July 1, 2009

Quick thoughts about Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Just picked it up used for $6 and saw it probably for the first time uncensored. I'd only seen it before on TV. The movie was directed by Amy Heckerling, who also directed Clueless. See my review of that movie here. I can't help but compare them because they're among only a handful of teen movies that don't suck (like all those "I hate my parents" movies that John Hughes made).

At the same time, Fast Times was made in 1982, while Clueless came out in 1995 -- and what a change society had undergone in the meantime. Crime was plummeting, young people were increasingly less promiscuous, and there was no more raw and wild-sounding rock music that spurred kids to go out and get into trouble. (Rather, it encouraged them to cry in their room.) So, a few brief thoughts:

- Like the movie Metropolitan, there are no parents anywhere in Fast Times. They're not even driving the plot from afar, as in The Breakfast Club or any other bad teen movie. Young people live in their own world, and recruit allies and compete with enemies from their own age group. I know it's totally obvious, but for some reason when adults portray the lives of young people, everything has to do with parent-offspring conflict. Not that that's not there -- but get real.

- Both Clueless and Fast Times do a good job at capturing the larger zeitgeist. For example, there is much more teenage sex, drug use, and violence in Fast Times, while Clueless reflects the civilizing process of the 1990s that reversed those trends. Also, all the teenagers in Fast Times have jobs, while none of them do in Clueless -- and not just because they're more well-to-do in the latter. The characters in other recent teen movies like American Pie, which don't feature rich kids, don't have jobs either. Young people grow up much more slowly now than as recently as the 1980s.

- Related to the above, society was more accepting of the sexuality of young girls. The classic shot of Phoebe Cates removing her bikini top features an 18 or 19 year-old girl, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who we see topless twice and fully nude once (appearing in two simulated sex scenes) was 20. Near the beginning, we see the two female leads practicing their blowjob techniques on carrots in the middle of the school's cafeteria. People were also more accepting of age disparities in relationships, since Phoebe Cates' character is always trying to find older guys who aren't immature like high school boys. At the end of the movie, we're told that already in her freshman year of college she's started living with her abnormal psych professor.

- The mall culture that once played such a central role in young people's social lives is basically dead. Teen movies from the early '80s focus a lot on the mall because that's where everyone congregated -- it was overrun with teenage mall rats. Clueless shows that by 1995, it wasn't so important, and that malls had become more emptied of young people. Now when you go to malls, it's mostly for 25+ adults or their infant children. Mean Girls in 2004 has a few good scenes in a mall, but it is anachronistic by that point -- Tina Fey was projecting her own adolescence onto contemporary teenagers' lives. (Here's my review of Mean Girls.)

- When Stacy and Mark go on a date, what does the high school girl order? Skinless chicken breasts? Pasta and breadsticks? No -- she orders knockwurst! All of the rest of their meal consists mostly of dead animals too. Remember, it was 1982, so the transition to the fat-phobic, carboholic diet of today was only partly done, and people still weren't totally convinced of what the experts were recommending.

- In general, the movie isn't overly sentimental, melodramatic, absurdist, or goofy -- a rare thing for a teen movie. It's not cluelessly sanguine either. Stacy gives it up easily to two guys, and we see how much she regrets it: the first time, the camera shows how unromantic the location is (a graffiti-tagged baseball dugout), and the second time, we see her exposed body while the guy promptly puts on his clothes and ditches her. Her relationship after being with Damone extends only to negotiating how much each will pay for her abortion (even then, he doesn't pay his part and doesn't drive her to the clinic as he'd promised).

- Obviously the music is better than in any other teen movie since it was made when New Wave was popular on MTV. In fact, the only good song in 1995's Clueless is "Kids in America," a New Wave hit from 1981. I felt like Fast Times could have used "Johnny Are You Queer" after Mark neurotically abandons his make-out session with Stacy, but maybe that would have been laying it on too thick. The frustrated and almost disgusted look in Stacy's eyes would have fit perfectly with the song, though.

Anyway, probably more to say, but that's what jumped out at me. If you haven't seen it in awhile, it's definitely worth renting or buying if you can find it cheap.

13 comments:

  1. I'm glad Phoebe Cates eased out of acting as she got older. Nothing she could have possibly done would have topped that one scene, pun intended.

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  2. The book was popular when I was in high school. It was pretty much like our high school was really like. Different specifically but not generally. It was before the AIDS scare, so we weren't all freaked out that we were going to get something. We all drove and had cars as soon as we turned 16, Our parents weren't too worried where we were so long as we came back by 11:00. No cell phones, no checking in. Half the time we weren't where we said we were. Yeah. It was completely different. I hardly saw my parents in the summer.

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  3. Wow, you just aged yourself ;). Clueless came out when I was 6! I have actually seen that movie, and when I saw it I believed it was good, I think I was 14 at a slumber party or something....

    Anyway my point is you should really try not to sound like someones father, recalling movies this generation has hardly ever even heard of! Up until now, I thought you were cool. ;) Lets see, your what in your early 30's?

    just poking some fun.

