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A year in Hollywood


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Sadly I am not TopBilled. I hope you all have patience until he takes over in the 1990s (*wink wink*).

 

I will plop 1984 early and then delay 1985 a bit since I am, again, only five paragraphs long on that one.

 

Then again, maybe these should ALL be five paragraphs instead? I wonder what everybody's patience level with these are.

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A Year In Hollywood 1984

 

Part 1: Mickey Mouse almost dis-mantled

 

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Sure they are cute at first...

 

The biggest figure of the Reagan Era was the Wall Street tycoon who could use his speculative purchasing power to take over companies and break them up into smaller companies for his own personal profit. Hollywood was not immune.

 

Although a series of events would help propel one film company to the forefront of the industry thanks to a shuffling of executives in charge, its near destruction caused panic to the industry. At this time, the Reagan administration was quite soft on Wall Street's wild dealings (although this would change with his successor, the first George Bush, in an effort to save the economy after the '87 crash and its repercussions closing out the Reagan years). To the film executive on the west coast, these invaders from the east resembled the GREMLINS in Warner's hit feature (the same hit that helped soften the blow of its own catastrophic losses with Atari). As Darlene Love crooned in her golden oldie played on the soundtrack “They're singing Deck the Halls, but it's not like Christmas at all”.

 

On the butcher block was the Walt Disney Company, a victim of over-expansion during the past three years: the completion and openings of EPCOT and Tokyo Disneyland, the launching of a cable network, a belated move into the home video business that hadn't produce profits just yet and a more “adult” film company Touchstone that at least got off to a good start with the comedy SPLASH! Ron Miller (son-in-law of Walt) and his team had been struggling to keep the finances afloat. Perhaps he should have taken the title of last year's box-office bomb SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES more seriously?

 

First to arrive on the scene that spring was Saul Steinberg. An expert in the wonderful world of “junk bonds”, he swiftly bought a large number of shares with his Reliance Group Holdings. Ron, along with Ray Watson, had previously increased their credit line with Bank of America to $1.3 billion as a precaution and had also purchased the Arvido Corporation of Florida to counter his stake, even though it lowered their own personal shares and was made them vulnerable in their pecking positions in the company. Yet Steinberg continued this monopoly game by making a bid for 49% share until Disney ultimately had to pay him off at $328 million.

 

 

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Steinberg in his prime

 

Next on the scene was Irwin “The Liquidator” Jacobs, who was even more devious than Saul. To his advantage, Disney had just recently gotten entangled in a troublesome deal with Gibson Greetings, an acquisition attempt that was not popular with the share-holders since its $337.5 million price tag would impact their personal shares considerably. Jacobs had little trouble psychoanalyzing all of the boardroom frustration and threatened a law suit with the Los Angeles supreme court if Disney didn't drop the Gibson deal. By preventing this deal, Jacob could now buy further control at a smaller price. Narrowly averting him in the nick of time were the now fully merged Arvida owners operating as a collective group, who finally (after much fuss and stress) managed to buy him off and increase their own shares to 28%. Once the dust settled, Disney was miraculously spared, but now the man-in-charge, Ron Miller, was vulnerable thanks to being demoted in his financial stakes.

 

Backtracking five months earlier to March, Roy Disney Jr. had resigned in disgust; he being the son of Walt Disney's older brother Roy, who died in 1971 just as his son's team and Ron Miller's team started squabbling over ownership of the Magic Kingdom. Yet he was not about to see what his uncle had created go down the tubes. He gained the support of one of Disney's largest share-holders at that time, Sid Bass, along with Stanley Gold and Peter Dailey, ultimately increasing his own shares until they were higher than Ron Miller's team. He also gathered a special management group involving Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg, still on the payroll of Paramount, along with Frank Wells, previously involved with Warner Bros. On September 17th, Ron was forced to resign and Roy got his way. Eisner took Ron's role, with Watson and Wells also taking over top positions. This, in turn, caused a shuffling of executive seats in the rival studios, with Paramount having to rustle up replacements for Eisner and Katzenberg with Frank Mancuso and Ned Tanen, the latter previously with Universal for a decade and then heading his own Channel Productions.

 

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Frank Wells and Michael Eisner with new employees under them.

 

In addition to losing the two most famous members of “Diller's Killers”, Paramount also lost Barry Diller himself just a few weeks later... only to 20th Century Fox this time, not Disney. Diller had successfully kept Paramount afloat with a string of box-office and small screen hits, including CHEERS airing on NBC by this time, but Barry was personally growing frustrated with the company's growing conservatism. Most importantly, he had a dream of running an actual TV network, a dream shared by another “like” mind, Rupert Murdoch, the Australian media tycoon who had just purchased controlling interest in 20th Century Fox. Shortly before Diller's abrupt move to Fox in October, the prominent investor (and co-owner of Fox) Marc Rich was being investigated for his involvement in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International's money laundering scandal. This, in turn, forced co-owner Marvin Davis to sell his shares to Murdoch for $250 million. The seeds were now in place to grow the first TV network run by a major film company.

 

Kirk Kerkorian had recently wanted to purchase any shares in MGM-UA that he still didn't claim in an effort to make that company private, but was met with considerable resistance. After its 1983 high of $42 million in profits, it was now unloading financial bomb after bomb onto the assembly line, including THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE and GARBO TALKS, although a reboot of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY called 2010 did somewhat better than the rest even if the critics hated it. Trying to recapture the Cold War paranoia fueled in WAR GAMES last year was the very different RED DAWN, blessed with early appearances by rising heart-throbs Charlie Sheen and Patrick Swayze and a claim in the current Guinness Book of World Records of featuring acts of violence on screen at the (then) astonishing rate of 2.23 per minute.

 

In contrast, Coca-Cola's lady with the torch was having a rather good “vintage year”, despite its own frequent changes of management that followed in the wake of Frank Price's sudden departure the previous year. Fay Vincent had a fleeting turn as president, while the recently promoted Guy McElwaine was adding to his previous contributions to the corporate revenue (a.k.a. THE BIG CHILL) with a new crop that included THE KARATE KID (featuring yet another emerging heart-throb Ralph Macchio), GHOSTBUSTERS (initially planned for John Belushi and Dan Akroyd two years back, but now a vehicle for Akroyd with fellow SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE star Bill Murray stealing the scenes here), Norman Jewison's A SOLDIER'S STORY and David Lean's A PASSAGE TO INDIA. Too bad this running streak would not last long and McElwaine, like every other executive judged by the almighty dollar, would wind up just as vulnerable as everybody else, including the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

 

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A Year In Hollywood 1984

 

Part 2: Independents finally get a break

 

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INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, sequel to RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, was a dark and first-to-be-rated PG-13 production, but most of the box office hits were either raunchy comedies (POLICE ACADEMY) or horror-comedies (like GREMLINS). At the top of the heap were Columbia's GHOSTBUSTERS and Paramount's BEVERLY HILLS COP... and Eddie Murphy was to that company's profits in the eighties what Bing Crosby was four decades earlier. Meanwhile 20th Century Fox had at least one big hit this year mixing the adventure and comedy genres together with stars Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in ROMANCING THE STONE. Director Robert Zemeckis was soon recruited to take on BACK TO THE FUTURE for Spielberg/Universal. James Cameron's THE TERMINATOR (Hemdale/Orion) with Arnold Scharzenegger may have lacked humor, but it still did well adding more muscle to the science fiction genre.

 

By now the MTV influence was complete... or, rather, one might say that the music industry was now officially Hollywoodized. Duran Duran's “Wild Boys” music video was made at practically the cost of a small feature film. Prince made the transition from hit rock albums to the big screen in Warner's PURPLE RAIN. Even if the film was somewhat mediocre as a whole, the visuals were still impressive and the music certainly made up for it as one the most cherished of the decade. Madonna was the next to make the big leap, appearing in two features filmed that year for '85 release: VISION QUEST (a bit role, singing the yet to be released “Crazy For You”) and taking the lead in DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN.

 

Around the same time (August) that Orion Pictures had DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN busy filming, the company (now working with Filmways post-Warner) was unveiling AMADEUS into mainstream theaters. This one would later win over the Academy voters in a battle of classical music over rock, but some critics felt Miloš Forman's biopic on Mozart was still a trifle too Americanized (particularly Tom Hulce's lead performance) despite location scenes in Vienna and Forman's closer-to-home Prague to add authenticity. Nonetheless, the soundtrack album managed to break #56 on Billboard, no easy feat for Mozart these days.

 

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F. Murray Abraham with director Forman

 

Critical successes such as AMADEUS and Goldcrest/Warner's THE KILLING FIELDS, a highly successful wartime historical directed by Roland Joffé and featuring an actual survivor of the Khmer Rouge, Haing S. Ngor, did maintain some of the seventies infatuation with “New” Hollywood and the director-as-auteur, but the eighties were seeing growing criticism that mainstream movies were becoming too corporate and bland. The music scores even started sounding the same around this time. The special effects looked great in GHOSTBUSTERS, but it all was getting too polished and overdone. After HEAVEN'S GATE and its catastrophic losses, the major studios wanted every production manufactured as carefully and controlled as Coca-Cola bottled its soft drinks and operated Columbia Pictures. Often when something like Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA got made, there was so much fuss on how to market it that it was guaranteed to be a failure: this 1982-83 production got cut down from roughly eight hours to six for Cannes' 1984 premiere showing, then down to three hours and 49 minutes to please average European distributors and finally two hours and 19 minutes by Ladd Co./Warner to please the very impatient channel-surfing minded Americans whom it was originally made for (with its 1920s-60s New York setting). While the video market would revamp the average American's tolerance for mini-series type entertainment, theaters wanted everything kept short so they could increase the number of showings. (No surprise that short subjects once again went into decline about this time since it was easier to just stick to trailers and automobile advertisements before the main show.)

 

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Jarmusch goes black and white for the art house market

 

The smaller independent film often fell on the wayside, but there were ways of solving this problem. Entering its tenth year, the Telluride film festival was successfully promoting documentaries and modest features of great importance each Labor Day weekend. Its location in Colorado was as far from Hollywood and New York (with its own established festival) as one could get. At this year's, with movie star Janet Leigh getting her own special award, Jim Jarmusch's STRANGER THAN PARADISE was successfully picked up by the Samuel Goldwyn Company (a current champion of independent art-house cinema since 1979) for wider release; it had originally began as a short subject and expanded into an interesting comedy feature. Also shown there was THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK, an unexpected documentary hit that would also win an Oscar despite its company, Telepictures, soon going bankrupt.

