Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Hazy Shade Of Winter

It's so cold, nobody wants to go out. Last night I stayed home and made it what used to be called a Blockbuster night; now is a Netflix/Fry's Gift Certificate night. Two movies from Universal Studios in the eighties: Back to the Future and The Allnighter.

I should have seen The Allnighter 23 years ago, when I was managing the theatre in Westwood where it premiered. Opening day I was shuffling into the auditiorium as the show ended, gazing at my shoes, and I almost bashed into Bangles lead singer and Allnighter star Susannah Hoffs, who was doing the exact same thing on her way out. We both looked up just in time and she flashed me that famous 1000-watt smile. I vowed then that I would see this movie, no matter how bad it was said to be. However, it was said to be really, really bad so I didn't get around to it.

As it turns out, the reputation isn't especially fair. The Allnighter's chief problem is that instead of being driven by narrative, its engine is adorableness. Hoffs is adorable, she had two adorable college roomates (DeDee Pfeiffer and Joan Cusak) and they hang out with a couple of adorable hunky surfers. Even the cop (Pam Grier) who arrests two of the girls after mistaking them for adorable prostitutes is adorable. The film was directed by Tamar Simon Hoffs, Susannah's Mom, and she manages to make the semi-nude sex scene between a surfer and her own daughter adorable. An adorable Freudian nightmare. The movie didn't make a lot of money, which suggests a: that a movie starring a Bangle should include some goddam Bangles music; and a. that there is only so much adorable you can cram into a film.

Incidentally, though advertised as "the deluxe edition" this DVD not only doesn't include commentary, or trailers, or outtakes - it doesn't even include menus! Just watching it is deluxe enough for the likes of you.

Back To the Future, in a gorgeous trilogy Blu-Ray box set, has narrative drive to spare. I was only planning to watch the first twenty minutes to admire how they set up the rest of the movie and of course, I was sucked into viewing the whole thing. It's a fine swiss watch, and my favorite kind of movie - where they get to you care about insanely meaningless things through sheer craftsmanship.

I have a personal connection to this one too, incidentally. I am Facebook pals with JJ Cohen who plays one of Biff's henchmen, Skinhead. "Hey, hey, listen, guys. Look, I don't wanna mess with no reefer addicts, okay?" That's JJ. Nice fellah.

BTTF is a perfect example of Bob Zemeckis' directing style - he's always looking for ways to trim the fat, to find a way to visually set up something instead of using dialogue. Everything that happens in this movie is either a set-up or a payoff. I think the reason Spielberg got behind Zemeckis is he recognized that this kind of thing encourages repeat viewings, and after Jaws and Close Encounters he saw that the repeaters wound up making up the bulk of the moolah. There are a hundred little gags in this movie that you won't catch at first. My favorite is still the Twin Pines Mall sign at the beginnning of the movie. Marty goes back in time, knocks over a tree, and when he comes back at the end the sign says Lone Pine Mall. Simple, elegant, funny.
I'm looking forward to watching Part 2 again, which has a third act that takes place during the third act of Part 1 and has the characters scurrying around the action trying to avoid being spotted by earlier versions of themselves. It's so needlessly complicated that it's just magical.


  1. Nice post. I think you're just scratching the surface of the myriad aspects of the "Adorableness Factor" and how it can make or break a movie. For instance, I think a lot of indie filmmakers forget to use it entirely, and end up with... well, ugly little films.

  2. Not to belabor the obvious but most indie filmmakers can't afford adorable. They have to make do with talented. Hence, Steve Buscemi.