

 

Not to quibble (despite the usual complaints about the disingenuous pre-occupations with corporate studios, gay trends in cinema and "punishing" 80's flops), but:

 

He-Man started the new industry for afternoon strip-syndication in 1983, not Saturday-morning, and while he may have had a Marvel comic at some point (don't remember), he was based on a toy line that Mattel was marketing as a response to the fact that little kids wanted to see Schwarzenegger's R-rated "Conan the Barbarian".

(Which they'd be able to if John Milius wasn't such a pretentious nutcase, but '84's kid-friendly attempt to sequelize "Conan the Destroyer" didn't fare well either.)

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Oh... but I want you to quibble... and make corrections. I probably should have had you proof me and make any He-Man suggestions.

 

By the way, I am pre-occupied with the corporate trends. I can't help myself. I am trying to seek therapy for it.

 

Not too much on the "gay trends", although I referenced MAKING LOVE twice since it was filmed in 1981 and I also mentioned 1971's "coming out" period way back. Also plenty on the heterosexual porn industry until a few reminded me here that I may have a problem there too. Ha ha! Probably nothing "gay" will be discussed for the rest of the decade. I do find it interesting... and sad... how backward society was then in its acceptance level. Alas... it still is. Currently we have a VP candidate running who was obsessed with what Indianians were doing behind closed doors when he was governor.

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Oh... but I want you to quibble... and make corrections. I probably should have had you proof me and make any He-Man suggestions.

 

By the way, I am pre-occupied with the corporate trends. I can't help myself. I am trying to seek therapy for it.

 

Not too much on the "gay trends", although I referenced MAKING LOVE twice since it was filmed in 1981 and I also mentioned 1971's "coming out" period way back. Also plenty on the heterosexual porn industry until a few reminded me here that I may have a problem there too. Ha ha! Probably nothing "gay" will be discussed for the rest of the decade. I do find it interesting... and sad... how backward society was then in its acceptance level. Alas... it still is. Currently we have a VP candidate running who was obsessed with what Indianians were doing behind closed doors when he was governor.

What Vp candidate U talking about?

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Well... he did politely let me know I was "off" in my post.

 

In any case, tomorrow may be too hectic for me so I am tentatively posting 1983 today. It will NOT be one of my better posts, so please be kind with the corrections. I am sure a lot will be left out unintentionally.

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A Year In Hollywood 1983

 

Part 1: Apocalyptic TV and apocalyptic Atari

 

Hollywood is not just about movies made for the big screen. In fact, by 1983, the major companies most famous for movies were handling a great many products not intended for movie theaters. At least television production was similar enough compared to other things. Two broadcasts in particular enjoyed spectacular ratings that year which have yet to be repeated again. The final episode of M*A*S*H (“Goodbye, Farewell and Amen”) on CBS attracted a staggering 125 million viewers on February 28th or roughly 77% share of the TV viewing audience. This was filmed at 20th Century Fox and surpassed 1980's “Who Shot JR?” episode of DALLAS, at least partly filmed at rival MGM's Culver City studios, but for the Lorimar company.

 

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Only a slightly less 100 million saw ABC's airing of THE DAY AFTER on November 20th. Filming on this atomic war apocalypse tale began on August 16, 1982 with Nicholas Meyer directing for ABC's Circle Films (which had handled many “movies of the week” for that network for the past 13 years) but the magnitude of the special effects work (for television) and nitpicky editing required to please censors of the U.S. government kind caused its airing to be pushed back from an earlier May scheduling. Released three weeks before was TESTAMENT, initially directed by Lynne Littman for PBS' AMERICAN PLAYHOUSE but given an theatrical release by Paramount instead. Although it earn better reviews than the TV spectacle (and Jane Alexander would get Oscar nominated for a key role), it had a much smaller audience.

 

It was no surprise that end-of-the-world gloom was popular again, since 1983 felt like 1949-50 when the Soviets had The Bomb and many Americans started building fall out shelters. The Cold War was hot again, as President Reagan remained steadfast in regards to the increasingly neurotic behavior of the Soviet Union after the sudden death of Leonid Brezhnev in November 1982, followed by a chaotic term involving Yuri Andropov (who would also pass away early the next year). The unexpected gunning down of the Korean Air Flight KAL-007 flying too close for Soviet comfort in September almost instigated World War III.

