The Passion of the Weiss

Sometimes I rhyme slow, sometimes I rhyme quick. But most of the time, I don't rhyme.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Fast Times at the Skirball Center

4/20 passed by last week and you guys heard nary a peep from me. Nary. Was I kidnapped by a gang of ninjas eager for the blood of a young scribe? No. Was I passed out in a drug-induced stupor in a dirty corner of Silverlake, screaming, "Die Hipsters Die." Unfortunately, that guess is also wrong. Instead on that glorious day of days, I was partaking in a little 4/20 celebration held at the Skirball Center.

Now, Jeff, you're inevitably wondering. Why in God's name would the Skirball Center host a 4/20 celebration featuring a screening of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," and a discussion with Fast Times/Clueless director Amy Heckerling and Judd Apatow, the writer/director of the "40 Year Old Virgin?" Well, obviously, you guys aren't familiar with the Skirball Center, because in addition to being dedicated to exploring the connection between 4,000 years of Jewish heritage and the vitality of American Democratic ideals, the Skirball Center loves the ganj. Loves it. This may or may not be true, but someone had to notice that they were showing a stoner classic "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," on 4/20. Coincidence. I think not.

So after talking to Samson, I hightailed it over to the Skirball, nestled high up in the Santa Monica mountains to try to catch the pre-screening discussion between Heckerling and Apatow. Alas, food was not allowed inside the theater so I had to miss a the first ten minutes of the program while devouring a delicious Poquito Mas chicken burrito. Anyone who has had Poquito Mas will inevitably concur that this was a righteous and obvious decision.

The talk itself, centered around Apatow asking a variety of questions to Heckerling, about the film, her life and the film industry in general. In addition, Apatow managed to speak a bit about his experiences in Hollywood, from the Ben Stiller Show (he co-created it, and if you haven't seen the DVD it's highly recommended) to the 40 Year Old Virgin, last year's best pure comedy film. All in all, I was wildly impressed by the intelligence and quick wit of both participants and the breadth of knowledge that they had on the film industry. But since, Fast Times at Ridgemont High was the centerpiece of the discussion, I will present a "did you know" list of facts that I gleaned from the discussion, so you will never again have the need to watch the Fast Times director's commentary (if indeed that's the sort of thing you do... while you're at it check out the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas commentary supplied by Hunter S. is most excellent).

10 Fast Facts From Fast Times
Originally, in the scene where Mike Damone sleeps with Stacey (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Heckerling tried to only show Damone naked, while the camera would only pan to Stacey's feet when it was her turn to undress. Heckerling intended to do this to demonstrate a double standard in movies that only show naked women and never a naked man. Thankfully, the ratings board intervened, threatening Fast Times with an "X" rating if it showed male nudity. I think all of us can agree that for once a ratings board actually came through. Male nudity is never a good thing in a movie. Ever. And if you don't believe me, then please rent Wild Things and/or Ridicule.

2. The scene where stereo salesman Ron Johnson takes Stacey to "the point," to have sex is based off of real life scenes that happened in Cameron Crowe's book that the movie is based off of. For those that don't know, before Crowe started making bad movies, he was incredibly cool and spent several months at a high school in San Diego and wrote a book about what high school life was like in the late 70s/early 80s.

Michelle Pfeiffer auditioned for a role in "Fast Times," but didn't get cast.

4. The woman who plays the science teacher Mr. Vargas' wife in the final big dance scene was Lana Clarkson, the same woman who Phil Spector allegedly killed. She wasn't actually originally cast in the film, but they decided at the last second that Vargas should have a wife, so Heckerling told Vincent Schiavelli (the actor who played Vargas) to go pick a wife from the extras. Clarkson was who he picked.

5. Ray "Mr. Hand" Walston actually scared Heckerling and had constant beef with Sean Penn on the set of the film. Apparently, Penn was almost always in his Jeff Spiccoli character, lifting up girls' skirts and constantly making life hell for Walston.

6. Heckerling and one of the film's producers Irving Azoff, constantly fought throughout the making of the film. A major fan of punk and New Wave, Heckerling wanted the soundtrack to be all Cars, Oingo Boingo, Go-Go's and other new young bands. The manager of the Eagles, Azoff wanted the soundtrack to be all Eagles songs. Like the Dude and myself, Heckerling "hates the Eagles, man," and they ultimately worked out a compromise where some songs would be by the Eagles and others' wouldn't. Unfortunately, the Eagles broke up right before the film was made and that's why there's a bunch of solo Eagles crap on the soundtrack. Proving once again that other than "Dirty Laundry," Don Henley truly sucks.

