Imagine my delight learning there was a 1928 silent film of Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Telltale Heart’. I’m guessing it’s German:
That room is so German Expressionistic the chairs are just abstract shards reflecting the character’s tortured psyche.
The film’s a breeze to watch at a mere 28 minute running length, though the cheap synth-keyboard soundtrack makes it feel a little longer. Its main charm is the use of animated text and overlay to convey the main character’s tortured mindset, along with what at the time must have been VERY fast edits.
1959′s ‘Beat Girl’ has enough high hair and dated teenage slang to enjoy purely for camp, but underneath all the eye makeup is a somber reflection on post-WWII malaise. ‘Beat Girl’ opens with an already-tenuous home situation completely breaking down when distant, wealthy dad brings home hot new Parisian wife Nicole to meet his daughter, Jennifer. Jennifer’s already estranged from her father, rebelling and hanging with the beatnik scene down at her art school’s local coffee house instead of swizzling drinks with dad’s upper-crust clients. Young wife Nicole tries her best to bridge the gap – she impresses Jennifer’s friends with her knowledge of jazz and responds to Jennifer’s cruel comments with kindness, but Jennifer only resents her intrusion. When a woman from the strip club across the street comes into the coffee house and greets Nicole like an old friend, Jennifer investigates further and gets tangled up with the club’s classy sleazeball owner, played with perfect oiliness by a young Christopher Lee. Nicole and Jennifer circle each other, drawn more tightly into a tangled web of blackmail. Through a last-act burst of violence, Jennifer’s tough-girl act falls apart and her family finally comes together. In between there’s plenty of teenage kicks – games of chicken, hot rods, and lots of spazztastic dancing:
The unique charm of ‘Beat Girl’ is seeing America’s Beat Generation layered over English culture. The film was released in 1959 in England, 1960 in America, and shows English youth embracing the Beats’ detachedness, their rejection of ‘proper’ social markers like money, a steady job, and all signs of traditional Englishness. There’s a panicked edge to showing the teen’s beatnik ways, as if warning viewers hanging out at coffee shops could lead to NOT DRINKING (as when a musician tosses his friend’s bottle away declaring ‘drinking’s for squares’) and NOT FIGHTING (when a group of toughs destroys the friends’ jalopy, the owner says ‘If you wanna fight, JOIN THE ARMY’ before walking away). Horror! What could be less English than NOT DRINKING (NOT EVEN TEA! Just coffee)! That would’ve been a great tag line for the movie’s poster: They WON’T DRINK! They WON’T FIGHT! THEY’LL DANCE! (The actual posters were far more misleading and lurid, but more on that in a bit).
There’s a reason for the teens’ embracing of Beat culture beyond getting to use ridiculous slang at every opportunity – these were the children who survived the Blitz. The film’s most telling scene takes place at a ‘cave stomp’, held in a club’s sub-basement. Bored with the music, Jennifer’s friends move away from the action and talk about where they are, not a cave but a fallout shelter. The space reminds one lanky musician of his childhood ‘playground’: “When [the bombing] was over I played on the bomb sites. Down in the cellars amongst the rats. This here’s a home away from home for me.” Another describes seeing his mother killed right next to him; his father, abroad with the army as General, only came home after, decorated in medals. These teens’ entire childhoods were running for shelters, nightly bombings, houses suddenly destroyed in the middle of quiet neighborhoods. After the war, the older generation coped by immediately settling back into pre-war ways, keeping a ‘stiff upper lip’, almost pretending nothing happened to avoid facing the war’s horrors. Now, on the brink of becoming adults themselves, the teens want a severe break. It’s no wonder Jennifer declares with venom she hates everything about adults’ lives, that she rejects it utterly and that she and her friends are ‘free’. Breaking from society may ostracize them, but they’re ‘free’ from what they see as the root cause of the war.
Of course, that’s not how the film was marketed.
The movie was released in the U.S. as ‘WILD FOR KICKS!’, and while, yes, the hedonistic/nihilistic attitude of the youths was certainly kicks-centric, that’s not really what the movie’s about.
NOR IS IT AT ALL ABOUT BECOMING A STRIPPER. You’d walk into this film thinking you were about to watch ‘Striptease’ and you’d get a war of wills between two young women…wait, that’s also what ‘Striptease’ was about…you get what I mean.
