Saturday, October 30, 2010

Missing The Boat

There's a time and a place for everything, including Hunter S. Thompson (I have to admit, I always think the S in the middle there is one of those Homer Jay/J. Simpson things, along the lines of Harry S Truman, whose S stood for nothing, but I'm wrong - the S. in Hunter S. Thompson stands for Stockton). I'm reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas right now, and while I like it, I think I would have loved in high school. Now, I'm just sort of like, "Dude, enough with the ether and the mescaline and the knifeplay," although I do recognize that those things are sort of the point of the whole thing, and that it's kind of interesting in a corrupt-American-Dream sort of way.

But I get the sense that it's not for me. Written in 1971, back when American troops were busily losing the Vietnam War, and before the War On Drugs had been launched, the dizzy, lurching story of the Mint 400 features Raoul Duke, a Thompson stand-in, and his debauched attorney, as they try to survive a weekend fueled what Thompson describes as a "mobile police narcotics lab," in Las Vegas no less. It's mostly about how many drugs they can stuff in their maws, and how loopy they subsequently feel.

If I had read this ten years ago, back when drugs held a certain glamour, I would have been in awe of their dirty weekend. I had girlfriends who cried when Thompson died in 2005, since they had read his books in high school and seen their own drug consumption justified. If Thompson could gobble sheets of acid and still get played by Johnny Depp in the movie, then they, logic went, were pursuing art by doing stepped-on blow during weekend barbecues.

The same thing comes up with Requiem for a Dream, which I did actually see when I was sixteen. The climax features an amputation, an ECT session, and a double-ended dildo, and is all about how drugs are fun until they're really, really not. It was the alpha and omega of drug movies - a particularly stylish PSA about heroin and how crappy it'll make your life. The book, which is actually more upsetting, left me in a navy-blue funk for a week. The whole experience makes heroin seem awesome, until you're inevitably on the ward without an arm.

And on a much less drug-terror note, I finally saw Edward Scissorhands this summer, way, way too late. I loved it, because it's good, but if I had seen it when I was a kid, it could have taught me a ton about, you know, acceptance and difference and blah blah blah. Plus, Johnny Depp as Edward is just great, all tortured silence and ratty hair. I could have had a childhood kindred spirit in Edward Scissorhands's horribly messy 'do, instead of the Wakefield twins and their ridiculous heart-shaped faces and perfect blonde hair.

It's hard catching up on pop-culture references. Internet memes have a shelf life of weeks - once you've missed the boat on those, you're basically out of the running, joke-wise. Movies and TV shoes are a little more durable, but smoke-monster jokes are dunzo and "I am Jack's raging sense of inanity" are a dying breed. Not that it's impossible to cast your mind back to full stuff you loved a decade ago; more that, if you miss the moment, it's sort of hard to join in at a later date. You lose that head-space: things that were amazing to your younger self (the drug lore, the fight clubs, the dirty lays) morph into things that make us go "ew."

I remember the first time I saw The Matrix. I literally rewound the tape - this was back in the olden days, when movies didn't have chapters - and watched it again, straight through, barely breathing. It was so awesome, so epic, so punchy and green and blue and Keanu! It was awesome in a way that, twenty years from now, is going to be dated. Teenagers, looking for the thrills that thrilled their parents, are going to download that movie and watch it, wondering what all the fuss is about. Making it, not bad, but very much of its time - like Hunter S. Thompson, it'll be a kind of pop culture Mary Celeste, drifting along, influential and exciting but ultimately meant for a certain person in a certain moment.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Back!....To The Future!

Back to the Future, oh how I love thee. Michael J. Fox, you are among my top three favourite Michaels. Christopher Lloyd, you are by far my very favourite Christopher (and my second favourite Lloyd). Lea Thompson, when I was a child, I thought your Enchantment Under the Sea dress was just the little bosom flaps, and thought it was odd that someone would attend a school dance basically topless. Guy who played Biff Tannen, you've been in plenty of other projects, yet you are linked inextricably in my mind to this meat-head sociopath. Crispin Glover, you are a glorious weirdo. Delorean, you are just the coolest vehicle ever put into production. Siiiiigh.

Back to the Future was one of those childhood movies that, rewatching it in my 20s, really isn't a kids' movie at all. I had the pleasure of attending a screening this week, and it was odd to watch it with a room full of people - whole jokes got subsumed in laughter, things that I've never thought were hilarious turned out to be rollickingly funny to others, and there were surprisingly few kids in the audience. The movie has turned into a nostalgia piece for those of us born in the 1980s, and a classic on all levels, but do kids born in the 1990s and 2000s know about the genius of Marty McFly and "Dad! George! Hey, you on the bike!"? Do the children dream?

Sorry. Having moved every few years growing up, I never had the experience of running into my grade four teacher at the grocery store or having "our" library branch. Lacking physical touchstones meant my siblings and I relied on media for connection: The Lion King soundtrack, Tracy Chapman albums, Blossom, the Berenstain Bears, endless stacks of Archie comics. If I'm feeling upset and/or homesick, I can put on Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and veg out. In the same way that my mom's salmon cakes and my baby blanket are totally connected to me both today and in 1992, throwing on The Point is nearly fool-proof way to get me out of a mood.

And Back to the Future stands the test of time. Sure, it's all about time and place - Hill Valley, 1955/1985 - but it's also timelessly about falling in love, being true to yourself, and finding your way home. Sure, it might start being upsetting if you think about carefully. But Fox and Lloyd are so funny: they're both so good in the role that it's mind boggling that Eric Stoltz almost got the part. Part of Fox's charm is that he's basically playing himself (an affable charmer), and Glover's charm lies in the fact that he's acting. Hard. Lloyd is just hanging out, burbling "One-point-twenty-one jigawatts!" and being all loony mad scientist. The story is simple but fantastic - a young man accidentally goes back in time, interrupts his parents' first meeting, and needs to engage the help of a mad scientist to reunite his parents and get back to his own time - but the film has skateboard vs. car action sequences, frilly petticoats, Libyans, guitar solos, Huey Lewis, the most garish 4x4 truck I've ever seen, and "I am your density...I mean, destiny."

SOLD, right?

I'll grant that the sequels aren't wonderful: 2, while featuring a hoverboard and the famous self-lacing Nikes, is pretty damned dark, what with the father-murdering and the dystopian alternate 1985. 3 is crazy, just straight up insane: Wild West! With Doc Brown falling in l-o-v-e and a replacement to the original time-traveling Delorean that is candy-coated lunacy (spoiler alert: it's a train!). Unlike the other major '80s trilogies, Star Wars and Indiana Jones, BttF sort of goes off the rails in the last couple movies, but they're interesting to witness. And the original is so good. (Better than Star Wars. Yeah, I said it. I meant it.) And it's a blessing that Universal Studios dismantled the ride that was based on the movie, since it made a full 60% of my family lie-on-the-floor nauseous. But the movie is magic. Science fiction, comedy, romance, action, and a poop joke or two? What's not to love?

If and when I have kids, I hope they're into Marty McFly's timeline-bending escapades. It's my duty as a parent to expose them to the magic of the movie, and hope that I've spawned children who aren't total dolts. If they start wandering around shouting "Great Scott!" in their high-pitched tiny-person voices, I'll know I've done my duty.