 

HARVEY MILK would also win awards at that other Rocky Mountain haven for movie-goers, Sundance. Back in August 1978, this festival started small in Salt Lake City, Utah before actor Robert Redford increased its exposure with the help of then Governor Scott H. Matheson and a move to Park City, with a later switch from summer showings to late January. With Sterling Van Wagenen in charge and the new Institute taking its name from Redford's character in BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, awards were given out on an annual basis. First Jury winner this year was for OLD ENOUGH, a teen coming of age tale directed by Marisa Silver and soon picked up by Orion Pictures. WHEN THE MOUNTAINS TREMBLE, covering the Guatemalan Noble Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú, was the first of many documentaries that got awarded at Sundance before winning awards elsewhere.

 

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Gaining attention at the USA Film Festival in Dallas, Texas, before also hitting Toronto and later Sundance, was BLOOD SIMPLE, one of the latest in a new wave of eighties “film noirs” that became fashionable after Ladd/Warner's BODY HEAT became a sleeper hit back in 1981. Behind the camera were the Coen brothers Joel and Ethan and cinematographer Barry Sonnefield. This had the typical independent film story: it was shot in 1982 on a budget of $1.5 million in local areas around Austin, Texas, where it would have its premiere a year and a half after completion. The Coen brothers gave up trying to sell the screenplay to a major producer, so their next idea was to round up the funds themselves and make it themselves. Joel's soon-be-married wife Frances McDormant had a lead role, along with other unknowns such as John Getz and an another future Oscar winner (like McDormant) Holly Hunter. Although it would only earn roughly $3 million in the first year of release in theaters, it enjoyed a healthy cult afterlife on the new medium of home video.

 

Usually when a film was an international production, it had a big budget and a huge cast. By the eighties, some films fit this mold, like THE NEVERENDING STORY (made mostly in West Germany, but with an English speaking cast and state-of-the-art special effects of the pre “cgi” quality), but increasingly the word “international” often meant something smaller. Wim Wender's PARIS, TEXAS, opened at Cannes and only earned a modest profit over its $1.8 million budget. Here was a popular German director with German and French film companies financing, but featuring an English speaking cast in the United States (not shot in Paris, Texas but in Fort Stockton, Marathon and Nordheim). Eager to have some critical prestige in a rather lackluster year, 20th Century Fox took on U.S. distribution.

 

Independent films offered an alternative to corporate Hollywood and their numbers gradually increased as the decade progressed, thanks to increasing coverage of the film festivals showing them. Only 46 major studio productions were released this year compared to 105 independents and this ratio would widen considerably in 1985 and beyond. Before long, the major studios realized it was just as easy to fork over distribution rights to something shown at Sundance than to bankroll a production themselves. In fact, much of what MGM-UA was starting to release by this time was essentially made with no interference by Kerkorian & company at all... and since Kerkorian was only interested in what quick cash he could make now, anybody with interest in his vast inventory (such as CNN's Atlanta-based Ted Turner) could, by all means, have it for the right price.

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A Year In Hollywood 1985

 

Part 1: Murdoch and Turner take over

 

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The previous year was a frightening one for Hollywood. The Walt Disney company had almost been taken over by Wall Street sharks eager to demolish it into meaty components. In the wake of its corporate shake-up, no less than five major studios underwent some speedy reorganizations, corporate moving chairs and acquisitions of sub-companies in an effort to ward off the next potentially hostile take-over. No doubt, the executives in charge would have all wanted to join Michael J. Fox's Martin J. Fly going BACK TO THE FUTURE, the title of the Robert Zemeckis directed and Steven Spielberg produced sci fi comedy that was both Universal's and the industry's top hit for 1985.

 

At 20th Century Fox, surviving head Marvin Davis tried to back out of a deal with heavy investor Rupert Murdoch to purchase John Kluge's Multimedia Television Stations. No problem. Murdoch bought the stations himself and would later buy out Davis's shares as well. The Australian mogul even officially made himself an American citizen legally in order to gain the FCC approval of his using the Fox company to help him make the purchase and merge it to his successful News Corporation. Barry Diller had left Paramount to join Fox the previous year in hopes of heading his own TV network to compete with NBC, ABC and CBS. Under Murdoch, Diller's dream would now, slowly but surely, became a reality.

 

While Fox, under the mighty Murdoch, was gradually planning a move in expanding its empire beyond the scope of its rivals, MGM-UA was scrambling to figure out how to stay afloat as anything but a hotel owner. In an ambitious effort to turn its fortunes around after one very bad year, Kirk Kerkorian put in the chief executive chair Alan Ladd Jr., who had previously backed George Lucas' STAR WARS in his ol' 20th Century Fox days and had headed the top independent company distributing through Warner Bros. (a.k.a. THE POLICE ACADEMY series along with more prestigious fare like CHARIOTS OF FIRE and THE RIGHT STUFF). Yet the always mercurial Kerkorian was losing confidence and was eager to bail out.

 

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Ted Turner of CNN, the rising cable TV empire headquartered in Atlanta, successfully purchased the entire company that summer. Unfortunately his ambition to revive Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as the great movie power-house it once was seemed too difficult of a dream. Kerkorian would then, by year's end, buy back his company but lose the vast film libraries that Turner could now play with to his heart's content with his growing TV networks; meanwhile, the Culver City studio went to Lorimar, which had been filming DALLAS there for several years. Turner's acquisitions not only included MGM's and a certain quota of UA's previously-released films, but also the pre-1948 Warner library as well, which UA had owned for a decade or so. (Later Warner, under Time Inc., would take over Turner and get it all back, but that is a later story.) As Estelle Getty's Sophia in Disney-Touchstone's popular new TV show GOLDEN GIRLS would joke, “If Ted Turner wants to colorize movies, let him”; this peculiar only-in-the-eighties fad was criticized for making classic black and white movies on TV look like Japanese photo spreads in 1910 National Geographic magazines.

 

It was not just cable TV that would benefit from this change in ownership of classic films, but also the lucrative world of home video. With the opening of the first Blockbuster Video store in Dallas, Texas on October 19th, the video store chain had become a reality. This also marked the dawn of the Made For Video movie production, often cheaply made, that could generate more income from rentals in the store than it would theatrically. The major studios again discovered that their vast libraries of old films still had a market, just as they did in the fifties with television... and with the benefit of Macrovision to make copying videos more difficult. (That clever blinking effect on your pirated copy a memorable relic of its era.) Yet companies who knew all about this much earlier were the ones who were most stubborn about releasing many of their titles. Disney Home Video only allowed two of its popular animated features onto VHS and laserdisc before this time, since it desperately needed reissues shown in theaters to make up for losses accumulated with many failed new films. PINOCCHIO had earned $24 million in just one week as a theatrical reissue, contrasting with RETURN TO OZ and THE BLACK CAULDRON, and the decision to release that all-time favorite on VHS in July involved a great deal of hesitancy.

 

 

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At least the kids are still going to the movies...

 

As mentioned previously, theater attendance suffered some downfall due to the spectacular increase in home video rentals. Some consolidation taking place this year was expected. The Canadian based Cineplex Odeon Corporation bought out the Plitt chain (previously United Paramount and ABC) and would take over several more the following year. Behind them was the prominent Canadian family of investors, the Bronfmans. Also within a year, this company would establish its own home video distribution company along with backing theatrical films as well, lighting both ends of the candle so to speak.

 

George Lucas was continuing to expand his STAR WARS empire despite not having a new sequel in production. A TV movie EWOKS: THE BATTLE FOR ENDOR premiered on ABC, then was released theatrically in the UK before making its expected round to home video. Hardly considered a classic, it nonetheless marked the end of an era with its stop-motion animation effects, as his Industrial Light & Magic was pushing forward.

 

Disney animator John Lasseter tried to influence his company with some computerized effects mixing traditional animation in a test reel WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE in early 1984 before joining Pixar, the digital animation company temporarily aligned with Lucas at this time and releasing shorts like THE ADVENTURES OF ANDRE AND WALLY B (Lasseter's first production for them). Concurrently, he was also working on a partly computerized animated feature called THE BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER that was unfortunately shelved for a while. Lucasfilm Computer Graphics made good use of him for a stain glass come-to-life knight in Paramount's co-produced YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES. Unfortunately Lucas could only maintain this special company for a short time as his personal life (including a messy divorce) forced some downsizing of his assets. Steve Jobs would become the primary owner by 1986, although Pixar under him would enjoy a much brighter future as a result.

 

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Computerized effects were the new novelty, but special effects as a whole were still being cut back a bit in 1985, compared to previous years. Ron Howard's COCOON for 20th Century Fox had some minor spectacle needed for its alien story, but mostly was just a standard acting ensemble with veteran stars like Don Ameche, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Maureen Stapleton, Gwen Verden and others. Its success was more in tune with its “feel good” theme that attendees left the show with.

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A Year In Hollywood 1985

 

Part 2: Muscle men and feisty ladies

 

COCOON related to the older generation who felt you are only as old as you feel (ditto THE GOLDEN GIRLS on TV). Regarding a younger and more uptight generation, comedy star Albert Brooks' LOST IN AMERICA demonstrated that the Baby Boom yuppies were becoming increasingly dissatisfied not being sixties era hippies and, humorously here, tried to hit-the-road EASY RIDER style only to wind up whining about not having all of their eighties creature comforts. The theme of leaving the Keeping Up With The Jones lifestyle for a more simple one was commonplace at this time, even in films set during an earlier time period. Only slightly different in tone was Geraldine Page's Mrs. Watts trying to escape the confines of 1947 urban life to return to her rural home of tranquility in Texas (only to find nothing but an abandoned house); this nostalgic adaptation of Horton Foote's A TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL, directed by Peter Mastersen, was a surprise hit for Island Records' own film company. Another popular nostalgic this year was Woody Allen's 1935 set THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO where movie stars and the people who idolized them intermingle and try to escape the confines of their equally confining existences.

