Friday, September 28, 2018

Only now does it occur to me... THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN

Only now does it occur to me... that this seems like something of an appropriate week to reckon with a film like THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN (1982), an early Cannon Film attempt at teenage relevance and an '80s update of director Boaz Davidson's own 1950s-set Israeli coming-of-age film, LEMON POPSICLE (1978).

Half of the film feels predictably culled from the brainless sex-comedy genre, films like PORKY'S, REVENGE OF THE NERDS, or JOYSTICKS––

Needless to say, the '80s rule of pools is in effect––which is to say that if there is a pool present, a character will be pushed into it, flailing, in a zany comic moment

––whereas the second half feels like it could be at home in an artistic coming-of-age picture by the likes of Catherine Breillat, Lasse Hallström, or Maurice Pialat.

The suburbo-angst is tangible

Like FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (which was released in August 1982, two weeks after this film's July premiere), it presents a toxic, often alienating, and generally bewildering teenage wasteland; a minefield of harsh, unavoidable truths about the human condition; a labyrinth of pain and nascent sexuality fired willy-nilly in all directions, like a tommy gun.

Of course, a Cannon sex comedy can't be on the right side of history all the time, so there are several cringe-inducing scenarios, like PORKY'S-style locker room peeping, a dick-measuring contest set to Devo's "Whip It," or a bizarre sequence of group sex with a Latina housewife that plays on the surface as "weird and sort of racist," or very generously, perhaps, as a satire on the absurdity of teen sex comedies of the era? (Probably not.) At least the scene where our horndog protagonists visit a prostitute plays out in a manner that's bleak, melancholy, and broken, like a tableau out of Tennessee Williams or Flannery O'Connor.

Conversely, this could be a scene from BARFLY

As with any '80s film whose major focus is its protagonists attempting to "get laid," there's going to be a poisonous strain of male entitlement running throughout,

And a lot of popped collars

but THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN actually makes an attempt to grapple earnestly with the consequences. It's partly owed to Tel Aviv's own Boaz Davidson (SALSA, GOING BANANAS), who lends the film a peculiar sort of Eurotrash/Euro-arthouse-quality where there can be wild tonal shifts, often within the same scene, of silly Hollywood artifice giving way to Neo-realistic emotion and moral ambiguity.

While FAST TIMES tackles similarly weighty subjects, this is the only '80s film I can think of who dedicates the stretch ordinarily reserved for a makeover or training montage to a sequence where a young woman undergoes an abortion while another boy (who did not impregnate her) scrambles to pawn his belongings to pay for it.

Especially remarkable is that the woman's point-of-view is not only considered in this sequence, but that it's central––the viewer has a real sense of the emotional and physical drain the dark and ethically ambiguous shadows of the adult world have cast on her life and the lives of those around her.

Of course, this happens in a film where a group of guys get pubic lice and the subsequent, incessant scratching is played for yucks. Well, that's Cannon Films for you––for better or worse. Nonetheless, it feels morally superior to a few of the options at an American multiplex in July of 1982. While you could indeed catch BLADE RUNNER or John Carpenter's THE THING, it's perhaps more likely that a boneheaded teenager would go see ZAPPED!, a film where Scott Baio uses telekinesis to rip the clothing off of his female classmates.

[Side note: Probably the first thing the viewer will notice about THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN is the soundtrack, which would cost more than the entire film's budget today. It's shocking how much 1982 radio they manage to cram in here, with hit songs by Journey, The Police, Tommy Tutone, Blondie, U2, Devo, Oingo Boingo, The Cars, The Human League, Blondie, The Waitresses, REO Speedwagon, KC and the Sunshine Band, and Quincy Jones, to name a few.

It's also worth mentioning that TWIN PEAKS' Kimmy Robertson also turns in a delightful comic supporting performance:

She's always been underutilized (do we blame SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL?––technically she played the title character, as "Liza, Cruise Control/Cruise Director"), and hopefully the revived TWIN PEAKS will get her some more work.]

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Only now does it occur to me... THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME

Only now does it occur to me... that it took––no joke––twenty-five writers and a lyricist in order for the 1996 animated film THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME to improve upon the 1831 Victor Hugo novel of the same name. And how did they improve on said material, beyond lending it the ol' Disney happy ending?

Not pictured: the melancholy mingling of our dead protagonists' ashes.

Well, I'm going to point out one scene in particular, whereupon the French Roma dancer Esmeralda (voiced by Demi Moore) performs for an enthusiastic crowd by twirling acrobatically on a vertical pole (in actuality, a well-placed spear)––

and is subsequently showered by the audience with appreciative gold coins.

This strikes me as a clear––albeit as PG as humanly possible––reference to the 1996 Demi Moore masterpiece STRIPTEASE (which was certainly in the zeitgeist––it was due to be released exactly one week after HUNCHBACK). Driving the point home is that she is performing in part for a corrupt politician––the Archdeacon Claude Frollo––who soon develops a violent, flagellant's fascination with her.

This, naturally, stretches the STRIPTEASE comparison even further, as there's clearly a parallel between Frollo and corrupt Congressman Dilbeck (Burt Reynolds), who, in the latter film, pines for and slobbers over Demi Moore in a quite similar manner.

(In closing, please allow me to take this moment to sing the praises of STRIPTEASE, a trashterpiece that's equal parts Elmore Leonard and Menahem Golan––essentially OVER THE TOP except with striptease instead of arm-wrestling. It also features a performance by Ving Rhames and a tiny monkey sidekick that would be right at home in the Disney movie of your choice.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Sean Gill's "The Mongrels" in Joyland Magazine

My latest short story, "The Mongrels," a morbid fantasy set in the Midwest, has been published in Joyland Magazine and is available to read online.

Founded in 2008, Joyland Magazine has featured work by Roxane Gay, Zinzi Clemmons, Lydia Millet, Amelia Gray, and Ottessa Moshfegh.

Thursday, September 6, 2018