Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Fine Art of Sequential Credits :: Scenes From a Mall in Amy Heckerling's Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

 ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___

 "What are you, people? On dope?"
 ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ 

And the closing coda:

What John Landis and Animal House (1978) did for college comedy, cinematically speaking, Amy Heckerling did for high school shenanigans with Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), though the director claimed she was shooting for something more akin to American Graffiti (1973), a nostalgia bomb, so that "if you woke up and found yourself living in the movie, you'd be happy. I wanted that kind of feel." 

And on that front, capturing the zeitgeist of the early 1980s and mall culture, she most definitely succeeds, epitomized in those opening (and closing credits), to the driving beat of the Go-Gos (and later, Oingo Boingo), giving us a tour of the Sherman Oaks Galleria (-- alas, no longer with us after an earthquake in 1994), focusing on the food court and the arcade as the characters we are about to meet work or meander around.

The screenplay was written by Cameron Crowe, adapted from his book Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story (1981), where the freelance writer for Rolling Stone went undercover for a year at a San Diego high school and documented his experiences. At first, Crowe was going to make himself a character in the book, but instead shifted focus to a con-man (Damone), a nerd (Ratner), a surfer (Spicoli), a “sexual sophisticate” (Linda), and a brother and sister (Brad and Stacy), with details laid bare as he probed into the heart of adolescence, ranging from after school jobs, social cliques, to sexual encounters and the dire consequences of all of the above.

Before the book was even published it was optioned for a big screen adaptation by Universal. And though you would never have guessed it now, Fast Times at Ridgemont High faced all kinds of problems once filming was completed. First, it nearly got slapped with an X-Rating due to its sexual content; and to get an R a couple of explicit scenes had to go, namely some full frontal male nudity and the sequence where Linda instructs Stacy on how to perform oral sex with a carrot. A compromise was reached, and one scene was cut and the other re-shot to tone it down. 

Then, when the film was finally set for release, the studio wasn’t thrilled with the finished product and, feeling there was no audience for it, put next to no effort into any kind of marketing for the film and only did a limited regional release on the west coast, with no intention of any east coast showings before cutting their expected losses with a quick sell-off to cable. But once again proving studio execs no nothing about anything, the film quickly went from sleeper to bona fide hit, with a wide release thrown together a mere three weeks after its initial roll-out, officially launching the careers of Sean Penn, Phoebe Cates, Judge Reinhold, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and was the first film exposure of Anthony Edwards, Nicolas Cage, Eric Stoltz and Forest Whitaker.

I thoroughly enjoyed my revisit to Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which I hadn’t seen since the glory days of VHS rentals, via Universal’s Collector’s Edition DVD, which also includes a making of documentary and a really good commentary by Heckerling and Crowe. It also had me digging out my old vinyl copy of the soundtrack and jam out to the hiss and pop for a while. 

I had seen it uncensored before, but I don’t think I had ever seen it in the proper aspect ratio. And it was finally nice to see this infamous scene without the normal glitch of crinkled magnetic tape from being pinched and paused five-gabillion times by other VHS renters, which, I’m sure, resulted in several drawers full of soiled socks – if you know what I mean and I think you do:

Actually, it’s the scene right before that which makes my knees buckle, in a non-comic-code-approved sense. 

That smile at the end, there, is kinda killing me right now. *sigh*

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) Refugee Films :: Universal Pictures / EP: C.O. Erickson / P: Irving Azoff, Art Linson / D: Amy Heckerling / W: Cameron Crowe / C: Matthew F. Leonetti / E: Eric Jenkins / M: Bob Destocki / S: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Robert Romanus, Brian Backer,Phoebe Cates

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