 

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The need to escape was one popular movie theme. Another was the need to express no fear and face those evil commies in Reagan's Cold War with lots of muscle power, especially in that unique-to-the-eighties genre of Vietnam MIA shoot 'em ups. Chuck Norris appeared in two MISSING IN ACTION releases hitting theaters only half a year apart. RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II (Caralco-Tri Star) featured Sylvester Stallone battling Russians, among others, in a Mexico stand-in for Vietnam. Rumor had it that the Norris films borrowed considerably from a circulating RAMBO script by James Cameron before that film went into production in June 1984. By now, Stallone was at the top of Quigley's box office polls thanks not only to RAMBO but also ROCKY IV (MGM-UA) which had him pitted against Soviet boxer Ivan Drago, played by Dolph Lundgren in his best Swedish-Russian mixed accent.

 

The year's top actress, Meryl Streep, unfortunately only ranked #10 in the same year's poll with nine guys ahead of her; her biggest success being Universal's OUT OF AFRICA co-starring seventies Quigley champ Robert Redford. Fortunately the king of the industry, Steven Spielberg, recognized great actress talent when he found it and included a cluster in his adaptation of Alice Walker's THE COLOR PURPLE for Warner Bros., among them Whoopi Golberg and Oprah Winfrey (one full year before she became the most popular talk show host). In a change of pace, physical beauty was less important than acting talent here. However, fellow director John Badham declared around this time the unfortunate reality of eighties Hollywood: “If you're a talented woman and very beautiful... you will be burned out within four or five years when the next beautiful talented girl comes along who is kinda fresh. You know, ho hum, we are tired of Teri Garr now. Let's move on to Kathleen Turner.”

 

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Sticking behind her man, Michael Douglas

 

Turner was doing rather nicely this year, if not exactly making Quigley's lists, in PRIZZI'S HONOR (although Angelica Houston would score the supporting Oscar later and Jack Nicholson got bigger billing) and THE JEWEL OF THE NILE cashing in on the success of her previous ROMANCING THE STONE, all for 20th Century Fox. This year, she also filmed PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED for Coppola's American Zeotrope and Tri-Star; its release pushed back another year due to too many similarities to a certain other time-travel adventure featuring Michael J. Fox.

 

Strong and feisty women were enjoying a brief vogue even if it wouldn't last. Among them were Cher in MASK, Jessica Lang playing Patsy Cline in SWEET DREAMS (telling Ed Harris' Charlie off: “You want a lot don't you?... Well, people in hell want ice water, but that don't mean they get it.”) and Bette Midler filming (for '86 release) both DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS and RUTHLESS PEOPLE for the rejuvenated Disney-Touchstone label. Slightly younger actresses like Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald and Demi Moore were enjoying some mileage in the latest wave of brat pack flicks like THE BREAKFAST CLUB and ST. ELMO'S FIRE, but their male co-stars still gained more screen time; this also being the case with the scheduled-for-'86 production FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF featuring Matthew Broderick and who-is-she-again? Mia Sara, although Jennifer Grey got a juicy supporting role. When Paramount's WITNESS (starring Harrison Ford as a Philadelphia cop investigating a murder and hiding out with the Amish) was a huge critical success in January, Kelly McGillis broke out as the new year's up-and-coming “strong” actress... only she was, again, forced to play secondary support to another box office draw in her next Paramount role, TOP GUN... and Tom Cruise, not McGillis, would topple Sylvester Stallone from the top of the Quigley thrown instead. (To date, no woman had succeeded to do so since Julie Andrews back in 1967.)

 

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Half destroyed dolls are hardly the cuddly Care Bears we are used to... THE CABINET OF JAN ŠVANKMAJER (1984 UK short entering US film festivals this year)

 

During this mid-point of the decade, when many were fearing that the American cinema was falling into a rut, a certain strangeness started infiltrating the screens from across the Big Pond in an avant-garde British Invasion of sorts. In the arena of short subjects, the brothers Quay (Stephen and Timothy) were unveiling unsettling stop-motion animation stuff like THE CABINET OF JAN ŠVANKMAJER, not at all like the standard Aardman Animation fare. Not surprisingly, the British Invasion of the eighties was stronger in the world of advertising and MTV than it was in mainstream theatrical entertainment, since Americans still favored their Brits in more conventional period pieces or as James Bond in A VIEW TO A KILL.

 

Both Universal and 20th Century Fox took turns distributing an ambitious Embassy International import, Terry Gilliam's BRAZIL which morphed his Monty Python anything-goes sense of humor with the post BLADE RUNNER anything-goes science fiction. Film critic Jack Matthews described it later as “satirizing the bureaucratic, largely disfunctional industrial world that had been driving Gilliam crazy all his life”. A big cast of famous stars (Jonathan Price, Robert De Niro, Michael Palin, soon-popular-on-TV Katherine Helmond, Bob Hoskins, Ian Holm and less famous but still accomplished Kim Greist) didn't exactly help its box-office. Perhaps not enough U.S. audiences were familiar enough with either George Orwell's 1984 (despite how much publicity it got the previous year, along with Richard Burton's final film) or Ambrose Pierce's An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (and its gotcha ending) to get the point of it. Even Roger Ebert was baffled: “The movie is very hard to follow. I have seen it twice and am still not sure exactly who all the characters are or how they fit.”

 

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Universal would later own stock in Working Title Films, a company timidly launched in 1983 by Tim Bevan and Sarah Radclyffe and initially distributing through Channel 4 like so many Brit companies at this time. Stephen Frears' MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE profiled the racial and political conflicts of Margaret Thatcher's London, in addition to being among the first mainstream hits in a couple years to feature an unashamed gay relationship between Daniel Day Lewis' Johnny and Gordon Warnecki's Pakistani Omar. Originally planned as a TV movie, it was a surprise indy success after Orion Pictures picked up its distribution in the U.S. In contrast to Artificial Eye, which distributed more challenging-for-Americans “art house” fare such as Peter Greenway's A ZED AND TWO NOUGHTS, Working Title Films was a nice, quintessential “relationship picture” maker that would slowly influence the Yanks in Hollywood beyond all of its stock “pretty faces” towards more eccentric and offbeat characters in more unconventional, but still commonplace, relationships. (Hugh Grant would be their biggest star to move westward in popularity a few years down the road.) While Daniel Day Lewis may have played a stuffed shirt in Merchant Ivory's contemporary A ROOM WITH A VIEW, his scene with Gordan splashing water over a sink was a preliminary of similar American playful scenes in such 1990s fare as FRIED GREEN TOMATOES and... for now... a good stopping point to close out 1985. During the second half of the eighties, mainstream American film makers would start following Britain's lead and relax a bit more, overturning some over used conventions and accept a bit more diversification in its presumed audience.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

A Year In Hollywood 1986

 

Part 1: Death and nostalgia

 

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On November 29th, movie legend Cary Grant died rather suddenly just as he was preparing for a Davenport, Iowa theatrical performance. There was nothing special or unique about his passing, but it seemed to impact many old-time movie fans more than usual, especially when popular TV shows like GOLDEN GIRLS still made jokes on how he never lost his looks. In addition, there seemed to be more attention to celebrity deaths this year than usual. It was not that 1986 saw any more than other years, but an entire generation seemed to be gone rather too abruptly in a matter of months and marking the end of a era for millions who still remembered it: Donna Reed, Gordon MacRae, Ray Milland, James Cagney, Otto Preminger, Broderick Crawford, Bessie Love, Benny Goodman, Rudy Vallee, Vincent Minnelli, Hal B. Wallis, Jerry Colonna and Elsa Lancaster... and these were just a sampling.

 

In a very different way, the death of Rock Hudson a year earlier (October 1985) prompted something different: celebrities in Hollywood taking action to push the Reagan administration to acknowledge and fund a cure for the disease that claimed him. After five years of coverage in the news, NAID director Anthony Fauci declared for the New York Times (January 14), “one million Americans have already been infected with the virus and that number will jump to at least 2 million or 3 million within 5 to 10 years”. Working with Dr. Michael Gottlieb and the AIDS Research Foundation, Elizabeth Taylor (co-star of Hudson in Giant many decades before) was among those pushing the hardest. As she stated, “I could take the fame I'd resented and tried to get away from for so many years—but you can never get away from it—and use it to do some good.”

 

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It would, however, take President Ronald Reagan another year before even mentioning the subject in a press conference, since it was still being dubbed “just that gay disease” and far right politics were causing a political dragging-of-the-feet in Washington. In addition to many leading voices in Hollywood, those in the music business were also pushing for action, after previously waging war on starvation in Africa with a July 1985 concert in Philadelphia called Live Aid. Many united under Dionne Warwick with a fund-raising pop recording of “That's What Friends Are For” that hit #1 on Billboard in January.

 

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Early in the year, there was certain melancholy mood in the air, especially after the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion that claimed the lives of seven crew members including teacher-turned-astronaut Christa McAuliffe. In February, Orion Pictures released Woody Allen's HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, one his darker comedies that sharply contrasted with Orion's BACK TO SCHOOL starring full-of-life Rodney Dangerfield (released a few months later). HANNAH had an ensemble cast that not only included the director in front of the cameras but also Mia Farrow, her mother Maureen O'Sullivan, Michael Caine, Barbara Hershey, Carrie Fisher, Dianne Wiest (in a nice break from all of her mommy roles in so many teen films of the era) and long established star from the Golden Age (like O'Sullivan) Lloyd Nolan... and one who also died not long after completing his scenes. Death, of course, was a key theme here and Woody is shown attempting a suicide , then escaping to a movie film revival of the Marx Brothers going crazy in DUCK SOUP...

 

"I am watching these people up on the screen and I started getting hooked on the film. You know? And I started to feel... how could you even think of killing yourself? I mean, isn't it so stupid? I mean, look at all of those people on that screen. You know, they are real funny. What if the worst is true? There is no God and you only go around once and that is it. Don't you want to be part of the experience? You know... what the hell? It is not all a drag and I am thinking to myself that, gee, I should stop ruining my life searching for answers I am never going to get and just enjoy it while it lasts.”

