Guest Blogger Matthew Krause: The Seven Most American Movies of the 1980s, Part 2

Guest Blogger Matthew Krause: The Seven Most American Movies of the 1980s, Part 2

Yesterday, I handed the reins of my blog to another writer. Every Friday, I usually offer a Friday Thought to Chew On. But this summer, I’ve invited ten other writers to do all of the work for me on Fridays. Heh heh. Smart, huh? <evil laughter> All kidding aside, these writers are going to bring some out-of-this-world ideas and observations to you each  week. Because this is a holiday weekend and I’m feeling extra generous, I kicked off the Summer Blog Takeover series with an extra-special blog from a past contributor, writer Matthew Krause, who agreed to return for more blogging fun. In part 1 of his blog The Seven Most American Movies of the 1980s, he took readers back to a time when American cinema defined what it meant to be an American in its own unique way. Here is the continuation of his blog with his take on the remaining three films that comprise the list. Grab your popcorn and settle in your seat. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. And a fascinating one, too! Thanks so much, Matt, for helping me kick off this summer’s guest blog series! ~ Chris

 

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The Seven Most American Movies of the 1980s by Matthew Krause

PART 2

 

No Retreat, No Surrender Before Belgium kickboxer Jean-Claude Van Damme rose to action hero stardom in America, he did his time as a heavy in this low-budget Karate Kid knock-off about a martial artist who trains with the spirit of a dead master. Jason Stillwell (Kurt McKinney) is a young karate student whose father is assaulted by Russian thug Ivan Kraschinsky (Van Damme). After watching Ivan brutally break his father’s leg, Jason sets out to train himself for revenge … only to be visited by the ghost of Bruce Lee who teaches him a better way.

 

Any symbolism is purely unintentional in B-movie potboilers like this, but I’ll pick it out like ground glass anyway. Jason is the picture of white affluence, the son of a man of impeccable character, yet he trains for combat for the most disgraceful of reasons (even though revenge was treated much more nobly in Rocky IV). It takes a wise master from the East (Bruce Lee from Hong Kong, where most American products are made) to “sell” Jason on a new way of thinking, and in the end Jason rises to the occasion to give Ivan what’s coming to him. Thanks, China, and scratch one more filthy Commie off the list.

 

No Defeat No Surrender

 

The heavy-handed rah-rah Americanism becomes evident in the final fight between Jason and Ivan, an impromptu duo that arises when Ivan is caught using dirty tactics against an American kickboxer. Jason jumps into the ring to save the day, and Ivan recognizes him at once. “So,” Ivan growls, “it is you!” “Yes,” Jason quips, “and this time it will be different … Russian!” Ivan roars with indignation at the utterance of this word. I still haven’t figured out his reaction, but perhaps filmmaker Corey Yuen was suggesting the Soviets are so immersed in Communism that to identify then with their homeland instead of their ideology is somehow degrading (unlike us Americans, who are damned proud of our heritage).

 

It’s funny, but No Retreat, No Surrender spawned two sequels, the most jingoistic being No Retreat, No Surrender III: Blood Brothers. The movie opens with Will Alexander, one of the titular blood brothers, using his martial arts skills to take out a group of terrorists. “This is the kind of American you’re dealing with,” Will shouts, “and why you don’t stand a chance!” God bless America, and pass the frigging ammo!

 

Talk Radio – Oliver Stone rocked our sensibilities in 1986 with the ambitious Platoon and came back hard the next year with Wall Street, but in 1988 he moved out of the jungles of Vietnam and Manhattan to tell the story of a caustic radio host on the eve of his show’s national syndication. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-nominated play by Eric Bogosian, Talk Radio opens in the confining space of a radio broadcast booth, where late night shock-jock Barry Champlain (Bogosian in a performance that would earn him the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival) verbally abuses listeners who have the audacity to call his show. In equal turns insulting (“How do you dial a phone with a straitjacket on?”), dismissive (“I don’t care what you think! No one does!”), and judgmental (“Shouldn’t you be out burning crosses or molesting children or something?”), Barry shoots from the hip and makes no apologies. He is an equal-opportunity reprobate, a self-loathing bully who offends all interested parties regardless of ideology, race, or gender.

