Friday, June 02, 2017

The nostalgic gaze, and Jonathan Demme's Something Wild

The summer I turned 21 I was working in the shipping bay of a furniture factory. My boss was a few years older. Big guy. A gorilla in charge of baboons.

We all had motorcycles.

One lunch hour the others in the bay all howled out to some greasy spoon. My boss and I watched them go, then he turned to me and said, "You know, when I bought my bike I thought I was going to get this amazing feeling every time I climbed in the saddle." He smirked. "What a dummy, huh?"

That seemed to sum up a lot of what I felt -- about the entire year, really. Twenty-one -- I was a publicly acknowledged adult in all of Canada and most of the United States.

What did I do with that privilege?

I took that motorcycle and rode with a friend down to Los Angeles. We spent our days riding roller coasters and our evenings watching David Letterman.

What a dummy, huh?

Twenty-one wasn't an awful year, not by a long stretch. A bunch of weddings, a couple of funerals -- including a beloved grandfather. The usual youthful dramas, all self-inflicted as various personae were tried out and tried on. Good health, better than I deserved. But, you know -- I thought I was going to get this amazing feeling every time I climbed in the saddle.

My former boss came to mind when Joel asked me to reconsider Aliens. My boss loved that film -- saw it twice the weekend it opened, and several times more that summer. So far as he was concerned, Aliens was the apex of cinematic expression.

Joel admits nostalgia is a factor in his fondness for the film. It's been 30 years, but I imagine my boss probably has nostalgic feelings for it also. But as I surveyed the films of 1986, I was hard pressed to stir up nostalgic feelings for any of them.

The sole exception: Jonathan Demme's Something Wild.
"Where we goin'? Who knows?"
Something Wild really is just that terrific, for one thing -- one of those rare movies I almost regret seeing because I wish I could see it for the first time all over again.

It drops one depth-charge after another, and it never lets up. Just five minutes into it, I realized I had never seen these characters before. I had no idea who they were, where they were going, or what was going to happen next. And I wanted to find out.

A relationship forms between two strangers. It begins with high risk stakes, and concludes with everything on the line. Somewhere in the middle, as these two drive further into the heartland of America -- a disarmingly benign biosphere that plays host to beat-box gas-station rappers and clubs that cater to motorcyclists and their dogs -- a sense of trust develops between them, a sense of . . . love?

At 21 it was the one movie that seemed to affirm what needed affirming -- namely, you will need to take risks, and they will necessarily be high. And it won't end up the way you might expect. That's just life.
Though, as a rule, a fella should be cautious around girls reading Kahlo bios.
Endnote: it occurs to me that last summer's A Bigger Splash presents Dakota Johnson, Ms. Griffith's daughter, as essentially the same "wild" unknown figure, this time to tragic effect -- well worth watching as a companion to Something Wild.


DarkoV said...

You've talked about "Something Wild" before and I simply must re-visit it for a second less jaundiced view. I did not like it, Darko I am, the first (and only ) time through because I have a strong aversion to Jeff Daniels. "The Squid and The Whale" was about the only film I could deal with his...manner. Can't explain my dislike but it's immediate when he's on the screen. Now, I do remember cameos by John Sayles and John Waters and there's always the awesome slime that Ray Liotta excels at. I'll take some pill and do the Jeff Daniels watching deed. Besides, my cousin, Suzana Peric, was the music editor on this movie (as she was on quite a few of Mr. Demme's movies), so I owe it a second look. Thanks for changing my to watching it again. The movie opinion? I'll let you know.

Whisky Prajer said...

And I shall be all ears.

I can "get" the Daniels aversion in others, though I do not share it myself. Ryan Gosling is someone who generates immediate dislike in me. Wish desperately he hadn't been tapped on the shoulder to do the Blade Runner sequel, but what are you going to do?

Yahmdallah said...

My main movie from that year was Big Trouble in Little China. I loved the fact that Russell's character was an incompetent blowhard and the real hero was Wang Chi (Dennis Dun). I find fight scenes mostly boring, so the fact that the swat-fu (nod to Joe Bob Briggs) was somewhere between modern over-the-top martial arts sequences and the Pink Panther-style unrealistic and goofy kung fu made it enjoyable for me. Also, Carpenter knew when to cut it out already with the swat-fu; they ended in time.

It boasts one of my favorite exchanges of all time, when Margo asks at the end, "God, aren't you even gonna kiss her goodbye?" Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) looks her in the eye and merely says, "Nope."

My runners-up are Peggy Sue Got Married ("I happen to know that in the future I will not have the slightest use for algebra") and About Last Night... because of Mamet, dammit.

Whisky Prajer said...

When I first read the list, Big Trouble was my stand-out as well, until I got to Something Wild.

I'm overstating my youthful world-weariness, of course -- there are others I think fondly of. Couldn't say how many times I've watched STIV. About Last Night is very good, probably more mature in its treatment of some of the themes it shares with SW. And of course there's Class of Nuke 'Em High...