 

American moviegoers weren't necessarily that introspective in their attitude, but a great many were feeling more nostalgic than usual, as far their preference for entertainment was concerned. They were also very picky about what era they were nostalgic for. Hugh Hudson's $28 million production REVOLUTION for Goldcrest/Warner had the misguided notion that many would love to see Al Pacino fighting the war of independence, but that end-of-December 1985 release was greeted by crickets... and a first year revenue of just $358 thousand. Traditionally, what was wanted was a rose-colored recreation of just two decades back on account of a short memory. The 1940s moviegoer favored the roaring twenties with THE JOLSON STORY, MARGIE and GOOD NEWS, while Gloria Swanson's Norma Desmond in SUNSET BLVD. wished it was still the twenties. Those in the had-it-all fifties revisited the had-nothing Depression in THE GLENN MILLER STORY, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER and AUNTIE MAME and a pre-Depression 1929 in SOME LIKE IT HOT. The sixties was dominated by THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, THE LONGEST DAY, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE DIRTY DOZEN and PATTON, while fleeing Nazi controlled Austria a year before WW2 made great fodder for THE SOUND OF MUSIC. The first GODFATHER movie and THE WAY WE WERE straddled the forties and fifties, but much of the seventies focused on the Eisenhower Era in AMERICAN GRAFFITI and GREASE (for the big screens) and HAPPY DAYS (for the small ones). Likewise, nineties DAZED AND CONFUSED, BOOGIE NIGHTS and a substantial portion of FORREST GUMP took care of what wasn't covered on THAT '70s SHOW.

 

HOOSIERS in its fifties Indiana setting was a sleeper favorite this year, but the primary fetish in the eighties was for the sixties. Buffalo Springfield's “For What Its Worth”, not anything by Bruce Springsteen or Michael Jackson, probably holds the honor as the most overplayed song of this decade's soundtrack. Filming tentatively started on Philip Kaufman 's THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, beginning its storyline in 1968 Prague, but Vietnam of the same year was much, much more trendy... and had the appropriate death scenes needed to prevent eighties audiences from getting TOO rose-colored nostalgic. After the autumn 1983 success of VIETNAM: A TELEVISION HISTORY on PBS TV made it all relevant again, came the first big onslaught of PURPLE HEARTS, BIRDY and CEASE FIRE. By August 8th of this year, principal photography was finishing up on Stanley Kubrick's epic FULL METAL JACKET. At the same time, that other darling of New Hollywood, Francis Ford Coppola, was busy in the editing rooms with his second trip to the war in GARDENS OF STONE. He managed to complete that one despite the untimely death of his son in a speedboat accident a few months earlier.

 

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PLATOON was announced as the first to made by an actual Vietnam vet, Oliver Stone (who wrote an initial screenplay in 1976), but suffered year long production delays until March 1986 thanks to Dino de Laurentiis dropping his producer support and prompting a law suit. Laurentiis originally utilized Stone on the screenplay of last year's YEAR OF THE DRAGON (Michael Cimino's first feature since HEAVEN'S GATE) in exchange for his support, then changed his mind. When PLATOON opened in December, some critics fussed that the cast, including star Charlie Sheen (son of Martin, who also handled the war in Coppola's APOCALYPSE NOW a decade earlier) looked more like they belonged in a 1986 brat pack flick than on the 1967-68 war front (not that the filming was a piece of cake). It was still a hit for both studios Hemdale and Orion Pictures.

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A Year In Hollywood 1986

 

Part 2: Quality vs. quantity

 

In a particularly interesting twist this summer, leading British film producer David Puttnam took the lead at Columbia Pictures. Puttnam's goal was more quality than quantity in that studio's output. Shortly after his arrival in June, a pair of ambitious international co-productions started filming with Columbia's backing: Bernardo Bertolucci's Italian-Chinese-British epic THE LAST EMPEROR (clearing permission to use the Imperial Palace for some scenes) and John Boorman's HOPE AND GLORY (recapping wartime London).

 

There were only a few other major executive seat shuffles this year, most notably Tom Pol lock replacing a resigning (yet again) Frank Price at Universal. Yet each of the biggest companies was having a rather bumpy ride about now. The newly renamed MGM-UA Communications was struggling with one of their bombs, SOLARBABIES, only earning $1.6 million over a $25 million budget despite being co-produced by Brooksfilms, which was doing surprisingly well with a reboot of THE FLY for 20th Century Fox. Warner was, likewise, having more misses than hits with THE MISSION, MOSQUITO COAST (a rare Harrison Ford film that lost money) and ROUND MIDNIGHT. However, Paramount enjoyed more consistency than its rivals, thanks to its wonder boys team of Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckenheimer, producers of TOP GUN. Paramount and 20th Century Fox both benefited in different markets distributing the Australian smash “CROCODILE” DUNDEE with Paul Hogan.

 

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Meanwhile, the Fox Broadcasting Network was finally launched with great fanfare, under Rupert Murdock and Barry Diller's supervision, on October 18th to rival NBC, CBS and ABC. There was a delightfully disjointed quality to the early TV productions that brought back fond memories of the Big Three's own early years of the late forties and fifties. In a typical off-the-cuff move, Joan Rivers had her own talk show to compete with Johnny Carson on NBC. One advantage was a more laissez-faire mentality which allowed more experimentation and an easier acceptance of unusual pilot ideas, unlike the Big Three that were sticking to the dull “if it ain't broke, don't fix it” mentality.

 

Overall, despite Puttnam's goals with Columbia and Fox pushing the TV frontier, 1986 was a generally lackluster year on the big screens. SISKEL & EBERT were giving plenty of thumbs-down on their newest show on syndication. Even the MTV infatuation was losing steam: both Prince and Madonna had critical flops with UNDER THE CHERRY MOON and SHANGHAI SURPRISE respectively (even though there was no slump in their records and CDs, her True Blue album getting more than enough respect). Most importantly, the industry was suffering a bad case of “sequelitis”. Positively THE KARATE KID II was a hit with ticket buyers and STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME a hit with critics, but too many others suffered from the Roman numeral system: CARE BEARS MOVIE II: A NEXT GENERATION, PSYCHO III, POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART IV: JASON LIVES and a 12 years-in-the-waiting second THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Not to mention, there was a rather curious KING KONG LIVES trying to out-do the foolishness of the 1976 version of KING KONG, also for Dino De Laurentiis.(On the plus side, his company De Laurentiis Entertainment Group did put out some stellar stuff this year however, including David Lynch's BLUE VELVET.)

 

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James Cameron's sequel to Ridley Scott's ALIEN simply pluralized to ALIENS. This was probably the best sequel of the year with Sigourney Weaver giving more than enough muscle on screen. It also represented a high water mark for eighties gore. By this time, there was virtually no nudity on screens worthy of even an R-rating; 9 1/2 WEEKS was rather tame, while the British import A ROOM WITH A VIEW by Merchant Ivory merely had an innocent skinny dipping scene. Yet the graphic violence was so strong that several studios had to cut scenes just to avoid an X-rating, including one of Sylvester Stallone's all-time worst (if financially successful) COBRA, nominated for multiple Raspberry Awards.

 

The most eagerly anticipated and then quickly loathed summertime release was another multiple Raspberry Award recipient, HOWARD THE DUCK. George Lucas was unfortunate to be among the executive producers, though certainly not guilty for its direction and production. This famous flop has a curious retro-charm today since it pretty much sums up everything Hollywood stood for mid-decade: an obsession with comic books, flip-flopping stunts, gawdy special effects, big hair (and post-Madonna mixed-matched wardrobe) on the lady lead, a rock vs. slushy orchestra score-mix and a cynical “no more Mister Nice Duck” sarcasm. The decision to do it with animatronic suits has also made it nostalgically quaint today, since any attempt to do it again today would certainly be “cgi” and far less... interesting.

 

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Accomplishing what HOWARD might have initially been striving for, but featuring better puppetry and imagination, was Frank Oz's musical version of the Roger Corman camp favorite THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (Geffen/Warner), boasting amusing voice work by Four Tops' singer Levi Stubbs. Although the Muppet influence seemed to be good box-office, Lucasfilm's own collaboration with Jim Henson Associates, LABYRINTH (Tri-Star), fared better with some critics than patrons. In a year with so many productions losing money during another periodic industry slump (post-theatrical VHS sales being what kept everybody solvent), this was yet another loser that could only hope to recoup as a cult film... and it would eventually.

 

George Lucas was more personally involved in a special 17 minute short film that cost a then whopping $1.76 million dollars per minute, but guaranteed long lines at its featured theater location at Disney's EPCOT in Orlando, Florida. This was done in association with Francis Ford Coppola, despite a falling out between the two directors for some years, and the biggest pop icon of the decade, Michael Jackson. CAPTAIN EO debuted on September 12th as the first “4D” extravaganza, even though it was technically in 3-D with additional in-theater effects such as lasers and smoke, harking back to the good ol' days of William Castle's skeletons appearing in the theater showings of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. This kind of ballyhoo had been sadly missing in mainstream theaters lately, but the Disney theme parks were an avid workplace for the kind of experimentation that the studio heads were less reluctant to try.

 

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Disney's animated contribution of the year was THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE, a much simpler production than THE BLACK CAULDRON, but with delightful Vincent Price on the soundtrack and some of the studio's first computer enhanced scenes set in Big Ben. Yet Disney had lots of competition this year with theaters flooded with animated features of all kinds. Steven Spielberg backed Don Bluth's AN AMERICAN TAIL, which intriguingly opened on the very same day (November 21st) as the final (and short-lived) theatrical reissue of Disney's part live-action SONG OF THE SOUTH, the 1946 chestnut that Disney vaulted for eternity after trying to milk it for some publicity on its new theme park Splash Mountain ride.

 

Few animated features overcame their production costs, including Hasbro's THE TRANSFORMERS which was better than that company's MY LITTLE PONY: THE MOVIE in that it featured the final screen credits for Orson Welles and Scatman Crothers. As the great Welles moaned to his biographer Barbara Learning roughly a week before his death: “You know what I did this morning? I played the voice of a toy.”

 

Yet the darkness of '86 would soon subside to brighter pastures in '87, as American films experience a notable jump in terms of quality and prestige.

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JLewis

and a 12 years-in-the-waiting second THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Not to mention, there was a rather curious KING KONG LIVES trying to out-do the foolishness of the 1976 version of KING KONG, also for Dino De Laurentiis.

