The Wonderful Raunchiness of 1980s Movies. NewsWire

10/22/20 07:00AM EDT

NewsWire: 10/22/20

  • In a new essay, film critic Wesley Morris discusses the year 1988 in movies and marvels at how different the film world is today. Movies in the 1980s, he notes, were significantly naughtier, crankier, and more obscene, but now “all [their] casual edges...have been razored off.” (The New York Times)
    • NH: If you love movies and you're over age 45 (no Millennials need apply), you will enjoy this essay.
    • NYT "critic at large" Wesley Morris immerses himself in every movie showing in America in early September, 1988, and then tells us about his journey. Reimagine yourself in that year. The Silent, furnishing the producers (like James L. Brooks), are mainly in their 50s. The Boomers, who provide the seasoned stars (like Tom Hanks) are in their 30s and early 40s. And the Xers, just emerging as the new screen idols (like Tom Cruise), are mostly in their teens and 20s.
    • The result, Morris reports, can be seen in movies like Die HardA Fish Called WandaCocktailYoung GunsBetrayed, and Nightmare on Elm Street 4. And from today's vantage point, what surprises is how edgy, scabrous, and rude they all are--often unpleasantly, but also, he admits, sometimes with brilliant and hilarious effect.
    • "Almost everybody in that 1988 Top 10 is uncouth, obscene, horny, neurotic or just in a foul mood; the cutie-pie girlfriends and animated babies smoked as much as Bruce Willis, who stops the thieves in Die Hard with no shoes and a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Who Framed Roger Rabbit was still raking it in and remains remarkable for the amount of abrasiveness and scuzz its live-action-cartoon hybrid retained."
    • Using Young Guns as a launching pad, Morris continues, "Just about everybody in this movie and in this week’s Top 10 is an--well, the word is unprintable. I can’t even use its synonyms. You know the type. They work with a mix of impunity, entitlement, disregard, and bravura." He concludes: "The Academy Awards for the movies of 1988 were awash in bluntness, cruelty and acerbity."
    • Today's moviegoers still complain about rudeness and edginess, of course. But only when we go back, focus, and compare, do we realize how much today's releases have been cleaned up, expurgated, sanitized, and polished compared to where we were 30 years ago. Film critics often complain that this has been driven by corporate media's growing focus on profitable and family-friendly fare... two adjectives that have by now become synonyms. Whatever happened to all those unspeakable R-rated movies--an obsession for Silent Generation producers ever since Stanley Kubrick, Roman Polanski, and Francis Ford Coppola? (In an interesting twist, Silent artists became edgier as they grew older.)
    • OK, sure, family-friendly profitability explains a lot of it. But that just raises a further question: Where does all this rising demand for cleaned-up family friendliness come from? Unavoidably, we have to point to generational change--and to Millennials in particular. The drive toward cloying wholesomeness began among kids' movies in the 1990s and since 2000 has moved into the market for young adult movies. As for Xer actors and producers (and parents), they are growing older exactly the opposite of the Silent: Like Eddie Murphy, they are losing their edginess with age.
    • Any discussion of cleaning up the culture for Millennial audiences, now that they're in their 20s and 30s, cannot avoid a term much-used by older generations these days in talking about movies. And that is political correctness. Morris doesn't mention it, but lots of readers did in their replies to his essay--many of them Boomers and Xers complaining that they just can't stand the "sjw moralism" of so much of what they see. (Keep in mind, these are NYT readers!)
    • A historical parallel jumps to mind for those familiar with generations and "turnings": the 1930s. During the "roaring" 1920s, the wildness and prurience of movies triggered an outbreak of "decency brigades" in nearly every state--eventually resulting, by the early 1930s, in the national "Hayes Code." By the late 1930s, with the G.I. Generation fully replacing the Lost Generation in young adulthood, America welcomed, along with the talkies and technicolor, movies about clean-cut and upbeat "kids" like Mickey Rooney, Gene Kelly, and Judy Garland. Later on, once these G.I.s began moving into midlife, Hollywood focused almost exclusively on the bland and amiable classics we recall from the 1950s.
    • If this parallel has any lessons for Morris, it's this. The generational trend we're experiencing will take a long time to play out. So no use complaining now. You'll have a lot more to complain about by the year 2030 or 2040. 
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