And who could resist the lurid fearmongering of ‘THIS COULD BE YOUR TEENAGE DAUGHTER!’. Why the emphasis is on ‘TEENAGE’ and not ‘YOUR’ I’m unsure – perhaps this is all socially acceptable behavior for 20-somethings and 10-year-olds. Also, the lady on all three posters appears in the movie for a grand total of 5 minutes.
You can watch the entire movie on YouTube here. In the words of the youths, it’s “great, dad, great! Straight from the fridge!” “I’m WAYYYY out!”
It’s taken me over 10 months to process seeing the James Spader/Robert Downey, Jr. vehicle ‘Tuff Turf’ (1985), and I’m still trying to fully comprehend what I saw. This is a genuinely strange film from surface to structure - as if an 80s movie algorithm put a script together and no human bothered to give it a pass before filming.
Let’s start with the script: the movie opens extraordinarily high-concept and just keeps piling it on: our protagonist is the young black sheep of a wealthy Connecticut family. Well, they were wealthy; as the movie opens the family’s living in the lower-middle class part of town with former-banker-dad now driving a taxi and mom mourning the family’s fall from yuppie grace. So within this family adjusting to a new income bracket, our protagonist rebels against his family’s former upper-class and current bourgeoisie values. Got that? MOVING ON.
Our young rebel, Steff Morgan, played by James Spader, is forced to start over at dreaded public school in their upper-lower-class town after being kicked out of all available private schools, much to his mother’s chagrin. Said school, populated by every 80s trope save skiing (I’m pretty sure someone was radboarding over their breakdancing friends in the parking lot) is ruled by the most shirtless gang this side of the Warriors.
Hazing involves renouncing buttons.
Unfortunately for Morgan, he’s already on the gang’s bad side/in love with their alpha girl after interrupting their nighttime mugging kicks on his bike (adding in the 80s trope of bike shenanigans). Inquiries concerning the becrimped young lady lead to an oddball friendship with Jimmy Parker (Robert Downey Jr. still in the ‘goofy punk sidekick’ phase of his career) and his bike getting destroyed by the gang leader’s car after school.
Jimmy’s in a punk band with Jim Carroll (checking ‘punk’ and ‘band’ off the list) and invites Morgan to the show. It’s the 80s and every town has a warehouse set aside for The Punk Club, just like the other side of town has its Posh Club for Toffs on the water.Who should Morgan run into but Frankie, the crimped love of his life (her hair is a marvel unto itself- that must take HOURS every day, and constant vigilance not to get it caught in every door). At first, Frankie’s resistant to Morgan’s confident insistence they date despite her already having a gang-leader boyfriend. Only through the magic of awkwardly choreographed line dancing, a la Pat Benatar videos and ‘Footloose’, does he begin to win her over. Their dancing is interrupted by fight-dancing on the part of said boyfriend’s heavies, leading to a ‘don’t mess with my girl’ car theft. Joke’s on the gang though, as they get pulled over and the boyfriend’s arrested for car theft! Hah! Now that he’s out of the way, nothing can stand between Morgan and his crimped woman. Well, nothing save CLASS ISSUES.
At first, everyone wins everyone over after taking a tour of ‘their world’ – Morgan takes Frankie and her trashy friends to crash the Rich Kids Regatta and irk the maitre’d, Frankie takes Morgan to some weird club featuring the jazz stylings of a lesser-Doobie Brothers, shows off dance skills likely reflecting her future employment opportunities, and everyone falls in love.
Popular Youth Music.
JUST THEN Frankie’s boyfriend gets out of jail (I’m assuming he wasn’t charged as a minor because he’s definitely over 23) and proceeds to chainwhip Spader in a fairly brutal scene (few PG13 movies feature the nearly-nude lead getting chain-whipped by a group of shirtless dudes. Hell, few porn movies do).
Pictured: not a porn movie.
But the physical brutality is nothing compared to the icy emotional rain showered down upon Frankie at the family dinner Morgan invites her to. Frankie isn’t upper-middle class (forget the fact Morgan’s mom isn’t either, at the moment), and she never will be. Leaving distraught, the message for Frankie to stop striving for upward mobility’s reinforced by her solidly criminal boyfriend, who decides to vengeance-whomp Morgan’s taxi-driving dad in a misplaced bout of rage. Do you see? DO YOU SEE HOW QUICKLY CONVOLUTED THIS GETS?!
