Hello fellow Plotaholics, I am Joe Compton. You may have heard me from time to time on the podcast and the guys refer to me as honorary The 3rd Plotaholic. A distinction I cherish for sure. It’s always an incredible honor and a lot of fun to be on with Shane and Bryan.
What you also might or might not know is I run an online network called Go Indie Now. We produce several different shows, weekly, monthly, and seasonally that highlight, promote, and foster Indie Artists and their art. I am an author (2nd book comes out next month in fact) and a filmmaker (just released my first short film in 20 years). I grew up like all of you, my Plotaholic brothers and sisters, as a cinephile. I also am a product and fan of the 1980’s.
Now while the choices that were made for the podcast were mostly the ones I would have made and I loved the guys going through them as they did, I thought I would take a moment and introduce you all to some that maybe that were a little more under the radar.
Since I cover the indie world in a lot of areas including movies I thought I would show you all that side of things with my picks. So anytime there is a theme or special run that the podcast does I will try and give you that theme from an indie perspective.
So that being said, The Plotaholics devoted a good chunk of the beginning of 2020 to the Quintessential 1980’s films (oh and spoiler alert I know for a fact they aren’t done ;0).
So here now are four 1980’s INDIE FILMS that I think you might enjoy checking out.
Starring Christian Slater, Winona Ryder, Written by Daniel Waters, and Directed by Michael Lehmann
You might be going, woah, wait, Heathers was a big time studio movie, how is this Indie? Well actually it wasn’t. Roger Corman’s company, New World Pictures, put this out first. Eventually they would be bought by Disney but that wouldn’t happen till the mid 90’s. It won the BEST NEW FEATURE and the Independent Spirit Awards. Heathers really made its mark on the Video and Cable TV Scene. It was released theatrically to small houses mostly or 1 theater showings and did poorly. Also no studio would back it because its stars weren’t marektable at the time. I know, I know, crazy to think about all that. It really gained a cult following though once Gen X and Millennials got their hands around it and made it their anthem for the disenfranchised school youth.
Heathers is the story of Veronica Sawyer, who is one of the popular girls at Westerburg High School in Sherwood, Ohio. She is part of a popular but feared clique that also consists of three other wealthy and beautiful girls with the same first name: Heather Chandler, Heather Duke, and Heather McNamara. She has grown tired of them and longs to return to her old life with her “nerdy” friends.
A new student, a rebellious outsider named Jason “J.D.” Dean pulls a gun, and fires blanks on a couple of jocks named Kurt Kelly and Ram Sweeney in response to them bullying him. Veronica observes this, and finds herself fascinated.She then strikes up a relationship with J. D. that reaps what it sows so to speak.
Heathers was the first of these types of movies I could remember that used a kind of goth like./ pseudo horror backdrop to mask or enhance its funny. One could argue it paved the way for movies like Jawbreaker, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and even more serious fare like The Craft or The Faculty. It’s irreverence to political correctness and its tongue in cheek way of dealing with it while shoving social standards in your face really makes it unique and puts a spin on the previously untouchable tropes that goes along with these 1980’s comedies.
Christian Slater channels his best Jack Nicholson meets James Dean to flawless perfection. While Wynona Rider breaks incredible new ground as the tough female Protagonist that has flaws but still rises above them. Something unseen in a movie of this ilk, in this generation. Even Pretty In Pink, which has Molly Ringwald kind of mirroring Veronica’s plight, still does so with the kind of softness that leads more to love versus hate ads the overcoming emotion. Doesn’t mean Pretty In Pink is bad for doing it that way. In fact it may be one of my favorite of those type of films but it just goes to show how Heathers changed the game.
There had been plenty of Dark Comedies out there but none really took place in this type of setting. The type of setting that spoke directly to the youth who was living it. Moreover Heathers holds up over time, sure a couple of the jokes are moot by now, like for example “I love my dead gay son.” but for every one of those there is “Chaos is what killed the Dinosaurs, my darling.”
The only “flaw” with this movie is that it does push the same agenda a little too much over and over but then the ending comes with a satisfaction that only a movie like this could bring and you forget that you were saying come on, finish already just 10 minutes ago.
I give Heathers a 1 shot rating and say for anyone in High School who feels disenfranchised or anyone who still feels that way this is an awesome one to partake in.
RIVER’S EDGE (1987)
Starring Keanu Reeves, Ione Skye, Dennis Hopper, and Crispin Glover, Written by Neil Jimenez, and Directed by Tim Hunter
Staying in the vein of disenfranchised teen films from the 1980’s, River’s Edge is the type of movie that set not only the conventional crime film screaming but also taped into a darker theme for Teen films and made it okay to do so. Not to mention this film has a soundtrack that kicks your teeth down your throat and for metal kids who felt unrepresented in film this is our anthem, our calling card of films.
This also marks Keanu Reeves first starring role and Crispin Glover’s first foray into a weirdo personna that soons follows him nearly everywhere, fair or unfairly.