 

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In addition to ABC's hit mini-series THE WINDS OF WAR (February 6-13, produced by Paramount) and THE THORN BIRDS (March 27-30, backed by the king of the genre David L. Wolper), network television was experiencing the final curtain of its golden age just before cable widened the number of channels to surf, thus shrinking the viewership for the Big Three networks except at SuperBowl time. This was also the year that home video started taking away another chunk of live broadcast audiences after the “format wars” involving Betamax versus VHS resulted with the latter winning as the leader. Jane Fonda had released her enormously popular workout video (30 minute version first) in the VHS format in April 1982 and stores were struggling to keep it and the lengthier follow-up in stock throughout this year. By '83's holiday shopping time, sales of VHS players competed head to head with Cabbage Patch Dolls as the most wanted “adult” toy and, within two years, at least one in four households would own one.

 

Although 20th Century Fox had already started putting its film library in both of the new formats as early as 1978-79, the rest of the industry only recently started playing catch up. One early alternative to VHS that was favored initially was the Laserdisc, created by DiscoVision Inc. and co-owned by Universal's parent company MCA. Unlike the Japanese video formats, it vaguely resembled the vinyl LP for music and was a fore-runner, in looks if not technology, to the 1990s DVD. Several studios (Universal, Disney, Paramount and Warner Brothers) toyed with this format before making the move to VHS and would still offer it as a luxury item for movie geeks seeking a higher quality image than video.

 

Suddenly the video rental store... and the video department at the super market... dotted the landscape almost overnight. Inevitably theater attendance suffered some decline as a result. Why hurry to see the latest release when you can wait to see it at home on cable TV or at a reduced rental price? One way of combating this was an increase in multiplex theaters offering multiple choices. This was not a new concept, since AMC Theaters had been building these since the 1960s; the rise of the indoor shopping mall in the seventies helping to expand this.

 

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Producer Don Bluth successfully blended his company's Disney-like animation with computer games.

 

Computer games also took their toll... in more ways than one. In January 1983, the industry was enjoying revenue of $3.2 billion. Yet this was short-lived as the market severely plummeted by autumn due to the saturation of too many products competing for store shelves and competition with Japan, where a higher percentage of the population was computer literate compared to the United States. Warner Communications would get a huge blow from this on account of Atari, which they had acquired back in 1976 and, for a few years, did give the film/TV company tremendous profits. Only now Warner's stock price was falling from $60 to $20 in a matter of months.

 

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More product than customers this year

 

Predictably Atari would get dumped by the following spring and, within a few years, Warner would relinquish other non-movie and TV investments such as, intriguingly enough, the Franklyn Mint and the Pittsburgh Pirates, which VP Caesar Kimmel bought 48% controlling interest in January before the Atari bubble burst. Paramount's conglomerate owner Gulf & Western decided to do much the same since it too owned too-too many diverse investments such as a Consolidated Cigar Corporation, a pin-ball manufacturing company and sugar plantations in Florida and the Dominican Republic. When G&W corporate head Charles Bluhdorn died suddenly of a heart attack aboard a plane trip between New York and the Dominican Republic that February, Martin S. Davis took over with immediate plans of restructuring the company and gradually submerging G&W into Paramount rather than the other way around... as in the case of Transamerica (attempting to change United Artists into Transamerica Pictures before HEAVEN'S GATE changed everything).

 

Columbia Pictures was owned and operated by CocaCola, which displayed as much enthusiasm as Transamerica did with UA before dumping it on Kirk Kerkorian two years back. However the film company's president Frank Price and Victor Kaufman under him made sure most of the company's investments still focused primarily on entertainment, combining forces with Time-Life and RCA to get ahead of the other studios with VHS sales. May 16th marked the official birthday of Tri-Star Pictures, a child of three parents: Columbia, HBO and CBS, the latter a major competitor of the other two whose interests in the new baby wouldn't last long. The first productions featuring Pegasus galloping in their opening credits starting filming that summer and fall, among them Robert Redford in THE NATURAL, Sally Field in PLACES IN THE HEART and an update of WHERE THE BOYS ARE. However Tri-Star was not a mutually agreed upon project: it was supported more by Kaufman than by Price, who abruptly left Columbia in disgust over how his company's own personnel was now being utilized for what he viewed as an unwanted step-child benefiting HBO's pay-TV revenue more than Columbia's. (Fay Vincent took his place.)

