Sunday, January 29, 2012

What did I ever see in you?

Have you ever re-watched a film you once thoroughly enjoyed only to think "What the heck was I thinking?"

And I'll ask the question the other way, too. Did you watch a movie when you were 15 that still held up nearly 20 years later?

Had both experiences over the weekend. One was great. One wasn't.

The film that held up -- and I don't care if you crucify me over this -- was "Saturday Night Fever." The one that didn't, much to my disappointment, was "Any Which Way You Can."

I may be one of about five people to admit it (sadly, critic Gene Siskel is no longer around to agree), but I think "Saturday Night Fever," the 1977 John Travolta film that forever stitched disco into the American experience, is a darn good movie.

Yes, it's dated. But that's the point. Like George Lucas's "American Graffiti" and Peter Bogdanovich's "The Last Picture Show," "Fever" captures a moment in time -- in this case late '70s Bay Ridge, Brooklyn -- better than any history book ever could.

Everybody remembers the bell bottoms and the Bee Gees, but what has managed to fade from our collective memory of "Fever" is the story itself, a good one, about a young man named Tony Manero (Travolta) who knows he's headed nowhere and wants to escape his dead-end life. That narrative is as universal as good vs. evil. Travolta delivers his best film performance (save, probably, his turn in "Pulp Fiction") as a guy who overcomes the drabness of everyday life by living it up on Saturday nights.

It's a sad story and a dark one, too. Its language and situations are rough in parts, but director John Badham had the guts to go behind the glitter of the disco's flashing lights and point his cameras toward the uglier aspects of the urban America of the period. The film has some rather pointed things to say about religion, too. There's no way it would be made in this politically correct era, which says something about how much we haven't advanced as a culture.

Now let's switch gears.

Saturday night we were looking to watch something completely stupid. We needed a break. We needed a laugh.

DirecTV was offering a free HBO preview and I recorded "Any Which Way You Can," my favorite of the two offbeat movies Clint Eastwood made with an orangutan. I'm not ashamed to admit that I loved this movie 20-plus years ago. I'm also not ashamed to now say it sucks.

I don't know who came up with the idea to pair Eastwood with "Clyde," but the first film, "Every Which Way But Loose," was a box office success in 1978. The sequel didn't do as well, but for whatever reason I liked it better. I rather vividly remember watching its network broadcast probably around 1982 or '83. And I can remember renting the film back when one still had to go to a brick-and-mortar video store.

I guess my tastes matured (one hopes that ones sensibilities don't peak in early adolescence) because watching this film all these years later was positively painful.

Other than a few scenes between Eastwood and Clyde, the film just wasn't funny. The acting, particularly that of Sondra Locke (Eastwood's girlfriend at the time), was atrocious. We weren't expecting much but this film makes "Smokey and the Bandit" look like "Citizen Kane." About all I can say for it is the song "You're the Reason God Made Oklahoma," some nice location scenes in Jackson, Wyo., and a brief appearance by Glen Campbell.

Such is growing up, I guess. Looking at the reruns now, I have no idea why I used to like "Green Acres" and "Bosom Buddies," either.

Oh, pointless junk, what did I ever see in you?

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Blogger Dewayne said...

a few points:

Travolta's finest is "Look Who's talking Too." Duh.

Green Acres is, perhaps, the 3rd best television series of the 1960's on CBS, that focused on farms.

10:40 PM  

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