I don’t normally read magazines in the doctor’s waiting room. After a lifetime of speaking like Mr Snuffleupagus with my permanently blocked nose, and more recently a three month head-pounding sinusitis infection, I checked in to get things sorted. But I was early. After memorising the information notices pinned to the wall, and the cute animation about vaccinations, I caved. I picked up a Grazia Magazine. I flicked through, hoping for a nice review of a sci-fi film. What I found was so much better. Hidden between pages of celebs doing something or another, was a wonderful article. A short but sweet article that would bring back memories of my youth lost in films. An article that had a much more powerful message than the rest of the 60 or so pages of nonsense.
Here I had discovered a wonderful article by Hadley Freeman – no relation, and no ‘d’ in her surname. The article was about films of the 80s and ten things we learnt growing up with them. As I read, I thought, ‘Yes, yes, yessss!!!’
Films were a big part of my life growing up. With favourites still close to my heart like Willow and Krull, these were magical adventures, but there were also many coming of age films for us teenagers, like Stand by Me and St Elmos’s Fire. (I later found out Hadley writes regularly about 80s films.)
One of the points Hadley makes is the music: ‘Power ballads are essential.’ Yes. Yes, they are. From Rocky III’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’ to Ghostbusters ‘Ghostbusters’ these classic songs added to the atmosphere of the films. Without them the film isn’t the same: just a sweaty man running up some steps; or in the case of Ghostbusters, some pretty unfit dudes running around a city like crazy people dressed like painters. Power ballads are wonderful.
But, as Hadley points out, sadly they are not real. No songs play out loud as I run for the train, or when I slowly walk to the podium to give my evening talk. In my head however, they do play. As I walk down the steps to the front of the lecture theatre, I should say The Karate Kid’s ‘You’re the Best’ is running through my head. Really, Some Kind of Wonderful’s ‘Falling in love with you’ sings soothingly in my mind. Surely I am not alone when I say we all play our own little power ballads?
Watching films as I was growing up created a world where I was swept away: the fantastic creature features created excitement and adventure; sci-fi brought the great imagination where I could do that; and the teen films included a cast which they were not to dissimilar to me. As a quiet, shy boy who liked his dinosaurs and mythical creatures, I found films were something I could relate to. Sometimes more than other children in my class.
There were a couple of points that really stood out for me in Hadley’s short piece. These were about science and women.
For us kids of the 80s, we can see through the fake nerd actor easily. The nerds in films today are as Hadley points out “good-looking guys wearing glasses” – it is forced and unnatural (and which is one of the main reasons I dislike The Big Bang Theory). Films in the 80s had real nerds. The Goonies, Revenge of the Nerds, and the classic brat pack movies, all had real nerds. They were average looking, likeable characters, and these guys were the heros. Growing up watching these films, so many kids could relate.
One of my favourite actors, Andrew McCarthy played the role in the brat pack genre, including St Elmo’s Fire, The Catholic Boys, Class, and the most wonderful film, Mannequin. He was the slightly geeky nice guy who ended up the hero. Today, sadly, the hero in teen movies is the handsome, muscularly one – a character only a small handful of teenagers can relate to, while the rest are made to feel as outsiders.
The films of the 80s had something else right too: science was cool. Back to the Future, Innerspace, Explorers and others had some really cool science that made the film. One of my favourite adventure films, The Explorers is where a group of teenagers make a spaceship based on information in their dreams. They travel into space and meet aliens – for children growing up, how cool is that! These were real adventures and made science what it is – fun and something that can potentially happen. Today, science in teen films isn’t seen as a cool thing. It is kept with the nerds, hidden while the film focuses on the ‘beautiful’ main characters.
Andy in The Goonies, Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice, and my first on screen crush, the beautiful Mary Stuart Masterson in Some Kind of Wonderful, girls in 80s films were simply beautiful. They were not plastered in makeup, or wearing unnaturally skimpy outfits: they were normal. And that is what made them more beautiful. These women were strong minded, confident, dressed how they wanted to dress and were themselves. For me growing up, this gave me a real view of what was beautiful. Not this nonsense of the Nuts generation, or the princess who has all the money. No. Real beauty is more than that. It is someone who is kind, funny, knows who they are, confident and is, well, just themselves.
The things I learnt from fantastic 80s films: nerds and science are cool. And women are beautiful, strong and intelligent. It is a sad fact that these two, incredibly important, messages are missing from teen films today.