Movies and themes of the 80s

Sorry, guys, I’m not into zombies or films where the violence is the feature attraction. But I did listen in on Jim Groom and Martin Weller’s discussion of 1980s B-movies (which Martin posted, along with his excellent Zombie Board anti-commercials). Since I didn’t know the movies being discussed, I went surfing at YouTube while they spoke, and even found the scene Jim was talking about from “C.H.U.D.“.

I enjoyed the way the theme formed as they chatted, about the portrayal of the city in these films as a dangerous place where odd alignments occur. I also liked the notion that this perspective could be encouraged to shore up suburban housing projects, and that there is a rhetoric of reclaiming the city in response. Good stuff, all.

But what was I watching in the 1980s? Not many B-movies. I watched bad filmed versions of good plays (Amadeus), silly comedies (Airplane, All of Me), films with strong females (Desperately Seeking Susan, Victor/Victoria), and movies with cool but non-bloody special effects (Young Sherlock Holmes, Blade Runner).

What fits the city theme? The movie most like what Jim and Martin talked about (Escape from New York, The Warriors) was probably Nighthawks (Ruger Hauer was my favorite bad guy):

Another is Running Scared, a comedy with Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines, who are cops trying to catch drug kingpin Jimmy Smits.

But there was one B-movie I did like, and it wasn’t about the city. It was called Road Games, with Stacy Keach as a truck driver in Australia, accidentally on the trail of a serial killer with Jamie Lee Curtis along for the ride. That and Cat People was enough for me in terms of darkness, I think.

One last film, however, was the best of all. Steve Martin put together the plots (and film clips) of old film noir movies in what is to me a classic, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. It’s a mashup before the term existed, and before a lot of other movies took up the idea. Here he’s spliced his character with Edward Arnold.

I’m afraid my “formative years” were the 1970s, but I love the idea of getting themes together with films. Here’s my try with a few of the 80s A-movies:

* Outsiders can fit in if they can dance: Dirty Dancing, Pennies from Heaven, A Chorus Line

* The Middle Ages are cool: Name of the Rose, Ladyhawke

* Prostitution is a good thing: Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Night Shift

* Magic happens: Xanadu, Big



5 comments to Movies and themes of the 80s

  • Martin

    I think it was very ‘blokey’ the chat we had, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the films didn’t resonate much with you. It is, I think, a very male adolescent view on film culture. It was fun to indulge, but I could equally have done a more respectable take on my cinematic influences. I think the opportunity to indulge in these forbidden pleasures though was the fun of it. I love your themes – the prostitution one in particular seems sooooo of it’s time. I remember it was almost an unwritten law that every film had to feature the hooker with a heart of gold character. I think it was Meryl Streep who commented that if aliens were to take their view of earth from Hollywood they would come to the conclusion that half of all women were prostitutes.I adored Dead Men Dont Wear Plaid, and could recite almost every line from it at one stage. As you say, a much underrated classic, and a formative mashup exemplar. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Lisa M Lane

    Hi Martin! I don’t know if it was a gender thing; I know women who know these films, and I’m happy to learn about them (so long as I don’t have to watch ‘em!). And you’re right on prostitutes: “Pretty Woman” missed by only a year, and didn’t miss at all if you count decades accurately. :-)

  • Jim

    Funny you should mention Nighthawks loved that film!!!And 80s horror is well worth your time, and this week we are talking about movies club and The Thing, and while it is male dominated, I am working on getting the phone lines up and running as we speak. And what’s more, I want to try and model my mashup of the thing on your Condor audio, which I love (have I told you that yet? :) ).

  • Lisa M Lane

    Love your Nighthawks piece – I didn’t know about it (and you’re right, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is in no way comparable). I don’t want to emphasize the gender thing — I think it can go too far. Most is just a matter of taste and interest. ;-) Still trying to figure out how to top Condor…

  • Elaine