OK so I've put down my new iPhone, I've gotten my 4th of July camping out of my system and I am now ready to bring you the grand finale of our little festival. Hopefully you all haven't been waiting around impatiently as again this is meant to be something you're doing when the weather isn't absolutely awesome. Of course for my Mid-Atlantic friends it's hot death outside right now so by all means stay inside and enjoy.
So for our final film I'm going to break from our convention and actually go back a generation. To sum up everything we've covered in our three previous selections it's important to analyze the generation of Americans that were on the fore of the ideological shift that was taking place in the country at the dawn of the 1980's. The move from the left leaning community focused culture of the late 1960's and early 1970's to the individually focused materialism of the 1980's.
4) "The Big Chill"
Lawrence Kasdan's 1983 dramedy is about seven thirtysomething friends who reunite after the suicide of their friend Alex. Like the characters in our previous selections, especially day two's "St. Elmo's Fire", the members of this group have met the challenges of adult life in the 1980's with varying degrees of success. As I alluded to in the introduction this film's placement represents a purposeful shift from the direction we have been taking. Rather than follow our 80's archetypes through the tribulations of their thirties (which after all would have to be a 1990's movie) I am opting instead to end with an examination of characters old enough to be Andie, Blane and Duckie's youngish aunts and uncles.
These seven people represent that storied generation of Americans that while not the "Greatest Generation" were no less influential on our culture. This is the generation of sit-ins and uprisings. Of marches and riots. This is the generation that made love and not war. This generation buried John and Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcom X. This is the generation that wanted to change the world and ultimately failed in their attempt.
The battles for Civil Rights and Women's Rights were largely fought by the generation prior to their own. The true battle of the Hippies was not one of politics but of culture and while the culture would be forever influenced by them, the pendulum swing of the 1980's would mark their demise. This is what our selection today is about. How did that generation come to terms with their failures culturally even in the face of their own personal success? And is it wrong to pursue personal financial success even at the expense of personal ideology?
Despite this story being about people ten years their seniors, "The Big Chill" still serves as an extension of "St. Elmo's Fire". The seven friends are dealing with the pitfalls of adult life with Harold (Kevin Kline) and Sarah (Glenn Close) being the only stable members of the group and therefore the anchor keeping the group together. You could view Harold and Sarah as the Alec and Leslie of the film if Alec and Leslie were able to keep it together. Michael (Jeff Goldblum) is a journalist and the film's Kevin because aside from sharing a vocation both are unlucky in love and generally dripping with ennui. Nick (William Hurt) is a Vietnam Veteran who suffers from erectile dysfunction and drug addiction as a result of his experiences in war. Like SEF's Billy, Nick is unsure about where he fits in in this new culture. Nick is very much a stranger in a strange land. Sam (Tom Berenger) is a famous TV actor, Meg (Mary Kay Place) is an unhappy corporate lawyer with a ticking biological clock, and Karen is a bored housewife married to a straitlaced stiff. Chloe (Meg Tilly) rounds out the cast as the much younger girlfriend of the recently deceased Alex.
Ironically even with this dynamite cast delivering great performances, the most interesting character is the dead guy. The film is in some ways a mystery story as all of the friends convene over a long weekend and come to grips with why Alex took his own life. In the end Alex is all of our characters from all of the previous selections. He represents the disappointment that surely must have accompanied the death of 1960's idealism and the rise of 1980's capitalism. Alex, we learn, was smart and gifted in many ways. Alex is the misspent potential. Alex is the unfulfilled promise. Facing Alex's grim decision forces all of the friends to examine themselves and where they are in their own lives. All of them in one way or another feel just as lost if not as desperate. They all understand that their friendships with one another are all that remains to tie them to their idealistic pasts.
On a side note, the soundtrack to this film is UNBELIEVABLE. Don't look for The Rolling Stones' 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' on it however because the Stones are dicks when it comes to licensing their music even if they did allow the song to be in the movie.
There you have it four films (plus three additional selections) to enjoy over four days that will hopefully provide you with an understanding of where we were as a people and as a culture. It's fair to say that I have probably painted a pretty grim picture of that decade. I accept that. I think looking back on it we have to admit that culturally speaking things were at an historic low. It's easy to remember the crazy clothes, the New Wave music, your favorite TV show or pop culture trend and think fondly of the 1980's but it's also dishonest.
It was a decade that saw the Berlin Wall come down but also the outbreak of AIDS and a government that did little to control or even address it. Despite Nancy telling us to "Just say no!" the ghettos of America were reeling from the dawn of the crack era. We saw the divisions between rich and poor grow ever wider while the middle class drowned in credit card debt trying to stay above the one and catch up to the other. The decade gave rise to the Made in America label while at the same time we were losing our industrial and manufacturing jobs to other countries in the name of higher profit margins. Despite all of the Care Bears and Rainbow Brite dolls the 1980's were in actuality a pretty mean spirited decade.