 

 

Actually, both were the result of new startup studios trying to flex their self-indulgent prestige:

If you've seen the "Electric Boogaloo" documentary on Netflix, Texas Chainsaw wasn't the only iconic franchise Menachem Golan thought he could resurrect for Cannon Pictures all by himself in the 80's.  

(Charles Bronson and Christopher Reeve would soon get the Golan/Globus treatment later...)

 

And Dino was attempting to spin off his own production/release studio of DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group, which also gave us "Manhunter", "Blue Velvet" and "Crimes of the Heart".  

But first, he had to follow his ten-year dream, when he first told reporters in 1976, "Maybe I bring the monkey back to life, you know, like Frankenstein, he goes on a rampage..."  

 

Psycho III, OTOH, was Universal validating the surprise good response Psycho II had had in 1983, by letting Tony Perkins continue his "comeback" in directing.  Which was a good try but he was clearly no Richard Franklin or Tom Holland.

 

The most eagerly anticipated and then quickly loathed summertime release was another multiple Raspberry Award recipient, HOWARD THE DUCK. 

 

(Yeah, and they weren't the only ones "eagerly anticipating it"...Couldn't wait to rip through the entire decade just to get to 1986, couldja?)   :P 

 

The decision to do it with animatronic suits has also made it nostalgically quaint today, since any attempt to do it again today would certainly be “cgi” and far less... interesting.

 

Oh, I dunno...CGI and actual Marvel Studios comic-canon seemed to be an improvement when Howard cameo'ed in his proper print-comic place at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy:

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Ha ha! I knew I could count on you to arrive after a few boring posts of mine.

 

This is terrible. I totally forgot about BLUE VELVET! I never cared for that movie much, but it is a popular cult favorite and SHOULD have been mentioned. (Maybe I will just snooop it in there quickly.)

 

I did suspect that HOWARD got redone (if briefly), but wasn't sure. In fairness, I do think that movie was roasted more than it should have been. There were many worse films that year, not to mention that decade. I haven't seen it since... well, 1986... probably on video. It didn't seem THAT bad at the time. As routine and predictable HOWARD might be compared to other fantasy films of its type, it is far easier to sit through it than something like Jean-Luc Godard's awful critical darling WEEKEND.

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Actually, both were the result of new startup studios trying to flex their self-indulgent prestige:

If you've seen the "Electric Boogaloo" documentary on Netflix, Texas Chainsaw wasn't the only iconic franchise Menachem Golan thought he could resurrect for Cannon Pictures all by himself in the 80's.  

(Charles Bronson and Christopher Reeve would soon get the Golan/Globus treatment later...)

 

And Dino was attempting to spin off his own production/release studio of DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group, which also gave us "Manhunter", "Blue Velvet" and "Crimes of the Heart".  

But first, he had to follow his ten-year dream, when he first told reporters in 1976, "Maybe I bring the monkey back to life, you know, like Frankenstein, he goes on a rampage..."  

 

Psycho III, OTOH, was Universal validating the surprise good response Psycho II had had in 1983, by letting Tony Perkins continue his "comeback" in directing.  Which was a good try but he was clearly no Richard Franklin or Tom Holland.

 

 

(Yeah, and they weren't the only ones "eagerly anticipating it"...Couldn't wait to rip through the entire decade just to get to 1986, couldja?)   :P 

 

 

Oh, I dunno...CGI and actual Marvel Studios comic-canon seemed to be an improvement when Howard cameo'ed in his proper print-comic place at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy:

 

I actually went to "Howard the Duck" when it opened in August of 1986 It ended up grossing $16m & I gave it (*)

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A Year In Hollywood 1987

 

Part 1: Going by the quotes

 

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At Columbia Pictures, the great honeymoon with David Puttnam only lasted a year and a half. Although he boosted the quality of the studio's output by either acquiring or overseeing THE BIG EASY, HOPE AND GLORY and an international Best Picture winner, THE LAST EMPEROR (co-produced by the British based Hemdale, which previously provided PLATOON to Orion Pictures), profits were not quite as high as expected. Despite his ambitions for prestige on a budget, not all of his choices were successful even with critics, particularly LEONARD PART 6 cashing in on Bill Cosby's popularity. He was also disliked for reducing the number of independent producers with exclusive contracts to the company and was too outspoken with those working under him. ISHTAR was among those productions that were not his responsibility, but its mammoth failure certainly did not help matters. In a dramatic move, Coca-Cola decided on December 1st to merge Columbia with its co-owned “offspring” Tri-Star, with Dawn Steel (not the first, but among the first ladies in charge, formerly with Paramount) heading the former and Jeff Sagansky the latter. Puttnam was paid off with a three million dollar check while a new umbrella name Columbia Pictures Entertainment was adopted under overseeing president Victor Kaufman.

 

However, what Puttnam set out to achieve did have a trickling down effect on the rest of the industry. The majors were starting to realize that certain stock genres had run their course and that focusing too much on easy VHS rentals and not enough on first-run quality product to attract people to theaters was not economically sound. The British model of emphasizing quality over quantity would help restore some of the “zip” that American cinema had been lacking ever since the moguls decided to play safe after HEAVEN'S GATE. The object of the game was keeping production costs low, but focusing a bit more on screenplays.

 

It is interesting to note that most of the famous movie quotes of the decade tend to be consolidated to this year. Also they often had only three or four words involved, keeping it simple. One popular fantasy THE PRINCESS BRIDE became famous for one word “inconceivable!”, followed by the line “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” (A certain candidate in a recent election cycle loved quoting this film at length.)

 

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Delivery and the performer dishing it out is as equally, if not more important, to the success of any line. Cher slapping Nicholas Cage in MOONSTRUCK, “Snap out of it!” was hardly original, but her unexpected yet no-nonsense approach to dealing with her mistake of sleeping with him was typical of strong ladies dealing with reality better than their male companions. An equally simple-but-direct line came from Danny Glover in Richard Donner's LETHAL WEAPON: “I'm too old for this s**t”. Of course, there had to be plenty of macho lines of substance as well, like Jesse Ventura in PREDATOR: “I ain't got no time to bleed.” A bit of the decade's submerged homophobia was humorously exposed in John Hughes' PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES with “Those aren't pillows”. After unsuccessfully confronting his mother about his “Cousin Patty”, Danny DeVito tells Billy Crystal in THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN “You lied to me!” before hitting him with a frying fan.

 

Patrick Swayze, rising Brat Pack star, swoops to grab Jennifer Grey with the even more famous “Nobody puts baby in the corner” in DIRTY DANCING. This was one of those break-out independent successes of 1987, although the company involved, Vestron Pictures, only lasted a couple years. One of many offspring of the FOOTLOOSE dance-musical boom, in addition to the eighties' obsession with anything set in the sixties, it is probably the most eighties-ish piece of nostalgia in existence with none of the jean-short outfits and blow-dried poofy hair matching the Kennedy era at all and Otis Redding's 1967 recording of “Love Man” featured four years too early for its setting. Also a huge success was Disney-Touchstone's GOOD MORNING VIETNAM with comedy star Robin Williams; this being set in 1965-66 but still finding room to stretch things like DIRTY DANCING to incorporate Louis Armstrong's “What A Wonderful World”, also recorded in 1967... well after the character Robin plays (based loosely on Adrian Cronauer) leaves Saigon. On the plus side, a music video featuring the Great Satchmo made MTV's hit-list sixteen years after his passing.

 

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Released by 20th Century Fox shortly after the October stock market crash was Oliver Stone's WALL STREET. Michael Douglas' Gordon Gekko was the classic high power broker in charge, saying “Greed is good” as a variation of Ivan Boesky's “Greed is right”. Douglas also starred in Paramount's FATAL ATTRACTION with another high power character played by Glenn Close and her famous line “I'm... I'm NOT gonna be ignored”. Although this thriller later became a joke by Tom Hanks in SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE (as one woman who scared more than enough men in theaters), in 1987 it polarized some critics who wondered if it was a backlash against strong career women in general, suggesting they could all potentially be psychopaths. This was not director Adrian Lyne and screenwriter James Dearden's intention and, as a result, there was considerable hesitancy on how to market it because such strong women were still rather frightening to the status quo.

 

After a sneak preview, they also realized a different ending was needed as new scenes were shot. Initially Close's Alexandra slits her throat and makes it look like he killed her so that he gets arrested. However the eighties audiences still needed a tried-and-true happy ending, this time with shootings in the bathroom instead and husband-and-wife (she being played by Ann Archer) together again with the classic photo on the shelf preserving the nuclear family. Japanese audiences love more fatalism in their movies, however, so that market got the original cut while U.S. audiences had to wait later when it arrived on home video for the alternative ending.

 

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Glenn Close was now ranked #7 on Quigley's polls as the most bankable actress in a still male-dominated box-office. However Eddie Murphy briefly knocked off Tom Cruise at the top, thanks to his $300 million dollar international success with BEVERLY HILLS COP II. This marked the second crossover in racial barriers, previously achieved in 1968 with Sidney Poitier. Murphy's success was also interesting in that only one company, Paramount, was handling all of his box-office hits at this time; this being a rare situation aside from Clint Eastwood's Malpaso company sticking mostly to two (Warner and Universal). Sadly women still lacked enough muscle power in this industry, despite executive control maintained by prominent figures like Dawn Steel of Columbia. It would not be until the nineties that women would again recover much lost ground, but some seeds were planted around this time by a new up-and-coming actress discovered by the Coen brothers and first made a star in their 1984 indy success BLOOD SIMPLE.

 

Joel and Ethan Coen shot RAISING ARIZONA for Circle Films and 20th Century Fox on the modest $6 million in 1986 and generated a mammoth profit upon its release this March. MOONSTRUCK's Nicholas Cage may have been the featured star, but Holly Hunter exploded in popularity playing one cop-wife eager to have a baby at all costs even if it means breaking the law. This was a new kind of comedy that many weren't quite used to yet, but equally eager to embrace, with its hillbilly-ish background music by Carter Burwell, fast action chase scenes not unlike seventies Burt Reynolds vehicles a.k.a. SMOKY AND THE BANDIT and, according to the Coen brothers themselves in interviews, considerable inspiration coming from the great Preston Sturges comedies of the 1940s. However critics didn't quite understand this film as much as audiences did. David Kehr in the Chicago Tribune wrote “the overlooked form peels away from the slight, frail content, and the film starts to look like an episode of HEE HAW directed by an amphetamine-crazed Orson Welles”. There was much complaining of style over substance.