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A Year In Hollywood 1983

 

Part 2: Less special effects and more Brat Pack

 

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With a third STAR WARS in theaters, RETURN OF THE JEDI featuring the oh-so-cuddly Ewoks and less-so Jabba the Hutt, 20th Century Fox once again lead the industry with a 21% share of the market even though the Lucasfilm co-production likely earned almost as much as many of the company's other films combined. (Its nearest hits to match were MR. MOM and SILKWOOD with Meryl Streep.) One interesting side-note to the STAR WARS franchise is that it instigated another brief revival of the “old time” radio drama in the early eighties, this time with Brian Daley writing the productions for the NPR network. After SUSPENSE went off the air on CBS back in 1962, there were only periodic revivals like this one to the “theater of the mind” that had captivated America from the 1920s through the '50s (when TV forced radio stations to start phasing out their many memorable dramatic and comedy shows in favor of news, sports, talk shows and music). George Lucas gave his support to an EMPIRE STRIKES BACK serial that started airing February 14th and featured, in addition to cast members like Mark Hamill and Billy Dee Williams, other established stars not connected with the films like Brock Peters and John Lithgow. Unfortunately plans for a RETURN OF THE JEDI radio serial were halted when federal funding for NPR was cut and such little air-wave productions once again died off, although that one eventually got made in 1996 for the CD market.

 

Overall, this year saw considerably less special effects razzle dazzle than the previous two and more come-to-terms drama made on a smaller scale. TERMS OF ENDEARMENT was Paramount's latest follow-up to other family dramas like their previous Best Picture winner ORDINARY PEOPLE, as it focused on the tempestuous mother-daughter relationship of Debra Winger and Shirley MacLaine's characters, but lightened considerably by Jack Nicholson's Oscar winning comedy support. While macho super heroes and muscle men were still pulling in the most ticket sales (and Paramount itself was banking on another Indiana Jones hit being filmed this summer for next year), these smaller scale productions focusing on relationships, either family or romantic, were trending now. There was also some returned nostalgia to contrast with these more neurotic times: THE RIGHT STUFF continued for the Ladd Company/Warner Brothers with Project Mercury astronauts giving their all just as the Australian athletes did previously in the same companies' CHARIOTS OF FIRE.

 

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1983 was a slightly innovative year for comedies (spurred on by the continuing success of TOOTSIE at the top of Variety's lists). Some releases weren't too original, but still successful critically and financially, like a re-working of THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER updated to the Wall Street era in TRADING PLACES (with Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy). Woody Allen's second production for Orion Pictures was the inoffensive but highly engaging ZELIG, an artistic experiment that cleverly inserted him (with help by the talented cinematographer Gordon Willis) into vintage newsreel clips as a fictional figure Leonard Zelig, spoofing many PBS documentaries of the era. This was part of a popular trend known as “mockumentaries”; concurrently completed but released in '84 was THIS IS SPINAL TAP which took on rock concert extravaganzas with a fictional British heavy metal band. There was also a deepening sarcasm in comedies developing towards an increasingly uptight and conservative climate. In typical fashion, the Brits were less afraid to challenge the status quo than the more nervous Yanks, so it was small wonder that many U.S. critics had dropped jaws regarding Monty Python's latest import THE MEANING OF LIFE, although several sketches became legendary over the years including a huge musical number featuring too many small children to count singing all about the Catholic versus Protestant debate over the human male's procreative fluids.

