Sunday, April 27, 2014

Fast Times at Ridgemont High


Everything's going absolutely swimmingly on The Girl From Oz, my new theatrical project which will mark my triumphant return to the Gay White Way of the Broadway theater. Hugh Jackman's run in the original is up mid-September and we plan on packing them in at the Imperial Theater starting the next week. We have to allow some time to change out the set. I absolutely insisted that we have something just a little more spectacular than the tatty old thing they've been using. My producers have procured the barricade from the recently closed Les Miserables and are having it repainted in various shades of pink pastel with some tasteful gauze draperies added. It should show off my new routines and costumes brilliantly. We've also acquired the roller coaster pieces from Assassins on the cheap as additional backdrop. I inquired about the Miss Saigon helicopter, but apparently it's on tour throughout the Midwest for the next few months. 

The script changes, done to incorporate my unique talents, are ready and I'm rehearsing with the chorus; it's quite exciting to recreate all those wonderful Olivia Newton-John production numbers and we're fleshing the whole thing out with some musical tributes to Australia. We have this new outback sheep farm number, in which I actually shear a sheep live on stage during the song which is going to be a huge hit, bigger than Mary Martin's I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair shower. One of the associate producers has been out auditioning sheep all week; we've also got some long haired Himalayan cats, that look rather like sheep, in reserve should we run into any ovine tantrums. I'd like to work out how to put the Oz convicts in the number somewhere, but can't quite work out how American maximum security prisoners would make it to the Australian outback. I suppose they could tunnel and that might make a good use of the trap space under the stage. 

I was feeling a bit under the weather after rehearsals the other night so felt the need for a film that would not tax the brain in any way, shape, or form. My channel surfing led me to stumble across Cameron Crowe and Amy Heckerling's ode to early 80s high schoolers, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which I had not seen for many years. This film, along with two other releases from the same year (Diner and The Outsiders) helped launch the careers of many of the younger stars of the 80s who have continued to work over the intervening decades. This film was significant in the careers of Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, and Forest Whittaker, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards and Nicolas Cage. Diner helped launch Kevin Bacon, Steve Guttenberg, Mickey Rourke, Daniel Stern and Ellen Barkin. The Outsiders gave boosts to Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio, Rob Lowe and Emilio Estevez. 

Fast Times at Ridgemont High was written by author/journalist Cameron Crowe based on his experiences at Van Nuys high school in the San Fernando valley (where the film was shot). Crowe, in his mid twenties, still had a baby face and re-enrolled in that school, from which he had graduated some years before, under an assumed name to study high school life, rhythm and ritual as an accepted insider from an adult perspective. (He pulled this trick again a few years later at a Seattle area high school leading to the film Say Anything with John Cusack). The book and the film effortlessly capture the world of the young during those transitional years from the disco culture of the 70s to the neon drenched, big haired 80s. 

The film is a film about character rather than plot. It follows the day to day lives and interweaving experiences of a half dozen young people. There's Spicoli, the stoner surfer (Sean Penn in an unforgettable performance) and his continuing battles with the iron willed history teacher, Mr. Hand (Ray Walston). There's young Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who works at the food court in the mall and dreams of a relationship. Her best chance is Rat (Brian Backer) who moons at her from his job as usher at the Cineplex across the way and she learns the hard way that his friend Damone (Robert Romanus), isn't as smooth an operator as he would like us to think. Stacy's brother Brad (Judge Reinhold) lusts after her friend Linda (Phoebe Cates) as he tries to make a name and career for himself in a series of dead end jobs. Their world is circumscribed by valley boulevards, the mall and high school, where experiences are alternately hilarious and mildly tragic. 

The film is a bit dated in its attitudes towards drug use (although it's perfectly in keeping with the period in which it was made, prior to Nancy Reagan and her 'Just Say No' campaigns and the nation's 'War on Drugs'). It's also a bit misogynistic in the way the female characters are objectified and the male characters are not. This may have something to do with teen hormones and the culture of the time, but it still seems a bit odd to my now more grown up eyes. Amy Heckerling, who knows how to milk high school life for all of its tragicomic absurdity (and did it again in Clueless), directed the film with panache and keeps things zipping along from sequence to sequence, buoyed by Cameron Crowe's amazing ear for teen dialogue. 

Sean Penn, who had distinguished himself the year before opposite Timothy Hutton in Taps began to display the versatility that would soon cause him to be dubbed one of the best actors of his generation. His Spicoli, with his pot haze induced surfer speak, became widely imitated in beach comedy after beach comedy, but never equaled. The force of his characterization dominates the film, even though he doesn't have that much screen time. The other young performers are all accomplished and, in many ways, set their screen personae with this film. Jennifer Jason Leigh as the tragic heroine, Judge Reinhold as the uptight martinet, Phoebe Cates as the sex bomb. 

The humor is a little all over the place, nothing much really happens, but the film still works as a look at the generation who followed the boom and who became Generation X. It's also fun to see stars such as Nicolas Cage running around at seventeen. Give it a whirl. 

Smoke filled van. Service industry mall jobs. Pizza delivery. Casual sex. German dining. Football cheers. Mini-mart robbery. Voyeuristic masturbation. Pirate hat. Naked Jennifer Jason Leigh. Naked Phoebe Cates. Naked Robert Romanus. No naked Judge Reinhold. No naked Sean Penn. 

No comments:

Post a Comment