 

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RAISING ARIZONA was one of two key films this year that pointed in the direction of nineties mainstream cinema, each featuring Holly Hunter in a lead role. Her overly talkative and very neurotic type of personality was the opposite of cool and collected Cher and more disciplined Meryl Streep; many actresses during the next decade would be inspired to follow her mannerisms. BROADCAST NEWS was another hit for the Fox studio and for James L. Brooks' newly formed Gracie Films, also handling TV shows for the Fox network like TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW and its future spin-off animated series THE SIMPSONS. Critics gave it plenty of praise and it was among the next year's Oscar nominees for Best Picture, but it took a few years for its real reputation to grow. Only more recently has the great battle of style over substance in news journalism become a major issue of concern. William Hurt played the “pretty face” anchor who contrasts with Hunter and Albert Brooks' desire for more aggressive cut-throat reporting. Initially Debra Winger (featured in Brooks' earlier TERMS OF ENDEARMENT) was planned for the lead, but Hunter got the role practically at last minute when Winger needed time out for her pregnancy. Hunter would win the Silver Bear at the next year Berlin Film Festival.

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A Year In Hollywood 1987

 

Part 2: International leanings and animated horizons

 

This was a great year for cinema on an international level, not only with an Italian-Chinese-British-Hollywood super production leading the Oscars, but also several key directors in different European and Asian countries fine-tuning their technique after years in the various “new waves” that hit their nations' film industries during the seventies and early eighties. Many international successes of this period would later get remade by Hollywood itself, such as Wim Wender's WINGS OF DESIRE (as CITY OF ANGELS a decade later). Denmark and Sweden, in particular, were hotbeds of creativity at this time, with Max von Sydow returning to his Swedish roots (post-HANNAH AND HER SISTERS and other American successes) in Billie August's early 20th century immigration piece PELLE THE CONQUEROR. Gabriel Axel, whose directorial work also stretched back (like actor Sydow) to the 1950s, provided the next Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Feature with BABETTE'S FEAST, competing against Louis Malle's AU REVOIR LES ENFANTS which poetically covered school boy life in 1943-44 occupied France and was among the most critically acclaimed imports from that country. China, inspired partly by its international cooperation with THE LAST EMPEROR, was also going through a golden age of its own thanks to its “main melody” national pride features borrowing much from Hollywood's styles. YINXIONG BENSEJ (A CHINESE GHOST STORY) and RED SORGHUM had little trouble competing against the standard Japanese, South Korean and Indian film festival dominance in Europe and America. Steven Spielberg's EMPIRE OF THE SUN was also made with some cooperation with the Chinese government so that the real Shanghai could be included for key scenes (along with Spain and Elstree Studios in the UK).

 

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During Spielberg's film, a vintage GONE WITH THE WIND poster was featured in a dramatic scene set during a Japanese WW2 attack. Movie audiences were constantly being reminded of cinema history when watching each of the latest releases. The comedy THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN even made Alfred Hitchcock's STRANGERS ON THE TRAIN an essential “character” of the plot and VHS rentals and TV airings of that black and white film increased dramatically after this comedy's success. Paramount's THE UNTOUCHABLES was probably the most famous in this trendy “retro” referencing, with Brian De Palma and cameraman Stephen H. Burum echoing Sergei Eisenstein's BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN almost scene for scene in its own staircase shots involving a baby carriage.

 

Not only were 1987's wide-releases referencing classic cinema constantly, but they were also making good use of their classic stars while they were still able to perform. “You can choose death if you would like to, but life is not yet over for me” was a key line Lillian Gish delivers to Bette Davis in Lindsay Anderson's THE WHALES OF AUGUST. A veteran of the movies since 1912, she was approaching 93 during the previous summer that this was filmed.

 

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Despite the international success of THE LAST EMPEROR, the public was more fickle in their taste for history lessons given the big screen treatment. Richard Attenborough's CRY FREEDOM covered the 1970s apartheid of South Africa, but failed to compete with FATAL ATTRACTION in competing theaters in America as his GANDHI might have earlier in the decade. Along with the less-than-stellar (if still profitable) receipts for Steven Spielberg's EMPIRE OF THE SUN, you needed a certain type of historical epic to break through.

 

Perhaps the problem had more to do with too much “education” and not enough spectacle. At the Disney theme parks, spectaculars like CAPTAIN EO in “4D” were drawing bigger crowds than anything in the mainstream movie theaters. The Walt Disney Company, with Michael Eisner now as CEO, had long since recovered from its Wall Street panic of 1984 and was gradually surpassing Gulf & Western/Paramount and MCA/Universal as the number one entertainment company. TIN MEN (directed by the always reliable Barry Levinson), THREE MEN AND A BABY and GOOD MORNING VIETNAM proved that live-action comedies, often released under its Touchstone label, were the way to go in addition to hit TV shows like GOLDEN GIRLS and increasing animation (sometimes farmed out to South Korea, Japan, France and elsewhere) for the small screens. Most successful of the latter was DUCK TALES, revamping the old Carl Barks comics with Scrooge McDuck.

 

Animation was big business, even in short subject form. Pixar's John Lasseter earned an Oscar nomination that spring for LUXOR JR., soon to be a favorite on SESAME STREET with its humanized lamps come-to-life, and followed it with the July release of RED'S DREAM involving a clever clown character. Such experiments showcased the latest developments in computer generated imagery, which had yet to replace standard hand-drawn, cell-used and stop-motion animation. Bill Plympton's YOUR FACE, a hit on MTV's LIQUID TELEVISION, was done the old fashion way; its colored pencil effects quite unique in their own way. Most of the popular animated releases at this time were not made in the U.S. however, but in Canada, among them Frédéric Bak's THE MAN WHO PLANTED TREES and Alison Snowden and David Fine's GEORGE AND ROSEMARY, imported by the National Film Board.

 

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Pixar's RED DREAM

 

A mix of standard and computerized animation was incorporated in one of the most talked about productions of the year, scheduled for summer 1988 release. Disney/Touchstone started filming the live-action sequences in November 1986 and, after most of this was completed ten months later, many more months of post-production work were required. Overseeing this project was BACK TO THE FUTURE's director Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg's Amblin (by now co-run equally by Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy), with the highly unusual task of pulling licensing strings with several rival companies like Warner and Universal to utilize their popular cartoon stars, among them Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker, along with Fleischer/Paramount's Betty Boop, in addition to Disney's own creations. (Unfortunately Zemeckis regretfully was unable to secure Popeye and Mighty Mouse.) Animation supervising director Richard Williams was in a tug-o-war with the mother company (being “openly disdainful of the Disney Bureaucracy” as film historian James B. Stewart later reported) by insisting on working at Elstree, England instead of Los Angeles. WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? benefited from much pre-release publicity that would guarantee Disney its fulfilled dominance in the industry during the next year.

 

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Filming in live-action for the famous Jessica Rabbit number

 

One unlikely success in the documentary field was WORKING GIRLS. This title boasted a provocative subject matter: not secretarial work, nursing or lady construction workers, but the oldest profession in the world, Manhattan's elite prostitutes, and argued that sex work is as legitimate an occupation as any. Directed and produced by Lizzie Borden (not to be confused with the infamous Lizzy), it had a limited release in 1986 before getting “picked up” (no pun intended) by Miramax, a mini-company headed by Harvey and Bob Weinstein. Initially operating out of (of all places) Buffalo, New York, Miramax got its start back in 1973 backing a David Bowie concert film ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS before expanding as a distributor of great importance around 1978-79. Most executives with the bigger companies didn't take the Weinsteins seriously, but they would soon be providing Best Picture Oscar nominees on a regular basis just two years or so down the road.

 

A further couple years down the road, Disney itself would purchase Miramax outright in the first in a series of corporate take-overs of the most successful independents. Around this time, several majors were even creating “sub” companies themselves to compete with the independents, only to lose interest in them later by trading them with other corporations. After selling off the Walter Reade Organization to Cineplex Odeon and just before consolidating Tri-Star with Columbia Pictures, Coca-Cola launched Castle Rock Entertainment in September (with industry veterans Martin Shafer, Rob Reiner, Andrew Scheinman, Glen Padnick and Alan Horn all in charge) but, within two years, was eager to sell it off to Group W/Westinghouse and then, later, Castle Rock joined forces with New Line Cinema... yet another indy company that also would get “swallowed up” by leader Warner Bros. after Warner itself became a part of Time Inc.

 

Even the studio majors themselves were increasingly becoming just companies-within-companies and, before the decade would end, Hollywood itself was no longer being owned by Hollywood.

 

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For the reasons you outlined, 1987 was one of the more interesting years in the 80s. I'd forgotten about Coca-Cola merging Columbia with TriStar.

 

I remember a big deal being made out of FATAL ATTRACTION having to reshoot its last few scenes. I'd say it was not only to provide a happy ending, but to show  the nuclear family could survive any outside threat, especially from a woman who has a career outside the home.

 

Glad you mentioned HOPE AND GLORY and THE WHALES OF AUGUST-- two very fine films with good direction and performances.

 

It's ironic that films like DIRTY DANCING referenced the 60s, and then films like EMPIRE OF THE SUN and THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN went back even more to reference classic cinema from 1939 and 1951 respectively. In the case of 80s obsession with the 60s, that seems more to do with music. Many top 10 songs at the time were remakes of Motown classics (Kylie Minogue's 'Locomotion' comes to mind), or they were written to evoke sounds from twenty years earlier (Debbie Gibson's hits), or they were simply re-releases (Chubby Checker's 'The Twist' climbed the charts again). The phrase 'everything old is new again' was even used in commercials and print ads for Country Time lemonade, which acknowledged and capitalized on marketing for nostalgic reasons.

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If you think the '80s obsession with the '60s is big now, fasten your seat belt. The years 1988 and '89 saw the great "O" (I get **** when I spell that word out) both on big screens and little. Let's not forget THE WONDER YEARS and CHINA BEACH starting their run on ABC in early 1988.