It is the story of a group of kids wrestling with the consequences of a shocking event that will either separate them or bring them closer together. As one friend in the circle, John aka Samson, goes psychotic, and kills his girlfriend. Samson is played so stoically and brilliantly by quintessential character actor Daniel Roebuck. Trust when I say he is one of those actors you know you have seen in something but just don’t know his name. While Layne (Crispin Glover) decides they need to help John cover this up, Matt (Keanu Reeves) and Clarissa (Ione Skye) aren’t so sure. Layne who goes to great lengths, including bringing in a pure psychotic role model for John named Feck (Dennis Hopper), he spends most of the time justifying his position to Matt and Clarissa and the others along for the ride.
This is such a mind trip of a movie in which antiquates the protagonist and antagonist tropes with a little subversion or at least on the surface tries to show people as they seem not as they are deep down inside. Which leads to an amazing thrill ride that along with its soundtrack never stops kicking or punching at you.
Now I will admit, a lot of people probably won’t get it because they will be turned off by the music or the nonchalant nature of the true essence of a heinous crime like the one that surrounds and haunts this movie but if you like movies that move with ferocity and captivate you with human emotion and deep rooted psychology this movie is a must see.
Again its only “flaw” is that it takes a little while to come to the climax after going so hard so fast and sometimes it gives up a little common sense for effect but all in all this is a character driven mosh pit of a movie that punches and kicks in all the right times.
I give RIVER’S EDGE a 1 shot rating and say if you like Heavy Metal and have never seen this movie. If you like movies like BRICK, THE OUTSIDERS, and STAND BY ME you might enjoy this movie.
SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT (1986)
Starring Tracy Camilla Johns, Remond Hicks, and Spike Lee, Written & Directed by Spike Lee
How Tracy Camilla Johns is not a bigger star remains one of the great mysteries of the 1980’s. For all the talk about women in film and women empowerment and #metoo, Tracy’s turn as Nola Darling in Spike Lee’s debut film is one of strength, conviction, and just amazing sensual and emotional perfection. I love how this movie breaks the fourth wall, how it has all the elements of a New York-flavored film from a unique perspective while paying tribute to Woody Allen, Martin Scorcese, and John Cassavettes in the process.
Spike’s jokes have never had the perfect timing like they do in this film. It hits all the right notes. While a lot of film buffs will argue that Do The Right Thing is where Spike Lee joints really find themselves, I would counter with how spot-on She’s Gotta Have It is.
John Terrell’s turn as Greer Childs is my favorite character, besides Nola of course. I love their interaction, some of the best lines of the film, and I really feel his character saves the movie’s pace and really helps turn the corner.
Once we get the Greer’s introduction, the 2nd and 3rd acts of this film really hum and become iconic. It makes me sad that Spike took some shots at turning away from this type of film because he is a maestro at it and he provides a perspective never seen before and it is so important to have and really enjoy. Don;t get me wrong he has had some hits with how he makes films now like 25th Hour, parts of Inside Man, and BlacKkKLansman but these first 3 or 4 he did were so cut and dry above everything else.
For anybody who calls themselves a film lover, buff, cinephile, or even lover of 1980’s or 1970’s movies even, this is a must watch.
I give SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT a 0 shot rating and I say if you are a fan of ANNIE HALL, AFTER HOURS, STRANGER THAN PARADISE you will love this film.
FINALLY…LET’S BROADEN YOUR HORIZONS and turn to a Foreign Film….
WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN (1988)
Starring Antonio Banderas, Carmen Maura, and Rossy de Palma, Written and Directed by Pedro Almodovar
You may think this is one of Pedro Almodovar’s earlier films in his career but this really was his 7th film and while there is a good debate whether it was this film or Matador that put him on the radar of critics, there is no debating this just might be the quintessential starting point for anyone new to the Almodovar experience, and trust me once you are in, you never get out and it is an experience. Almodovar mixes humor with violence and dramatic turns with symphonic elegance. Even when it seems messy it has a purpose.
Anyone who is interested in three act structure and how to bend it, forget Tarantino. He learned from one master of that, his name is Pedro Almodovar. It’s so amazing to watch this film and see how it messes with you and twists you all up, as one minute you cheer for this person and the next you loathe them. Almodovar is a master at that ideal.
Carmen Maura, again another well-rounded female lead performance that is hard to imagine anyone else performing. Maura is someone Almodovar worked with frequently, especially in his filmography now. She does more with expressions than Michael Bay does with explosions.
This is also a young Antonio Banderas we are watching, and while his raw energy feeds so well in this turn as Carlos, he has a few stumbles. Ah, there’s the rub. What you perceive is not always what you get when you are watching a Pedro Almodovar film.
Again if you call yourself a film buff, lover, or cinephile this has ot be a top your list to see but I will say if you watch later films of Almodovar you will see how this one deludes a little but also how it stands out.
I give WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN a 1 shot rating only because I have seen better Almodovar films now but at the time this very well could have gotten 0 shots. If you are a fan of SKIN DEEP, HIGH FIDELITY. And AGAIN ANNIE HALL you will most likely love this movie.
Well there you have it, Plotaholics. I hope you enjoy these films and check them out. I will be back again soon with more Indie gems in the future. If you liked what you read please share this with everyone and anyone who love films. Also please let me know your choices for Indie films of the 80’s. There is obviously more I could have chosen from but I think this is a good mix.