Kendrick On Films

I spent a great deal of my childhood doing a number of things:  making every effort to be loved and accepted by anyone who would love and accept me, writing stuff and indulging in a relatively secret passion–I’ve always wanted to be an actress.

Don’t get me wrong; we’re ALL performers in various ways, but I’m talking acting  as in having a SAG card, a cover story in People and  being interviewed on “60 Minutes” for my stance on the comedic roles for which I’ve made famous and of course,  my radically fervent protestations of the Scorched Earth policy in The Philippines.  

In 1977,  I was preparing to attend the University of Texas.  This, as my senior year of high school waned, I seriously entertained majoring in drama.   But I was a writer too and a fairly decent one if awards mean anything.  So, I weighed my chances: I could go to LA or New York and audition my ass off only to eat rats…..OR…..I could major in broadcasting, stay around Texas and at least, eat mice. 

I chose mice, but I’ve never lost my love or respect for performing, be it on the stage, the radio,  the small screen or on the big, silver one.

I like movies, but I don’t go as often as I used to.  There was a time I almost lived in darkened theaters.  Why?  Part fantasy; part needing to be entertained.  And yes, I have at various times, fallen victim to wanting to see the movies which became part of the zeitgeist of the time.   

I’m talking about those movies for teens and young adults; the ones with supposedly high relatibility factors.

I was in my twenties back in the 80’s a time in which cinematically speaking, director, John Hughes captured teen angst so succinctly.   His big three movies  were 80’s icons and so TOTALLY representative of the era with it’s  flash and buttoned up, shoulder padded excess.    Those movies are Sixteen Candles, Pretty In Pink and The Breakfast Club.    

All  plotlines focus in and around fictional Shermer High School in Shermer, Illinois.   But all three aren’t equal in terms of decent theater.   I always thought The Breakfast Club (save for soundtrack, thank you Simple Minds) was the weakest of all the Hughesian offerings.  But let me explain: I thought it was weak in terms of acting and execution, but I think it’s message was/is relevant.   Even still to this day.

The movie begins as five socially disparate students report for Saturday detention on a chilly Saturday  morning day in March 1984. While not complete strangers, the five teenagers are each from a different clique or social group.

The five students, who seem to have nothing in common at first, come together in the high school library, where they’re ordered not to speak or move from their seats by the antagonistic principal, Richard Vernon who assigns them a one thousand word essay  which each student must complete during the eight-hour and fifty-four minute duration of detention hall.   The subject?  Each student must write about who he or she thinks he or she is.  He then leaves them mostly unsupervised, returning only occasionally to check on them from time to time.   Over the course of the day they find out more about their detention mates. Outwardly, they are as follows:  Bender is a hoodlum;  a smart under achiever from the wrong side of the tracks.  His particularly negative attitude serves offers up the adversarial role in this ensemble.   Andrew is a jock with a pushy father who wants him to get an athletic scholarship.   Brian is a brain with pushy parents who want him to get an academic scholarship.   Claire is the pretty, popular girl from a wealthy family who looks like she has it all,  but in reality, she’s miserable.   Her upper middle class suburban existence is typical: workaholic distant father; drunk mother.   Then there’s Allison, the goofy oddball with her bad hair, dark demeanor and Pixie Stix and Frito sandwich.

The students gradually they open up to each other and discover that in spite of obvious differences, they all share certain commonalities. They all have strained relationships with their parents and are afraid of making the same mistakes as the adults around them.    

 Brian The Brain ends up actually writing the assisgned essay which he does, but instead of writing about the actual topic he writes a  letter that is in essence, the main point of the story. He signs the essay as The Breakfast Club and as they leave, he drops it on the table for Mr. Vernon to read. There are two versions of this letter, one read at the beginning of the movie and one at the end, which are slightly different; illustrating the change in the students’ judgments of one another and their realization of thei things they have in common.

The beginning letter is read in Brian’s voice.  It goes as follows:

Saturday, March 24, 1984. Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois. 60062.
 
Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was that we did wrong…and what we did was wrong, but we think you’re crazy to make us write this essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us… in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at seven o’clock this morning. We were brainwashed.

The end letter is as follows, in Brian’s voice, but this time his isn’t the only one we hear:

Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong…but we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us… In the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain…
 
Andrew Clark: …and an athlete…
Allison Reynolds: …and a basket case…
Claire Standish: …a princess…
John Bender: …and a criminal…
Brian Johnson: Does that answer your question?
.
Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.

Great message and a fairly accurate portrayal of the social strata and odd  perceptions (of self and of others) that kids have in  high school.  Overacting levelled this movie for me, but its basic bones and thematic constructs were/are real: kids are kids and sadly, like every generation before them, they always  remain that way— until they grow up. 

♦ 

In 1971, I was 12 years old.   Nothing spoke to me louder than the movie, “Billy Jack”.   The film centered around an Arizona school for free thinking teens hampered by adults who were so caught up in their materialistic, gimme, gimme ways.   