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If you think the '80s obsession with the '60s is big now, fasten your seat belt. The years 1988 and '89 saw the great "O" (I get **** when I spell that word out) both on big screens and little. Let's not forget THE WONDER YEARS and CHINA BEACH starting their run on ABC in early 1988.

 

Well usually TV is derivative of what the movies do. So it's logical those programs hit the airwaves after the success of PLATOON and lighter stuff like PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED. Though the difference is they were told from "other" points of view-- a boy coming of age, and a female nurse.

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A Year In Hollywood 1987

 

During Spielberg's film, a vintage GONE WITH THE WIND poster was featured in a dramatic scene set during a Japanese WW2 attack. Movie audiences were constantly being reminded of cinema history when watching each of the latest releases. The comedy THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN even made Alfred Hitchcock's STRANGERS ON THE TRAIN an essential “character” of the plot and VHS rentals and TV airings of that black and white film increased dramatically after this comedy's success. Paramount's THE UNTOUCHABLES was probably the most famous in this trendy “retro” referencing, with Brian De Palma and cameraman Stephen H. Burum echoing Sergei Eisenstein's BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN almost scene for scene in its own staircase shots involving a baby carriage.

 

Leaving aside the obvious complaint of "Okay, it's been three years, you can STOP mentioning Captain EO now..."

 

The VHS saturation in the mid-late 80's changed our view of "old films":

From '75-'82, we were still getting cutesy parodies of musicals and noir films (like "Movie Movie" or "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid") as symbol of any movie that came out in the 30's and 40's--

But with people's ability to rent films, the sudden rise of old films on new cable channels, the blowup of Colorization inspiring Turner to do a real movie channel "with no commercials or colorization!", and Siskel & Ebert now making movie-discussion populist again and telling people to go out and see the classics, we started seeing a generation that started joking and referencing about SPECIFIC old movies.

The biggest leap in cultural literacy since the printing press.

 

(And I'm not sure what exactly the photo of the old-fashioned downtown LA grindhouse has to do with anything, but there was another relic of the early 80's that was about see its end with the rise of VHS and cable...)

TopBilled

 

Well usually TV is derivative of what the movies do. So it's logical those programs hit the airwaves after the success of PLATOON and lighter stuff like PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED. Though the difference is they were told from "other" points of view-- a boy coming of age, and a female nurse.

 

 

PSGM, while cute, was almost forgotten by the time "Back to the Future" had done the same plot a year earlier and better.

What caused the mid-late 80's interest in the Wonder Years was a perfect storm of A) the baby boom, B ) the sudden proliferation of old 50's-60's vintage reruns springing up on new cable channels (and Nick at Nite marketing them as a pop-cultural chic), and C) the popularity of the Big Chill soundtrack suddenly getting us sentimental for 60's Motown hits again.  

(After Chill, how many romantic comedies had the obligatory scene of our characters happily bouncing around the kitchen karaoke'ing to Smokey Robinson?)

 

And Platoon, which was seen as the anti-Reagan "cure" for Rambo's jingoism two years earlier, started every network to try and do its own Vietnam-grunt knockoff--

Tour of Duty lasted almost as long on CBS, but China Beach had that medical-ER appeal.

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Leaving aside the obvious complaint of "Okay, it's been three years, you can STOP mentioning Captain EO now..."

 

The VHS saturation in the mid-late 80's changed our view of "old films":

From '75-'82, we were still getting cutesy parodies of musicals and noir films (like "Movie Movie" or "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid") as symbol of any movie that came out in the 30's and 40's--

But with people's ability to rent films, the sudden rise of old films on new cable channels, the blowup of Colorization inspiring Turner to do a real movie channel "with no commercials or colorization!", and Siskel & Ebert now making movie-discussion populist again and telling people to go out and see the classics, we started seeing a generation that started joking and referencing about SPECIFIC old movies.

The biggest leap in cultural literacy since the printing press.

 

(And I'm not sure what exactly the photo of the old-fashioned downtown LA grindhouse has to do with anything, but there was another relic of the early 80's that was about see its end with the rise of VHS and cable...)

 

In response to your last question, it was an amusing photo to add with little penetrating analysis involved.

 

I have been wasting so much time working on 1988 and '89, I just knooooo you will have a blast with them. :P

 

I do want to bold what you have posted above. This, in my opinion, is the BEST thing about 1980s entertainment. Before then, we only had expensive 16mm rentals and the Late Late Show. VHS and Cable TV opened the flood gates. DVDs and the internet simply followed.

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I do want to bold what you have posted above. This, in my opinion, is the BEST thing about 1980s entertainment. Before then, we only had expensive 16mm rentals and the Late Late Show. VHS and Cable TV opened the flood gates. DVDs and the internet simply followed.

 

 

We also had revival theaters in college towns--like the Metro in NYC, or the old Harvard Square theater in that intellectual college-town--where you had to go make the pilgrimage and sit in a seat if you wanted to see a B/W classic or a French New-Wave movie from the 50's.  (Sort of like the characters in Woody Allen movies did, even after the VCR was invented, and for years, you rarely saw a character in a Woody movie even use a nice populist VCR.)

Up to that point, before the VCR put them out of business, that meant the only people who studied film and knew the classics were those who studied film, like students, uber-hobbyists and film professors.  Telling someone to watch Citizen Kane was like telling them to read Dostoevsky or analyze Ibsen, and suggesting going to see Kurosawa's Seven Samurai was like going to a wine-tasting event.  

Or, it could mean that, like the poor little eccentric smattering of audiences we see in a matinee theater in 70's TV shows and movies, revival theaters were for poor little retirees to escape reality for most of their day.

 

At the other end, what we DID have was the Late Late Show, and since B/W movies were on every night, we passed them off as "they all look alike".  Up until the mid-80's, we thought only three movies had ever been made in the entire thirties and forties:  A western, a Busby Berkeley musical, and a Bogart detective movie.  Anyone who knew those was just poor dreamer who stayed up and watched late-night TV and sighed over Marilyn Monroe because he didn't have a social life.

(Now that we're movie-literate again, know specific plots and stars, and the movies don't look alike anymore, one of my blog subjects was on what we lost without the ability to watch random movies for free:  The Movie Activist, 7/18/16   If you don't mind the plug.)   :)

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A Year In Hollywood 1988

 

Part 1: Comedy overload

 

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On June 22nd, Amblin and Disney/Touchstone released WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? nationwide to critical acclaim and enormous box-office attendance, even though the price tag on this production was over 50 million. While audiences may not have been floored-over quite as much as they were 50 years earlier with Disney's first animated feature SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, this was still a one-of-a-kind spectacular that proved that there was still magic left in Hollywood even if British film facilities did a great deal of work as well. The perfect blending of animation with live-action stars Bob Hoskins, Joanna Cassidy and BACK TO THE FUTURE's Christopher Lloyd (if hidden in disguises, with Charles Fleischer and Kathleen Turner providing additional key voices) was more seamless than it had been even in SONG OF THE SOUTH or MARY POPPINS; this was not surprising considering all of the advances in digital imagery made in recent years. Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel spent more time on their TV show analyzing this film in detail than practically anything else they reviewed that year. There were only a few high brows who balked at the somewhat predictable storyline, typical of the eighties' reliance on what-worked-before. There was also some criticism coming from animation greats Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones (mostly in his later Chuck Jones Conversations), fussing that the end result was rather crass and that director Robert Zemeckis essentially destroyed the piano Daffy/Donald Duck duel that Jones and Richard Williams (supervising animation director) had envisioned initially.

 

Nonetheless it was a critical success as well as an audience pleaser even if, like all Spielberg produced films up to that time, a failure at the next Oscar ceremony except in technical areas. By comparison, Disney's follow up five months later, the more traditional animated OLIVER & COMPANY, was judged unfavorably when compared with the earlier THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE two years back; many feeling that the Disney company was getting too contemporary and predictable in its choice of subject matter. Both it and Don Bluth's concurrently released (also in November) THE LAND BEFORE TIME, his first made in Ireland with Spielberg's money behind him, competed with a host of animated revivals such as DAFFY DUCK'S QUACKBUSTERS, FELIX THE CAT: THE MOVIE and Hanna-Barbara's somewhat ambitious TV revivals of Scooby Doo, Huckleberry Hound and ROCKIN' WITH JUDY JETSON, as well as Ralph Bakshi's revival of MIGHTY MOUSE also on TV. In light of all of the cartoon retrospecting, Disney's animation department would go back to its tried and true fairy tale roots, if still with a contemporary edge, in their next feature in production: THE LITTLE MERMAID.

 

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The top “live action” hits of the year were comedies. MGM-UA's Monty Python influenced A FISH CALLED WANDA, directed by Charles Crichton with Kevin Kline as a reckless child-like adult, continued the British anything goes mentality that appealed to this side of the Atlantic, but most American hits relied on more conventional styles of humor. There was a sequel to CROCODILE DUNDEE, Paramount repeated its AIRPANE! franchise with the first NAKED GUN: FROM THE FILES OF POLICE SQUAD, this time with four decade veteran Leslie Nielsen in the lead, while COMING TO AMERICA continued Eddie Murphy's reign as king of Paramount's mountain of stars. For an engaging change of pace, Bruce Willis took time out from his TV comedy series MOONLIGHTING to appear in Fox's biggest rough-and-tough action-er DIE HARD (and sprinkle it with more jokes than usual) while Arnold Schwarzenegger, the king of cut throat action, co-starred with Danny DeVito in the screwball TWINS.

 

On the whole, the focus was on fun at its most child like and “animated”. This could be explained by demographics: the Baby Boom generation was settling down and popping out the first wave of the modern day “Millennial” generation late in the decade, with many toddlers and elementary school students building up a market in entertainment that would appeal to as wide a range of ages as possible. The 1985 success of Tim Burton and Paul Reubens' PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE, followed by Reuben's hit Saturday morning TV show (a pleasing departure from the earlier-in-the-decade love affair with toys and action figures), begat this year's BIG TOP PEE-WEE, the epitome of child like fun for grown-ups. Michael Keaton went all super-natural in BEATLEJUICE (Warner) and this, not surprisingly, would later become a cartoon TV series itself. Gracie Films/20th Century Fox's BIG featured adult Tom Hanks quite literally as a kid who mysteriously grows faster than necessary. On a different level, this comedy was also a key game changer: with LAVERNE & SHIRLEY's ex-star Penny Marshall behind the cameras, it proved that a woman director can generate as big of profits ($100 million internationally) as any man and this would allow for another of Hollywood's periodic, if not lasting, “gender blindness” as far as creative control is concerned.