Morgan’s dad turns out to be surprisingly good at self-defense for someone who presumably spent decades as a soft, white-collar office drone. He takes on all three punks at once and is kicking ass, so Frankie’s boyfriend pulls out a gun AND SHOOTS HIM (more on the ridiculous escalations of violence in this film in a moment). Morgan’s family blames The Lower-Class Girl, but Morgan still cares for her (shown via requisite slo-mo love scene. Ew). Frankie’s boyfriend’s on the run and has a taste for blood now. After Frankie scotches his second attempt at adding ‘murder’ to his rap sheet, he calls Morgan and demands he meet him for a final showdown at The Warehouse (checking….warehouse…off the list). The remainder of the movie is the final, extraordinarily bloody showdown between Frankie’s lower-class thug boyfriend and Spader’s yuppie rebel doing his best ‘Straw Dogs’ impersonation. Not surprisingly, Morgan comes out on top and everyone ends up in the Doobie Bros. strip club dancing like no one’s watching (at least that’s the best explanation we canhope for that sort of flailing), but NOT before the following happens:
- James Spader holding two guns while kicking a man down the stairs
- Pistol whippings for everyone!
- Robert Downey is revealed to be apparently Latino, shows up with large, convenient attack dogs (because he’s Latino), gets shot in leg
(told you so.)
- Frankie proves willing to shoot her boyfriend; gun, alas, is empty
- Soon, they’ll make a board with a nail so big it will DESTROY THE WORLD!
- Seriously though, don’t bring a board with nails in it to an axe fight.
Now. There is already A LOT to unpack here, but let’s focus first on this movie’s wild leaps in violence. Moving from ‘win the girl’ to ‘shooting your dad’ to ‘gang fight in the abandoned warehouse with attack dogs’ – This is Morgan’s THIRD DAY OF SCHOOL, WHAT THE HELL. Also, Robert Downey Jr. was shot in the leg, and the next day (I’m presuming it’s not the same day) he’s back dancing at the club! HE’S NOT EVEN LIMPING. The strange bubble of extreme brutality this movie exists in is hinted right from the start – the second scene of the movie features Morgan watching beetles crawl the walls of his family’s new slum before popping up (shirtless, of course), guns blazing, to shoot them into blue oblivion. And yet no one comments or calls the cops after hearing shots fired, nor does his family seem to mind/care their rebellious son has two guns of his own.
An aside: so much teen shirtlessness. It’s an epidemic in this town. Hot pants, no shirts, half-shirts, just vests, unitards. Is there no dress code at this school?
Pictured: A totally acceptable school outfit.
Maybe that’s the heart of this town’s violence issues, along with poor curriculum centered around woefully out of date fictional history films teaching Gunfighters had to save The Settlers. “They brought a new code to the Old West…a code written in their blood and the blood of the men they faced!” So, getting back to the violence, the lesson Morgan learns first day at his new school from this film is ‘bad people have to die for things to get better’. And he meets his new best friend as the young man hands him a switchblade to deal with a ‘problem’ that hasn’t even happened yet. Yep, seems on par for this movie’s universe, and definitely helps explains the ending where everyone’s hanging at Club Wacky Band like Morgan DIDN’T JUST KILL FRANKIE’S BOYFRIEND IN A WAREHOUSE. But hey, the boyfriend was ‘bad’ and wouldn’t ever change; he didn’t even show signs of upward class mobility and so he had to die. It also didn’t help the guy he went up against, Morgan, also overreacts with toughness no matter the situation, leading to the aforementioned deadly nailboard/axe face-off.
James Spader. James Spader, the very concept of Preppie so courses through your veins, they had to make it part of your character’s background even if it went against all logic. I’m not sure I could’ve even believed him coming from a working class family. It’s no coincidence one of his most memorable roles is jaded preppie Steff in ’16 Candles’ – he is that character, wallowing in the horror of realization money can only buy things he’s already bored with. Given the intensity of his performance towards the end of this movie, stealthily kicking ass and Gymkata-ing the bad guys, his blood-smeared, malevolent smile brandishing that axe (again with the escalation in this film), oh, they should’ve used him in a horror movie. They should have cast him in an 80s version of ‘American Psycho’. I suppose it would have been too soon, too on-the-nose. Still, he technically killed Robert Downey in Easton Ellis’s ‘Less Than Zero’; close enough.
