16 may 1979
vol. 3. no. 8
EIVER CITY CINE/HA
JUNK FOOD MOVIES
Something weird is happening in Hollywood.
I realize that might sound a tad redundant, since Hollywood
pratically invented the word "weird," so I should explain. Toss
aside the usual Tinseltown stuff — earthquakes, "est," kinky sex,
even the Oscars. This goes to the very heart of our film culture.
To wit: in the last few years, the movie industry seems to have
come full circle, returning after nearly three decades to schlocky,
vacuous formula cinema.
When television invaded the nation in the early Fifties, eroding the
broad support cinema had enjoyed for decades, Hollywood was
forced to re-define its intentions. By the mid-Sixties it had found a
niche, providing an outlet for themes and ideas that T.V. couldn't
touch at the time. Many films of the Sixties, whether great or small,
expensive or cheap, concentrated in one way or another on the
torment and upheaval that society was experiencing. Movies like
Dr. Stangelove, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Midnight Cowboy,
and Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising surged with energy, innovation
and, in some cases, an underlying contempt for the predictable,
seemingly irrelevant cinema that for the most part had characterized
mainstream Hollywood. This trend continued somewhat in the early,
pre-Watergate Seventies, particularly in films like A Clockwork
Orange, Cabaret and Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation,
which may be the supreme example of unrelenting alienation in
contemporary American film.
But somehow, in the last few years, schlock has found its way
back to the wide screen.
This is not to say there aren't any meaningful, powerful films any
more, or films that don't compromise in dealing with society's ills.
Nashville, Annie Hall and even Days of Heaven have continued the
Sixties' imperative in their own masterful ways. And I also don't
mean to imply that formula cinema has been completely dormant
for twenty-five years. Seldom does any genre disappear completely;
in this case, it simply diminished to insignificance. But the pendulum
is swinging once again, this time in the opposite direction. More and
more cliche-ridden, predictable movies are popping up, and I mean
major productions. Lately it's become difficult to tell the features
from the junk food at the concession stand. Both are prettily packaged, very sweet to the taste, and expensive as hell. But if you eat
too much, you get sick. And America is currently suffering from an
acute case of cinematic indigestion.
Contemporary junk food cinema has murky origins, but I'm willing to cite Rocky as the trend-setter. This relatively cheap, seemingly harmless little film came out of nowhere to seduce movie-going
America to a rather remarkable degree. Almost overnight everybody
was talking about a talented young hunk named "Sly" Stallone and
his marvelous, "old-fashioned" movie. Had the adulation stopped
with the reviews and box office receipts, Rocky would have been
a handsome success. But it went on to win the Best Picture Oscar,
leaving in its wake such notable films as Network and All The President's Men. It was a spectacular triumph for Stallone. But it was
also an ominous reflection of the tone of our times, of America's
craving for hope and anachronistic values, and it started a trend
that fllmgoers are now paying for dearly, in more ways than one.
INDIVIDUAL & RELATIONAL
by Bob Prewitt
After Rocky came Star Wars (whose story everybody knows),
The Goodbye Girl and, last summer, Heaven Can Wait, which stands
as something of a turning point. Not only was "Heaven" the first
modern junk food movie to feature a bonafide star, Warren Beatty,
but Beatty produced, co-directed and co-wrote the film as well.
When you consider Beatty's career prior to "Heaven" — in particular, the daring, renegade reputations of his best-known efforts,
Bonnie and Clyde and Shampoo — it's enough to give pause. In a
way, Beatty has single-handedly endorsed and legitimized modern
junk food cinema.
In the interim between "Heaven" and the present Superman has
come and almost gone, vanquishing American rather unevenly, but
nevertheless lucratively. And now we must endure yet another batch
of schlock, the most syrupy and offensive offered so far.
One of Hollywood's latest brainshowers is already in town: The
Champ. Director Franco Zeffirelli (Romeo and Juliet; the wonderful
television production of Jesus of Nazareth) has remade King Vidor's
1933 movie, and regardless of how you feel about junk food films,
it's clear that he's botched it. The Champ is something of a Rocky
Goes South. In fact it's safe to say that this version of The Champ
would not be here were it not for Rocky's success. Both films
concern the lives of ostensibly washed-up boxers, but beyond that,
Continued on page 18
KUT-FM'S ROCK OF AGES PRESENTS
TOWN BLOODY HALL
a film by D.A. Pennebaker
and Chris Hegedus
A laugh-out-loud documentary with
Norman Mailer, Germaine Greer.
Direct from New York's
Whitney Museum of American Art.
Austin Premier showing!
TRICIA'S (NIXON) WEDDING
by Sebastian with the Cockettes
Wednesday May 2,1979 8:00 pm $2.00
Batts Hall UT.