ReelThoughts: February 07, 2009

"The 1980s - An Introduction"

Commentary by James Berardinelli


After a long slumber, I am emerging from hibernation to provide new reviews of older movies. In the past, I have always found it more rewarding to group these so-called video reviews into themes - such as when I provided essays for all of the films in my Top 100 or when I compiled a 26-title "A-to-Z" set in 2007. My next project, which I conceived last year but haven't proceeded with until now, is to look back at the 1980s.

Why the '80s? After all, by most accounts, that was not a scintillating era for movies. However, on a personal level, the '80s represented probably the most important years of my life. And, since many of my readers are of a similar age, it's no surprise that, over the years, I have received more requests for reviews of '80s films than for those from any other 10-year period.

My original concept for this project was to devote one week to each year of the 1980s, beginning with 1980. There would be one ReelThoughts column with an overview of that year and an accompanying review. However, as I began researching titles, I found that some years had more than one film I wanted to write about. So what was originally planned as a ten-week, ten-review undertaking has expanded in scope. Now, I will start with the ReelThoughts overview for a year then, over a course of several weeks, provide a series of reviews for movies released during that year (approximately one per week) before eventually moving on to the next year.

The goal with the overview is not to take a scholarly approach. Don't expect a catalog of Oscar winning titles and/or big box office winners. Instead, I'll write something more personal and, hopefully, more interesting. The films I mention will be those that were important to me at the time. Some are great movies. Some are... not so great. On January 1, 1980, I was 12 years old and in junior high school. I had seen less than two dozen movies in theaters. On December 31, 1989, I was 22 and in graduate school. The cinematic landscape of the 1980s was in many ways a map of my life through my teenage years and into young adulthood.

Please don't write in with suggestions. I have already selected all of the titles I plan to review. Many of the movies I will mention in the yearly ReelThoughts have pre-existing reviews. In cases when a title has not been ported into the database, it will be moved. I will write a lot about the Star Wars and Star Trek movies because those were big parts of my life during the 1980s. Those who read last year's ReelThoughts series, My Life as a Geek, may recall some of the things that were important to me during my teens. I have outgrown many of them, but I still retain a modicum of affection for things that have left behind, and they will be revisited here.

There won't be a lot of art film references because, being cinematically challenged during the 1980s, I watched mostly mainstream fare. It's not that I wasn't artistically inclined - just not with movies. Part of the reason is that I never went to a movie alone during the entirety of the 1980s. Not once. It wasn't until the 1990s, when I started attending multiplexes by myself, that I was able to expand my repertoire beyond the limits of what my friends wanted to see. That was liberating, but it didn't happen until 1991.

In a few days, an entry for 1980 will appear in this space. Over the next two weeks, two reviews supporting that column will be posted, one of which will be of the original Friday the 13th, illustrating that not all of these '80s reviews will be of good movies. Then it will be on to 1981. The entire series should take about six months to complete - plenty of time to think about my next project. Maybe a career retrospective of Hitchcock or Bogart. It will be something that will allow me to revisit some older movies. After six months of reviewing '80s movies, I'll feel trapped in a time warp and may end up wondering if someone is going to dump my books while I'm on my way to my locker.

Finally, for those who can't wait, here are a few of the titles: The Terminator, Wall Street, Back to the Future, The Shining, Ghostbusters, First Blood, Risky Business, The Sure Thing, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Robocop, Top Gun, The Dead Pool. There are more, of course, but that's a sampling. So sit back and get ready for a little time travel. There are plenty of reasons to revile the '80s and even more to lampoon that era. But, for many of my age, when viewed through the sepia-tinted glasses of nostalgia, it's hard not to regard the '80s with a modicum of affection.


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