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  4. Both Clueless and Fast Times do a good job at capturing the larger zeitgeist. For example, there is much more teenage sex, drug use, and violence in Fast Times, while Clueless reflects the civilizing process of the 1990s that reversed those trends.

    I would attribute those differences primarily to the fact that Clueless was a much more lighthearted movie than Fast Times. Teen sex, drug use and violence may have declined between 1992 and 1995, but not enough to have much effect on popular perceptions and the way those perceptions get portrayed in movies.

    Besides, while it's been a long time since I saw the movie, I sort of recall that the girl in Clueless got robbed at gunpoint.

    Peter

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  5. Half the time we weren't where we said we were.

    Ha, that's another thing that I should've mentioned -- Stacy sneaks out of her window at night to go hang out. Same thing happens in the first Nightmare on Elm Street with another girl named Stacy.

    That would never happen today among middle-class kids.

    recalling movies this generation has hardly ever even heard of!

    OK, we'll make a deal -- you can write a guest post about what movies are popular now with 15 year-olds. I mean, think about it: you'll get to brag to your friends that Agnostic let you write a piece for him.

    And yeah, don't worry if you haven't seen some of these classic movies. When you mature a little more you'll discover a lot of cool movies you never knew about. Like, I didn't see Casablanca until I was just out of college.

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  6. Mmmm, Phoebe Cates.

    I'll never forget seeing that swimming pool scene in college, on the VCR of the guy in the next dorm. I have ever (secretly) judged women relative to her since then.

    A hysterical vehicle for Sean Penn, a nice comeback for ol' Uncle Martin, and so many future stars: Eric Stoltz, James Russo, Anthony Edwards, Nicolas Cage(credited Coppola), just look at the credits for that film at IMDB.com and see how much work the actors have been doing since then. Even the ones who didn't make it big had classic scenes, like the Martin twins Judge Reinhold waited on at the fish-n-chips restaurant (one of them did the documentary about the Theremin).

    "Mrs. Vargas"--who appeared in the film for a few seconds and spoke only one word--was Lana Clarkson, the woman Phil Spector is in prison for murdering.

    The book author's (Cameron Crowe) wife played the bit part of the girl laughing at Reinhold's silly fast food hat...that was Nancy Wilson of Heart fame. The guy at the real high school was really named Mark Ratner, and he was mad about how he was portrayed...Crowe smoothed his feathers by inviting him to his house, where Nancy Wilson presented him with a guitar she had used on stage and in Heart recordings.

    Somebody could write a thick book about the making of this film and all the circumstances connected with it.

    =======

    "My old man is a television repairman. He's got this ULTIMATE set of tools..."

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  7. "Teen sex, drug use and violence may have declined between 1992 and 1995, but not enough to have much effect on popular perceptions and the way those perceptions get portrayed in movies."

    I wonder how teen behavior differs among racial/social groups. Sex and drugs may be down among some and not others. I remember doing a little pot or coke was no big deal until crack came out. Then people started associating drug use with being a nasty, low class loser. Recreational drug use once or twice a month was cool, but if you did it all the time, you were a loser.

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  8. Jennifer Jason Leigh, who we see topless twice and fully nude once (appearing in two simulated sex scenes) was 20.

    Her character was supposed to be 15 and she lost her virginity to a 22 yo. Today we would call that pedophilia.

    Jennifer Jason Leigh also starred in the movie "The Rose and the Sword" which makes a very realistic portrayal of the female psyche.

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  9. You mean that guy in the restaurant who she has sex with in the dug-out? His character is actually 26. She lies and says she's 19, and he questions her, "Hey.... are you sure you're 19?" She says yes, and then they go at it.

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  10. Fast Times is really the first of the succession of teen sex comedy movies. A classic, from a time that was both more corrupt and more innocent than nowadays.

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  11. The censored television version of "Fast Times" is a better story than the cheesier theatrical release with lots of nudity. Cameron Crowe is a fine talent who had to put a lot of distracting T&A into his movie to get it made. You can see what he wanted to do more easily in the censored version.

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  12. interesting piece, but i think you're way off on how teenage life was in the 90s. Clueless was a much more lighthearted movie, and was only PG-13. therefore, you weren't going to see the characters do the same things you saw in Fast Times. however, based on how teenagers were in real life during the 90s, i think you could have easily made a movie like Fast Times in 1995. i was in high school during the 90s, and i knew PLENTY of kids who were having sex, smoking marijuana, drinking and doing other "bad" things that the teenagers did in Fast Times. based on recent R-rated teen films, plenty of kids are doing the same bad stuff in 2014. i wouldn't say teenagers in general became better behaved in 13 years simply based on two pieces of entertainment. Fast Times was supposed to be a more risque R-rated film showing the darker side of teen life, while Clueless was intended to be lighthearted comedy that wasn't just for adults or mature teenagers.

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  13. Well the times have changed and so have the way teens lived. Not its more of mobile and indoors and socials. Even not the kind of stories in movies that we had those days.

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