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

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

Recently, my friend and fellow writer Matthew Krause left comments on a Facebook post of mine about an essay I wrote. It was about how I use movies as my therapy. His comments triggered a thought. Matt had been an incredible contributor previously as a guest blogger at my website, with his blog Shh! Your Favorite Movie Is Sharing Your Secrets. That was nearly two years ago, around the time I was getting ready to publish my first book. The Guest Blog series, then called “Chris’s Corner,” had been a really popular feature at my site and resulted in some thoughtful guest blogs, his among them. Now two summers later, I’m wrapping up the writing of my second book, a completely different literary adventure, and here was this awesome and insightful scribe popping into my orbit as he does from time to time. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could get him to write another guest blog for me again? I pondered. In fact, wouldn’t it be fantastic if I could ask a few other folks to return to write for my blog followers again and invite a bunch of other fabulous writers to take part, as well?

Thus began the concept of Summer Blog Takeover 2015. And Fourth of July weekend seemed the perfect time to launch it…like one big spectacular firecracker! I asked Matt to be the first of my summer series of great writers to kick off this latest guest blog takeover. And you know what? He didn’t disappoint one bit. He came back with an intriguing pop culture-infused blog that mixed two of my favorite things (movies and the 80s) and made it so chock full of good stuff that I decided to let him take the reins not one but TWO days. So look for the continuation of this insightful blog tomorrow and prepare to dive in to the world of cinema for a journey back to the 80s and Matthew Krause’s take on the most American of American films. Good stuff here. I hope you’ll find it as interesting and thought-provoking as I do. Whether you agree with Matt or not, he always gets you thinking with his words, and I love that about his work.

Scroll to the bottom of this blog for a little background about Matthew and where you can connect with him online. But without further ado…on with the show and part 1 of The Seven Most American Movies of the 1980s. ~ Chris

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

PART 1

July 4th, 1990. My best friend Coop was in town. We were hanging out with the old gang from our English undergrad years, celebrating America’s 224th birthday with burgers and beer. Most of the group wanted to huddle and blather about lesbian poets, but Coop and I were more interested in the TV, where Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers was playing on HBO. Once Rita Mae Brown and Eileen Myles ran their course in the dining room, the crowd meandered into the den to join us just in time to watch Michael Myers being shot and falling down a mine shaft. They made fun of our movie, and we made fun of their lesbian poets, and then somehow we all started talking about films of the ‘80s.

 

“This Halloween 4 is the worst,” said Todd III. He was one of four guys in the group named Todd, and we had aptly dubbed the quartet The Four Todds of the Apocalypse. “In five years, that flick will be forgotten, just like all the other ’80s movies.”

 

All the others?” asked Coop. “You’re saying all 80s films are forgettable?”

 

“It’s just that ‘80s have no definitive title,” Said Todd III. “There is nothing reflective of the American zeitgeist at the time. The ‘50s had Rebel Without a Cause. The ‘60s had Easy Rider. The ‘70s had The Godfather–”

 

Taxi Driver,” Coop said.

 

Network,” I offered.

 

“Todd is right,” said Todd I, the only other Todd of the group still sober enough to converse. “What do the ‘80s have? What one American ‘80s film reflects our state of public consciousness while caught in the throes of the decade?” (Yes, these clowns actually talked that way.)

 

Coop and I ruminated, and after several long minutes of tag-team brow-knitting, we came up with not one ‘80s film but seven. Eschewing easy answers, like Platoon or Tucker: A Man and His Dream, we opted for the more unconventional route. The ‘80s for us had been a weird and wonderful time, an era of protracted adolescence, and we held many films of the decade dear to our hearts. Still, we saw a lot of terrifying underlying themes: tyrannical growth of big business, rabid nationalism, and general discontent throughout the masses. Keeping this in mind, here then are our seven most American films of the 1980s, some of which may surprise you:

 

Halloween III: Season of the Witch In 1976, dissident Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini gave the world Saló, or the 120 Days of Sodom, a disturbing polemic about four fascist libertines waiting out the last days of World War II by raping and torturing a group of peasant teenagers. Why do the libertines do this? For Pasolini, it was about neo-consumerism and its roots in the fascist state. Short form: they did it because they could.

 

Six years later, hither comes Halloween III: Season of the Witch, in which Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy), the deviant CEO of Silver Shamrock Novelties, plots to kill every child in America. Cochran’s plan is to fit his top-selling Halloween masks with small microchips that contain fragments of Stonehenge, which will unleash a pestilence of insects inside the wearer’s skull when triggered by a special television signal. Why does Cochran want to do this? He says something about the Gaelic festival of Samhain, but his reasoning is pretty much the same as Saló’s libertines–he kills because he can.

 

Halloween III

 

Halloween III is a surreal and giddy ride, but that’s not why it reeks of ‘80s Americana. The film plays like a checklist of American social concerns: rampant consumerism (every child in America buys one of these masks), the death of the small town (tiny Santa Mira, home of Silver Shamrock, is withering away), the rapid rise of unemployment (Silver Shamrock’s labor force has been replaced by killer androids), the disparity between the rich and the poor (wealthy Cochran makes up less than the 1% of Santa Mira), and the willingness of big business to sell out its future (like Pasolini’s libertines, Silver Shamrock is literally killing its youth). Even Cochran’s twisted genocide lays the groundwork for the dronish present-day culture. His plan depends on every child in America putting on his or her mask at the exact same time and watching a televised special that airs Halloween night. On paper it seems ludicrous, but not so much when you consider the obsession today’s kids have with their cell phones. As John Cougar Mellencamp once sang, ain’t that America?

