1980s Films–Unplanned Obsolescence
I’ve already written about the unique time-travel opportunities afforded by Youtube. You can drink the tea of history steeped in time by sampling old videos. You can even relive a history that is not your own in heady sips.
In this post I’d like to comment on the particular weirdness I feel while drinking in movies from the 1980s. I don’t mean movies I’ve seen since the 1980s. I’m talking about the ones I saw then and have since been replaying only on the screens in my head. It turns out that the editor in my head is pretty good. In fact, some of those movies I never bothered to watch again were absolutely terrible without that editor in my head smoothing over the rough edges.
And I’m not just talking about the architectural density and ambition of the girls’ bangs either, product stiff on the precipices of totally tubular heads. No wonder, by the way, I always referred to that stuff as MOOSE and not MOUSSE—the girls used it to build failed antlers upon their domes with curly-cue piles of hair.
No. What I’m talking about are cultural irregularities that struck me as so normal then, which nearly bowl me over to watch now. Some of these are so personal that they’ll mean close to nothing to anyone else. That’s fine too. I’m not necessarily conducting a journalist’s view of 1980s cinema after all, but rather a sort of poetry of response. Let this be a memoirist’s report on cinematic details that cut right through my nostalgia-producing organs—perhaps what our appendix used to do—to trigger what Roland Barthes in discussing photography would call the punctum.
According to Barthes, the punctum is the small detail that pierces through visual generality, “which pricks me, (but also bruises me, is poignant to me)” Camera Lucida (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981), 26, 27. Celia Lury contrasts the view of the punctum as animating only that which is repressed in the subject-viewer of a photography, by insisting, as I do here, that it rather animates a new relation between subjects and objects. See Lury, Prosthetic Culture: Photography, Memory and Identity (New York: Routledge, 1998), 90-91.
I was watching Adventures in Babysitting the other day and was struck by the felt interior of station wagons with faux wood paneling.
The only thing more strange than that was the casual homophobia some of the young male characters bandied about between them. It wasn’t meant to be too cruel or to attract that much attention to itself as bigotry. It passed between the characters as casually as a dumb blond joke, which also comes up by the end in strange reference to a young Vinnie D’Onofrio.
But none of that is as potent in my memory banks as that black carton of orange juice seen inside the refrigerator of Sara Connor’s house in the first Terminator.
There’s also a casually-presented suggestion of rebound rape in Valley Girl.
I was horrified, because the characters in the film were not. Less alarming but just as nostalgically, punctumously strange are the opening sequences of permissive skitching–or hitching a ride on a car via skateboard in Back to the Future.
It’s funny, for as seemingly innocuous as this film was, I recall the aggressive way insecure teens policed one another’s white Nike wear. It was the white low-top leathers with a red stripe or nothing. How many poor unsuspecting parents thought any shoe with any stripe-like design would do? O the shame of zips or keds, swipes and streaks that were close but never swooshy enough.