Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Lee Ving, Frankie Fix, and musicals about delinquents.

absolute beginners

I watched 4 mid-eighties flix in the past month, way above my recommended dosage: Ladies and Gentleman, the Fabulous Stains (1982), Streets of Fire (1984), Clue (1985), and Absolute Beginners (1986).  I am now having something like a sugar crash. Two of them star Diane Lane as a rocknroll singer, two of them star punk icon Lee Ving not as a rocknroll singer, three of them are set in the 1950s, and three of them are musicals. 

I was surprised how good "Absolute Beginners" is. I had been led to believe it was just an ambitious fashion musical with David Bowie. I would call it an aggressive pop musical about the commercialism of adolescence, gentrification, racism, classism, and Teds vs. Mods. The fashion is no more obtrusive than in Streets of Fire, and is much less ridiculous. Plus it really hums with creative, adrenaline-fueled camera sequences.  And David Bowie.

I liked Fabulous Stains a lot too, though it's much grittier, substituting gray rust-belt wastelands for neon-lit soundstages. The chasm between the music Lane sang in Fabulous Stains and Streets of Fire was dizzying. From '77-style punk and proto-Beat Happening in the former, to Bonnie Tyler-style power ballads just 2 years later. 

Strangely, neither Clue nor Streets of Fire makes any attempt to hide their '80s music or fashion, even though they are both supposedly set in the '50s. Both could have been trashy fun if they weren't smothered by so much rote, soulless dialogue. There were a few good moments, like Madeline Kahn's great improv at the end of Clue ("I hated her so...much...Flames! Out the side of my face!!"), though the director/editor cut away from her in the middle of it, leaving us to hear her still talking in the  background! And Willem Dafoe was certainly awesome as a glam delinquent in Streets of Fire, looking very much like Frankie Fix from '70s SF punk legends Crime.  Otherwise, both were good examples of that distinctive '80s shallowness that often oddly depresses me. 

I do have a soft spot for '80s dumbness when used brilliantly, whatever that means - see "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" or "Big Trouble in Little China" for example...but I think I'll hold off on re-watching those for awhile.

(image sources: Diane, Madeline, Lee, Willem, Frankie.)