 

Risky Business  – Tom Cruise is Joel Goodson, a high school student being left alone when his parents go on vacation. Eager to take advantage of his newfound freedom, Joel contacts a sexy prostitute named Lana (Rebecca De Mornay). This sets off a series of unfortunate events resulting in the destruction of his father’s Porsche 928 and the theft of his mother’s expensive Steuben crystal egg. Forced to come up with money quickly to pay for the Porsche and recover the egg, Joel joins forces with Lana to create a makeshift brothel in his parents’ home.

 

One of the harshest criticisms of consumerism is the way it reduces our bodies to mere commodities, products to be used and discarded. Risky Business is all about that. In the film’s opening scenes, it is established that Joel’s parents have money, that Joel’s father expects his son to get into Princeton, and that Joel is a member of a high school club called Future Enterprisers. In the film’s final reel, Joel’s voiceover is heard doing an imagined presentation for Future Enterprisers in which he states that he “deals in human fulfillment” and has “grossed over $8000 in one night.” In writer Paul Brickman’s original script, the ending was meant to be dark, establishing that Joel had lost his innocence and in essence a piece of his soul. But after minor studio “tweaks,” Risky Business became what it is today, a celebration of American ingenuity through the corruption of human flesh.

 

Risky Business

 

Not much separates Joel Goodson from early American entrepreneurs. When his parents’ home is turned into a house of ill repute, it more resembles an industrial assembly line than a bordello. And when Joel succeeds in his plan, raising the needed money by exploiting Lana’s nubile friends, the audience is amused when it probably should be horrified.

 

Late in the third act, after all is right with the world, Joel’s mother discovers a scratch on her precious Steuben egg. Joel offers to replace it, and his father asks how Joel thinks he will raise the money. A wry grin spreads on Joel’s face. When I saw this film in the theater in 1983, the audience cheered at that smirk. We may be reducing women to throwaway products, but at least the American dream is alive and well.

 

Red Dawn – It is 1984. Reagan is running for a second term, and the United States is still knee deep in the Cold War. On a cool September morning in Calumet, Colorado, a platoon of Russian paratroopers lands in a field adjacent to the local high school (never mind how a Soviet military transport managed to get that deep into US airspace). Within an hour, the town (and most of America) is swarming with the Commie bastards as Russian and Cuban troops impose order on a fractured nation. To counter this attack, a small band of high school students led by Patrick Swayze flee into the wilderness and form a makeshift militia called the Wolverines (named after their high school mascot), engaging in a series of guerilla assaults on the occupying forces.

 

Directed and co-written by fierce Hollywood conservative John Milius, Red Dawn delivers its message with all the subtlety of a Sherman tank. Every Wolverine attack is accompanied by Basil Polidouris’ rousing score vaguely reminiscent of a college marching band (in fact, I have two of these tracks on my jogging playlist). Some have argued that the film is meant to be ironic, illustrating the horrors of war as they might look on domestic soil, but if you know anything about Milius that hardly seems the case. Clearly, this is meant as a jingoistic incitement to patriotic action, rallying the American citizenry to stand united against the Communist threat.

 

Red Dawn

 

Perhaps this is most effectively illustrated in the film’s final shot, when many years after the occupation a plaque is erected in the Wolverines’ honor. The inscription on the plaque reads: They fought here alone and gave up their lives, so that this nation shall not perish from the earth. If that doesn’t make you want to kill a Commie for Christ, then sally forth to the next film on the list.

 

Rocky IV – In 1976, he was a punch-drunk boxer who got a shot at the title and went the distance. In 1979, he got a second shot and this time took the belt. In 1982, he lost his belt to a ferocious bully but clawed his way back to reclaim the title. But by 1985, there was nothing left to prove in the States, so he had to take his war to Moscow.

 

The Wolverines and Reagan weren’t the only ones fighting Communism in the 80s. Sylvester Stallone stepped into the ring for the fourth time as his titular hero, Rocky Balboa, to square off against Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), a seemingly unbeatable fighter from the USSR. The saber-rattling is loud and long in the pre-fight press conferences, but Rocky himself seems to be too enlightened for politics. His motives for fighting are far nobler–he seeks revenge. You see, Rocky’s best friend Apollo Creed (his opponent in I and II, his trainer in III) actually squared off against Drago first and suffered such a beating that he died in Rocky’s arms (to play up the Cold War symbolism of this moment, the camera lingers on a single drop of blood hitting the canvas and splashing up to resemble a nuclear mushroom cloud). As such, Rocky flies to the Soviet Union to meet Drago in the ring and dish out a bit of American payback.

 

Rocky IV

 

Once Rocky arrives in Moscow, he goes back to basics, carrying trees through the snow and creating a rough-and-ready gym in a barn. Meanwhile, Drago trains with state-of-the-art equipment and receives round-the-clock steroid injections. The message could not be clearer: pinko Commies cheat their asses off, but we Americans do it old school. Of course Rocky wins the fight because there ain’t no country better than the U.S. of A. In fact, he fights with such pluck and determination that he wins the heart of the Russian locals, inciting a crowd of rabid Drago fans to cast off their fear of the KGB and start chanting “Rocky! Rocky! Rocky!” Not even Soviet nationalism stands a chance against one spirited Western capitalist.

 

Click here for part 2 of The Seven Most American Movies of the 1980s….just in time for Saturday, July 4!

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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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