 

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This was the first year in which all five Oscar nominees for Best Picture were released in the same month of December, a sign that the Academy voters had increasingly short memories. Only two serious dramas were in competition: DANGEROUS LIAISONS and MISSISSIPPI BURNING, while three were best described as “dramedies” with very serious moments interspersed with light laughs, thus indicating that Academy voters wanted material that was less “heavy” than previous years. Lawrence Kasden's THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST (one of a pair of Warner produced nominees) featured established limited-in-facial-expressions William Hurt with a typically serious Kathleen Turner (post-Jessica Rabbit) and rising comedy relief by up-and-coming Geena Davis. In Mike Nichols' WORKING GIRL (for Fox), Sigourney Weaver aped the performances of Harrison Ford and Melanie Griffith as business tycoon Katharine Parker.

 

RAIN MAN was the most profitable of the crop, being the biggest success for MGM-UA's United Artists division in a while. Directed by Barry Levinson, its box-office appeal was due to Dustin Hoffman's unusual performance and the “buddy” theme combining him with Tom Cruise. Cruise was once again back at the top of the Quigley polls thanks to both this and the dreadful-but-successful COCKTAIL.

 

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Yet the fortunes of MGM-UA couldn't be sustained just by RAIN MAN or the filming of the next 007, LICENSED TO KILL (starting in Mexico City that August). In July, Kirk Kerkorian planned to split Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer from United Artists, but his plan failed to go through. Had he been successful, 25% of his MGM shares would have gone to the Barris Industries group headed by Burt Sugarman and the successful production team behind Warner's recently completed BATMAN, Jon Peters and Peter Guber. These latter two would play a key role in the fortunes of rival company Columbia quite soon, while also involving MGM's Culver City facilities (currently owned now by Warner and its acquired Lorimar). In this chaotic climate, Alan Ladd Jr. resigned along with Lee Rich as chairmen. Not that Ladd would stay away forever, since he would have to return to help salvage the company two years later.

 

With David Puttnam gone and Dawn Steel in charge, Columbia Pictures was, in Coca-Cola's eyes, returning back to “normal" and becoming less British in its output. Comedies once again increased in number with Sally Field and Tom Hank's PUNCHLINE among the few releases that earned a meager profit, in addition a tighter relationship with Jerry Weintraub's company contributing such oddball titles like MY STEPMOTHER IS AN ALIEN. Predictably sequels to GHOSTBUSTERS and KARATE KID (III now) were also green-lit for production. Lost in this new direction was Terry Gilliam's THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN, a pet project of booted out Puttnam's that the company feared would fail after preview screenings and, thus, got under-marketed with fewer than usual release prints. Robin Williams had a small role here with a mostly British and Canadian cast (John Neville, Oliver Reed, Eric Idle, Sarah Pollet and Jonathan Price included, along with an 18 year old American actress, Uma Thurman), but his appearance wasn't enough. As Williams stated “[Puttnam's] regime was leaving, the new one was going through this and they said, 'This was THEIR movie, now let's do OUR movies!' It was a bit like the new lion that comes in and kills the cubs from the previous male.”

 

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A Year In Hollywood 1988

 

Part 2: From heavy drama to anime

 

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1988 was a significant year with women gaining a better foothold, thanks to Penny Marshall and Dawn Steel, among others, having increased power. Comedy hits aside, this was a strong year for dramatic actress work, among them Meryl Streep in A CRY IN THE DARK (a.k.a. EVIL ANGELS) and Jodie Foster winning an Oscar as a rape victim in THE ACCUSED, co-starring Kelly McGillis and no male actors featured in its poster art. THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING was boosted by actor Daniel Day Lewis, but Sael Zaentz/Orion's promotion of it made sure its two rising foreign actresses got equal publicity in U.S. trades: Juliette Binoche of France and Lena Olin of Sweden. Many actresses realized that their best chances were in international productions like this rather than Hollywood-based offerings and it was still better to share screen attention with another actress to book-end the male star. This triad was also on display in Warner's promotion for DANGEROUS LIAISONS. cushioning John Malkovich between Glenn Close and Michelle Pfiefer as the center piece in their posters.

 

Just before filming WORKING GIRL in the “urban jungle” of New York City, Sigourney Weaver gave a bravado performance in a tropical jungle setting as the late Dian Fossey in GORILLAS IN THE MIST. This Warner-Universal collaboration cleverly blended some real gorillas and mock-ups in suits as seamlessly for the screen as animated characters conversed with their live-action stars in ROGER RABBIT. Once again, the mainstream industry was now having the courage to take a few chances with its subject matter, since certainly none of the top executives would have considered profiling a scientist and animal activist featured mostly in National Geographic magazines before this time.

 

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Apart from Weaver, Willem Dafoe was currently the go-to star for serious, heavy drama. Alan Parker's Oscar nominated MISSISSIPPI BURNING (Orion Pictures) revisited Deep South racial segregation in its coverage of the FBI investigation of civil rights worker deaths in 1964. Surprisingly there wasn't much opposition, with locals cooperating with film crews in Mississippi and Alabama during its filming that spring and its holiday openings did better business than expected in southern theaters in particular. MISSISSIPPI BURNING differed from other sixties nostalgia this year, which included still more trips to Vietnam with PLATOON LEADER, BAT-21 and OFF LIMITS, also starring Dafoe, along with ABC's hit TV shows THE WONDER YEARS and CHINA BEACH and some DIRTY DANCING follow-ups that at least got the Kennedy Era outfits and hair right (i.e. John Waters' HAIRSPRAY).

 

Less support came from far right politicians and religious conservatives in regards to Martin Scorsese's THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, again with Dafoe in the lead. This dramatization of the crucifixion, suggesting in dream sequences that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and physically intimate, caused considerable outrage, some of it humorous in hindsight. Bill Bright raised funds from his conservative base to persuade MCA/Universal to destroy all of their negatives. Mother Angelica on Eternal Word TV labeled it “a holocaust movie that has the power to destroy souls eternally”. Oversees, the situation was far less humorous: one radical Catholic group set fire to a theater showing it in Paris on October 22nd and injured thirteen people, four seriously burned. While other attacks were less violent, with graffiti and physical damage to theaters rather than to patrons, several countries decided to ban it outright to avoid trouble, including Greece, Turkey, Mexico, Chile and Argentina.

 

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Religion was increasingly a No-No for Hollywood and it would be another decade and a half before Mel Gibson challenged the status quo from the other end with THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, fortunately with less physical “pleasure” on screen and more torture and bloodshed (since suffering gets you to Heaven). In 1988, however, Gibson was content merely filming a sequel to LETHAL WEAPON and sequels were still the easy way of insured profits. By now, he, Harrison Ford and William Hurt were getting competition in the handsome-but-stoic acting domain by rising star Kevin Costner, featured in a popular baseball dramedy BULL DURHAM and busy filming another homage to the sport that summer, FIELD OF DREAMS. As with Gibson, it was unlikely that you would see Costner in a full comedy unless he was the straight-man since his facial expressions didn't change all that much on camera. This made him a suitable match for his 1987 break-out successes THE UNTOUCHABLES and NO WAY OUT that propelled him into the major leagues.

 

Like other stars who began with low budget fare and had to endure a full decade or more of struggle, the moment Costner's stardom rose, video fanatics would search high and low for earlier work “before he became famous”; in this case, SIZZLE BEACH U.S.A., the mostly unreleased 1978 bomb that gained new rediscovery on VHS. Well over $5.15 billion were being spent on video rentals alone this year and now the newly formed Hollywood Video was competing ferociously with Blockbuster for its market share. Yet, as N.R. Kleinfield reported in the New York Times (May 1), “The number of stores has leveled off and chains are muscling out independents – though the sizable chains still account for less than 10 percent of outlets.” In this period, there was much buying out of smaller competitors in order to stay afloat; Blockbuster spent $56 million taking over Major Video Corporation. This meant that Blockbuster was now able to open a brand new store every 40 hours.

 

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Japanese anime would especially benefit from video rentals and sales, since only a small number of these imports got theatrical treatment in America. AKIRA by Katsuhiro Otomo was the biggest invasion from Toho since Godzilla, its graphic violence and sci fi storyline was a dramatic contrast from ROGER RABBIT and OLIVER & COMPANY. After its July premiere in Tokyo, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg (both constantly on the lookout for interesting animated features to compete with Disney) considered AKIRA unmarketable. Instead, an independent Streamline Pictures would soon be set up in Los Angeles to handle imports like this; AKIRA being their first huge success.

 

Americans began their love affair with Japanese animation back in the sixties through TV series like SPEED RACER and Rankin-Bass puppetoon specials, but the flawless attention to detail in these newer mainstream features were a counterpoint to the slowly developing computerized imagery that hadn't reached the level of sophistication we assume today. Other imports making inroads included Studio Ghibli's early productions of LAPUTA: CASTLE IN THE SKY, released over there in 1986 and making the video rounds in English dub through Magnum Video, and MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, an international success directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Many of the popular TV series initially had manga versions that featured more adult oriented themes, with Akira Toriyama's DRAGON BALL having much of its fan base being well over the teen age demographic.

 

Just as Americans were intoxicated by anime, the newer Japanese CD technology, Nintendo, automobiles and electronics, so too were the Japanese with anything American and especially anything Hollywood. Two big companies Sony and Matsushita Electric (a.k.a. Panasonic) were casting their eyes over this way; Sony being the first to make their move during the next year. However, they would quickly realize just how costly and stressful such a move could be. Two major sources of their trouble were a pair of producer “wonder boys”, Jon Peters and Peter Gubers, who had just overseen the completion of Tim Burton's BATMAN at Pinewood Studios in the UK early in the year, with Warner Brothers hoping to make a profit from their $48 million investment. Sony would buy both a studio (not Warner, but Columbia) along with the BATMAN producers, but would wind up getting a lot more than they bargained for...

 

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