 

A bit of that naughty Monty Python sense of humor was Americanized (tamed down quite a bit, of course) and made with more slapstick in Warner Brothers' smash NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VACATION, directed by Harold Ramis and well-scripted by the decade's new rising voice, John Hughes. On the surface, this also borrowed quite a bit from Paramount's AIRPLANE! and its sequel with many unexpected gags thrown as quickly as possible into viewers' faces for maximum effect. Yet it also dwelt more with family dynamics and inter-generational conflict, with daddy Chevy Chase being the overgrown child with his wife and kids behaving as the more disciplined adults. As a screenwriter, Hughes had a knack for putting grown men in compromising positions, which helped make Micheal Keaton a success in MR. MOM. Entering the director's chair, Hughes was hard at work that summer working with his teenage female “muse” Molly Ringwald in SIXTEEN CANDLES, filmed in Chicago for Universal and with executive Ned Tanen's Channel Productions being most encouraging of the new eighties' teen flick trend. The catch term “brat pack” would not become popular for another year or two and mostly related to specific stars including Molly who often appeared together on and off screen, but he was setting up the distinctive trademark style in which teens were more adult-like than their adult peers gave them credit for.

 

Most of the earliest stars of this new generation of late teen and twenty-somethings tended to be male. Matthew Broderick, at 20-21, was among the first with box-office appeal in a MGM-UA sci fi thriller WAR GAMES, another typical product of the re-heated Cold War with a plot about a teen name David who causes havoc with the Soviets by accessing the U.S. military War Operation Plan Response like it was a video game as a hacker.

 

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Two months before WAR GAMES premiered at Cannes, Francis Ford Coppola and his Zoetrope Pictures introduced a low-key coming-of-age nostalgic (set in the sixties) called THE OUTSIDERS that starred Matt Dillon (popular the previous year in a Disney drama TEX and simultaneously appearing in Coppola's other Oklahoma set drama RUMBLE FISH) accompanied by a crowd of then unfamiliar faces who wouldn't remain unfamiliar for long: Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze and Tom Cruise. Despite a small role here, Cruise would quickly jump ahead of the pack when he dressed down to his undershorts, belting out to Bob Seger's “Old Time Rock & Roll” in RISKY BUSINESS. This was a summertime “sleeper” reminding many of THE GRADUATE decades earlier in its comic take on sex, but incorporating the new eighties greed for cold hard cash (with his and co-star Rebecca De Mornay's characters making a business out of it this time around). The studio distributing both films was Warner Brothers, which had previously defined a generation when introducing James Dean to the CinemaScope screens decades earlier. The co-producer on RISKY BUSINESS was David Geffen of the popular record company, once again intertwining the movie and music businesses. (The Police's number one hit “Every Breath You Take” was also featured on the soundtrack.)

 

Sean Penn (featured in last year's FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH and making a cameo in RISKY BUSINESS), Ringwald, Dillon, Broderick and Cruise were of a different breed than the self-reflective Baby Boomers of THE BIG CHILL (a.k.a. Kevin Kline, Tom Berenger, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Glenn Close and Jeff Goldblum). Realizing that both teens with an attitude and a glossy new MTV influenced soundtrack was adding to ticket sales, the rival companies quickly steamrolled ahead. After Paramount did rather nicely with FLASHDANCE (which followed in the tradition of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER and GREASE back in the seventies), it promptly pushed FOOTLOOSE into production with 25 year old Kevin Bacon passing for a high schooler in a plot that was essentially a recycling of many old “convincing the elders that swing ain't so bad” musicals of the thirties, but with rock & roll and an uptight John Lithgow in support.

 

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As for even younger audiences (and older ones too), Walt Disney Productions was still struggling to find the proper market. MICKEY'S CHRISTMAS CAROL celebrated the cartoon mouse's 55th birthday in a 24 minute animated featurette booked with reissues of THE JUNGLE BOOK in the UK and THE RESCUERS in the U.S. since reissues, rather than new films like TRENCHCOAT, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES and NEVER CRY WOLF, were making money at the box office. Executive in charge Ron Miller made the wise choice of purchasing a more adult oriented screenplay SPLASH!, with Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah cast, for a new Touchstone sub-label. Yet there was no crystal ball to predict what 1984 profits would be.

 

Alas... this next year would bring more surprises than the company and Scrooge McDuck bargained for, as two Wall Street mavericks would try to take over with a threat to dismantle the Magic Kingdom into smaller kingdoms before Miller's arch rival Roy Disney Jr would step in to give the company an over-haul. In order to do this, executives would be borrowed from rivals Warner Brothers and Paramount, prompting an earthquake in executive chairs that also impacted the others as every top company wound up being run by different people within a year.

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