 

For the proud American, this may not look like a slice of Americana but trust me, it is. Barry’s views of America are bitter and bleak (“a country where culture means pornography and slasher films, where ethics means payoffs, graft insider trading, where integrity means lying, whoring, intoxication …”) but one would be hard-pressed to prove him wrong. In fact, his acerbic and unyielding nature foreshadows the current culture of political outrage fomented by wannabes like Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann.

 

Talk Radio

 

Near the end of the film, Barry launches a 10-minute rant, outlining his loathing for his audience and for himself. He opens with a scornful description of the American dream and our ceaseless quest for it–“I ask for sincerity and I lie. I denounce the system as I embrace it. I want money and power and prestige: I want ratings and success. And I don’t give a damn about you, or the world. That’s the truth: for that I could say I’m sorry, but I won’t.” Cynical but accurate, Talk Radio is an American perspective that few of us care to see.

 

Field of Dreams – Before you write me off as a pessimistic bastard, let me tell you about the seventh title on the list, which happens to be my favorite movie. The ‘80s had been an ugly era, pretty much the wasteland that Barry Champlain describes, but in 1989 with the fall of The Wall on the horizon, Phillip Alden Robinson adapted W. P. Kinsella’s award-winning novel Shoeless Joe into a magical populist drama reminiscent of Frank Capra. Kevin Costner (the ‘80s Gary Cooper) stars as Ray Kinsella, a Berkley grad turned Iowa farmer who one day hears a voice in his cornfield. The voice urges Ray to plow over his major crop and build a baseball field, an act of pure madness that sends ripples through the cosmos. Suddenly, Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), disgraced outfielder of the 1919 Chicago Black Sox, appears in the field and through Ray is offered a shot at redemption.

 

But Shoeless Joe is just the beginning. Soon Joe is joined by his seven other tarnished teammates as well as a few baseball legends from a bygone era, transforming Ray’s field into a ballplayer’s paradise. The mysterious voice then returns, urging Ray to drive halfway across the country and fetch disillusioned author Terrence Mann (James Earl Jones), who is just one of many more “cosmic tumblers” that must magically fall into place. Complications do arise, but just when it seems that all is lost, the field and the voice have a few last-minute tricks up their sleeves, making Field of Dreams that one rare film makes male viewers blubber like babies.

 

Field of Dreams

 

While the previous six films on this list offer the ugliness of what America has become, Field of Dreams holds true to the promise of what we still could be. Terrence Mann’s now-iconic speech about the beauty of the game is enough to melt the icy heart of even the most hardened cynic: “America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again.”

 

If you don’t sing along with the National Anthem at a ballgame after that speech, you’re even more hopeless than Barry Champlain.

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Matt_smallMatthew Krause is an award-winning screenwriter, independent filmmaker, author, mentor, aspiring shaman, and cat wrangler. He is a two-time semifinalist for the Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship and a recipient of the Walt Disney Studios/ABC Television Screenwriting Fellowship. His first novel Pitch won first prize in the 2012 Balboa Press Fiction Contest. Recently, he and his feline writing partner Hank completed The Glaring Chronicles (www.theglaringchronicles.com), a series of books about a tribe of shape-shifting cats that look after the human race. He is currently collaborating with his friend Coop on a book about ‘80s films called Two Men and a Little ‘80s. Although he writes in multiple genres, the common theme in all of his work is man’s eternal struggle to find those pockets of nobility in a sea of human frailty. You can learn more about Matt and his amazing cat Hank at storytellermatt.com, or you can follow them both on Twitter: @StorytellerMatt and @WonderCatHank.

 

 

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  1. Guest Blogger Matthew Krause: The Seven Most American Movies of the 1980s, Part I | Chris Kuhn Author - […] here for part 2 of The Seven Most American Movies of the 1980s….just in time for Saturday, July […]

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