Remember the character of  spoiled Bernard?  His fat cat, wild horse rounding-upper Daddy who’d sell the  beautiful, free ranging equines for dog food, bought him a gold Corvette for a whopping 6K (according to circa 1971 Blue Book prices) was the nemesis.  He and his father represented the entire conflict between the good and kind pacifists at the school and the evil, moral compass lacking D-list actor/assholes living in the nearby village.  

We’re talking about an ass-backwards burg that would have an ice cream parlor which ONLY offered chocolate and vanilla flavors while keeping them in separate freezers.  

What???   No Neapolitan????  In which the three principle flavors coexist peacefully in one carton??

A lifetime ago, I thought the movie was brilliant.    If spoke to me.  Racism was bad.  Prejudice against skin color and creed was repugnant.   We love who we love–regardless.  We believed in freedom and brotherhood and conveyed it through long hair, love beads, black light posters and smoldering ROTC buildings on campus.  Our parents and the other adults didn’t understand us.   Gone are the days of 23 Skiddoo, man.  The Times  they are a changin’.  We were in the midst of Vietnam and social unrest and demonstrations of groups demanding civil rights.   These oldsters who are so damn out of touch, couldn’t possibly understand what we were going through, right?  How could they?  I mean, they just lived through World War II and The Great Depression.  What could they possibly know about strife, man? 

Could my generation really have been so arrogant? 

Nah, that didn’t matter.  Screw the establishment!   And right on to “Never trust anyone over 30”, the once iconic phrase that Jack Weinberg,  an enlightened and hip student at the University of California Berkeley coined back in the 60’s.  

But times have changed since the times have changed. 

Here it is, 39 years later and now I’m part of the establishment of  which I once thought so poorly.  I now regard  the sexagenarian Weinberg to be a total Pinko Lefty Commie bastard–providing of course, he still felt that way.  But if aging and politics are to be considered, he’s bow probably a card-carrying member of the GOP and thinks Pat Robertson is a little too Liberal. 

Billy Jack.   It might have had some poignancy for its time, but lo these many years later, it’s a silly bunch of tripe…and that’s just my opinion of the acting, costuming, producing,  plot, casting, sound, screenwriting, lighting, direction, cinematography, hair, makeup, best boying, the Panaflex lens schlepper, the aninmal training, gaffing and craft servicing.

It is perhaps, the single, most jejune celluloid effort I have ever seen.   Unless, of  course, you include “Love Story”, which I am. 

Right off the bat,  I can tell you I’ve always thought the acting was horrible, even back at age 11.  The premise actually could have been incredibly poignant, but everything Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal did or uttered came across so eye-rollingly contrived.  

And that complete horse shit line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”, especially when a very unemotional Oliver Barrett says that to his even less emotional father (played statue-like by that Hollywood hunk o’ man, Ray Milland), is such a crock.  

AND SCENE:   It is snowing outside Cedars-Sinai Hospital when Daddy Barrett learns that  his Catholic plebian daughter-in-law, Jenny Cavalieri Barrett has  just succumbed to cancer.  He  apologizes to his remote and distant son by saying “I’m sorry” and that’s when son, Oliver stops him in mid-sentence and drops that famous line on Daddy.  This, after book author and screenwriter,  Erich Segal would  insisted the two have never, ever been close.  

The line is uttered twice in the movie and I guess that extra one helped land it in the The American Film Institute as one of most romantic movies in the history of movie making.    Personally, I thought “the entire “Die Hard” series, was by far more of a tear-jerker;  certainly more rife with poignant and tender moments.   I mean, when Bruce Willis lost his shoes and had to walk on all that shattered glass–I ask anyone who saw Part One  in the theater, was there a dry eye in the house???

And again, that stupid, stupid phrase, “love means never having to say you’re sorry”, as if love will prevent you from ever hurting another or being hurt.

It doesn’t work that way.  We’re human beings first; made fragile at times, by our emotions.  Love is the one emotion that makes most normal human beings, their most vulnerable.  Love is a glorious thing that’s often painful as hell.  Sorry, but that’s the price for loving; that’s your ticket to ride the Love Train.

It would indeed be a completely idyllic concept to live pain-free, but again, that’s not how it works.  No one is born Teflon coated.   Wars don’t always occur on foreign soil; the first salvos are often launched in bedrooms and living rooms and battles can often include the weaponry of words, hostility and sadly sometimes, clenched fists.    Sorry, Mr. Segal–lovely concept this…this phrase of yours, but it only exists on the imaginary sound stages of Hollywood or on the pages of something Simon and Schuster published decades ago.  It doesn’t fly in the face of reality.

To me, love means having to say you’re sorry.   Often and when you say it, you mean it.  And while I hate romantic strife like the next person, I’ll happily take a little of the texture that the relationship’s ups and downs create,  over the discomfort,  fakery and the unbearable lightness that’s required to walk on egg shells all the goddamn time.

And now, you may opine your ass off...

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