Overlooked Films of the '80s
By Stephanie DeGateo
October 26, 2004
When I cast my ballot for my favorite films of the 1980s, I did so with some thought, but in retrospect, not enough. I forgot a good many films for which I have an absolute affinity - for instance, Withnail & I (1987), the fantastically quotable British film about two unemployed actors visiting one of the pair's uncle at the close of the 1960s. The dialogue is wonderful (assuming you can understand it...the sound quality on the theaterical print was notably bad) and the acting, especially Richard E. Grant as Withnail is top-notch. A number of my friends saw this on my recommendation and didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I did, but I continue to recommend it, nonetheless.
Also released in 1987, Hope and Glory was John Boorman's semi-autobiographical sketch of life as a young boy in war-ravaged London. Seen through the eyes of a nine-year-old, the German airstrikes on London were more fantastical than devasting, which isn't to say that the war's effect on the boy's family was sugar-coated. However, because you are seeing the war through the boy's world view, the devastation becomes more palatable, as well as more real. This view of the war is directly in contrast with the effect World War II had on the protagonist in Pink Floyd's The Wall (1984). Now, I'm not saying that The Wall is one of the best films of the 1980s...I'm well aware of its many flaws. And I'm not even sure it's one of my favorites. But when I think back on the films in the
'80s I saw multiple times and distinctly remember, this movie joins another flawed flick, The Big Chill, as the films that were IT when I was a teen. The theater down the street used to have midnight showings of The Wall and my friends and I took it in many times, sometimes sober, other times not. It was one of those suburban rites of passage that really had no particular relevance...there was just nothing else to do, so you went to see The Wall.
A much better music film, which I enjoyed much more (but didn't nearly see as many times) was Stop Making Sense (1984), Jonathan Demme's concert film of The Talking Heads. There are few concert films that equalled seeing their subjects live...this was one of them. David Byrne in his "big suit" is one of those iconic images of the '80s.
Also from 1984, Birdy, starring Matthew Modine, was not a great film, but had a great soundtrack, so I'm adding it to my list. Peter Gabriel (whose song In Your Eyes played an integral role in BOP's #1 film of the '80s, Say Anything...) has written some amazing soundtracks (especially his work for The Last Temptation of Christ, which can be found on his album Passion). Birdy's score is interesting in that it wasn't new material. Gabriel took previous songs of his and orchestrated them for the score. On this one my recommendation is skip the film; buy the soundtrack.
Oh, and rent Say Anything...