He also killed my personal sense of dignity when in ‘Tuff Turf’ he sits down to sing his lady a ballad (checking emotions through song/dance off the list). I must admit, I didn’t actually watch this. Couldn’t actually watch this. You try watching a man who excels at projecting detached, smug superiority project raw, earnest endearment. It just doesn’t work, and I got the sense while watching even he didn’t buy it. Still, he plays along gamely, and given his solid portrayal of an overly-enthusiastic Egyptologist in ‘Stargate’ 9 years later, the fault seems to be with the singing, not the acting.
Given Morgan and his family were bland yuppies before all this, where the hell did he and his dad learn their superfighting skills? I’d like to see the prequel where Morgan’s older brother (beloved preppie golden boy of the family) was sacrificed to mom’s wish for a lawyer in the family; while mother and son have a disturbingly close relationship in the background, father and Morgan band together to take on their town’s bad guys, one fistfight at a time. Maybe that’s why dad lost his job and seems so mildly concerned by it in ‘Tuff Turf’; his family was run out of town by some no-good fat-cat sheriff and the rich jerks under his protection in the prequel. That movie ends on more of a ‘Chinatown’ feel, then we pick up with ‘Tuff Turf’. Which somehow must belong to the same space as ‘Breakin’ Two: Electic Boogaloo’, due to sheer quantity of half-shirts. Wait…The principal does warn Morgan away from ‘holding rock concerts on the roof’ when he gets called into the office…’Breakin’ 2′ came out a mere year before…the rich jerks from ‘Breakin’ 2′ could be the same rich jerks who screwed over Morgan’s dad’s business in the prequel! WE’RE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS HERE, PEOPLE. I’d like to see a follow-up movie as well, where Morgan and Robert Downey, Jr. go off to college, and it’s a direct cross between wacky screwball college romp and Falling Down. Those scum are gonna get a higher education….in pain. Something like that. We’ll workshop it.
Hello All. Did everyone enjoy ‘Marwencol’? Was everyone sufficiently moved by the triumph of an individual over personal demons using means at hand to help, resulting in a beauty that only comes of truth? Great! Glad we got that out of our systems. It’s October, and high time to gird ourselves for a month of cardboard sets, flimsy plots, and laughably unscary monsters! IT’S B-HORROR MONTH here at the I.Q. Movie Club!
To ease us gently in, we’ll kick this week off with one of Roger Corman’s classier Edgar Allen Poe adaptations, ‘The Tomb of Ligeia’. It’s got all the hallmarks: a tormented Vincent Price, a young lady in danger from the supernatural, evil cats, confused servants, and buildings collapsing as they burn!
Searching for the trailer, I came across this infinitely crappier modern version. Note the smurf-blue coloration and flashed footage apparently indicating horror. Also checked off the list: creepy kid at night, a well, bad CGI and burlesque. Nothing terrifies like a random, mostly nude dance sequence!
With the passing of Labor Day, hundreds of thousands of children find themselves corralled back in school for another season of doodling, social awkwardness, and reading books where innocent animals die at the end. Many claim today’s schools are nothing more than the worst combination of babysitter and jail, a holding pen for sexed-up no-goodniks hell-bent on destroying everything good and decent their parents worked for.
Apparently this opinion’s been in vogue since the 1950s, as a teensploitation film catering to and shaking a finger at the target market comes out pretty much every 5 years. Most feature a well-meaning teacher entering a vortex of chaos. Some, like ‘Lean On Me’, ‘To Sir, With Love’, and that Coolio video for ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ show how with empathy and trust, even the violentest student can be won over. Others, such as this week’s Blackboard Jungle, focus more on beating the ever-living daylights out of the little punks:
But you needn’t spend 8 hours crammed in a desk next to gum snappers and kids who smell of sour milk to enjoy the benefits education confers! Why, in today’s modern, internet-based society, you can attend Youtubeniversity! Yes, that is a terrible word and I’m sorry. All the classes are covered! There’s Government:
“We needed weenies. Mr. Brown had weenies. It’s as simple as that!”
Science: “Would it work with real money?” Burning money?! SHE’S A COMMIE! Strap her down and make her watch the capitalism movie!
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