7. At one point in the movie, Damone tells Ratner "whenever possible when you're making out with a chick, put on Side I of Led Zeppelin IV. Yet in the car, when he's on his date with Stacey, he plays "Kashmir," off of Led Zep's Physical Graffiti album. The reason for this is that Heckerling wanted teenagers to know that Side I of IV was in fact, a great album to make out to, yet felt that "Kashmir," better exemplified the awkwardness of Ratner's date.

8. Before the film came out, the producer's ran test screenings among teenagers in Orange County. The test screenings did not go well, as the teens claimed that they weren't like that and they didn't only think about sex and drugs. Luckily, the producers didn't listen and kept in all the sex and drugs and nudity. Proving once again, that is not a wise bit of advice to listen to anyone from Orange County.

9. Heckerling got hired to direct "Fast Times," after impressing producers with a student film she had premiered at the American Film Institutute. However, she almost got fired mid-way through because they felt she botched the football scene where Jefferson destroys Lincoln.

10. Despite its overwhelming popularity as a cult classic, "Fast Times," was not considered a major box office success at the time. A poor release strategy from Universal is often blamed for its lack of success, as the film debuted in only a few hundred theaters on the west coast and was put out into the rest of the country without advertising.

The film itself was the perfect way to spend my 4/20, as it ranks as one of the best high school movies (and of the best comedies in general) ever made. Yet after listening to Heckerling and Apatow's discussion, certain things stood out about the film. Namely, how unbelievably radical a film like "Fast Times," would seem in today's world.

If you look at any teen comedy from the 1980's, they are chockful of sex, nudity, drug use and fun in general. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to note the reactionary state of American film and culture today . Prior to watching Heckerling and Apatow speak, I'd always assumed that the faults inherent in such bad movies lay solely with the filmmakers themselves. Now I'm not sure if that's the case, having heard Apatow detail his struggles to get a "boner scene" placed into "Anchorman." Apparently, just to get the scene in the movie, Apatow had to wear a suit and lecture the ratings board on why boners are historically funny and not obscene. I can't imagine anything more ridiculous.

Heckerling pointed out that a greal deal of what is allowed to slide depends on who is president at the time and what sort of culture shift is going in America. Fast Times illuminates a time before the culture and PC wars of the 1980s and 1990s led to the growing conservatism in American society. It harkens back to a time when fun was actually allowed and reality was actually allowed to be depicted on screen.

Take for instance, a movie like "American Pie." One can argue that it was filled with obscene jokes and nudity, but look at the underlying message of the movie, it was completely sappy. Jason Biggs doesn't go for the really hot exchange student, rather he picks the band camp dork. I felt like my intelligence was being insulted. Never in any sort of reality will a man pick a girl from band camp over Shannon Elizabeth. I don't care how cool band camp was, and the truth of the matter, is that the band dork girl wasn't even cool.

Or take for instance Chris Klein's character, who becomes a complete tool shortly after dating Mena Suvari. Or how about Thomas Ian Nicholas and that incredibly overwrought scene where he loses his virginity to Tara Reid's character. I felt like I was watching a soap opera, not a raunchy teen comedy. The general theme of the film was indeed quite conservative, a stark contrast to the kids in Fast Times who didn't live in some sort of illusory fantasy land. Stacy gets pregnant. Spiccoli drives drunk and high and crashes a car. If someone were to put that in a movie today, they'd have to teach him some sort of lesson and Spiccoli would have to come to some sort of corny revelation that drunk driving is bad. And don't even get me started how unbelievably cheesy and not funny, "The Wedding Crashers," was.

The bottom line is that for every "Thank You For Smoking," for every "Election," that we get today, we get about a dozen sappy and preachy movies that sugercoat reality. Or we get hokey satires like Scary Movie that are designed to only be enjoyed by kids younger than 15 years old. People are continually pandered to by executives who continue to make films that they think people will like, rather than films that they deep-down know are good. The end result is that I see maybe half a dozen new movies a year and the executives wonder why there is a box office slump. The answer is obvious: the movies suck. A lot. The remedy isn't hard. Take chances. I truly believe that it's better to get fired for making a good movie that doesn't do well at the box office, than being a complete sell-out and just churning out crap that you know you can sell to Billy Bob in Grand Rapids.

However, I refuse to believe that this situation won't reverse itself. History works in cycles and we're in a very dark period right now. But keep in mind that the free-mindedness of the 60s followed the conservative and repression-filled 1950s. Out of all of this crap, out of this reactionary Myspace-laced parade of ignorance known as George Bush's America, some light has to eventually emerge. And if not, I'll be fine. I'll always know that there's movies like "Fast Times," and there will always be an epic bit advice that a wiser and a bit less passionate Jeff once said: "All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I'm fine."


At 5:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 5:49 PM, Blogger Joey said...

Yeah man, check out that website for extra cash.

Great post, my mellow. Like you, I am so saddened by the common cowardice in popular culture. Characters don'e ever consider abortions; sex and drugs are not fully confronted--it's so lame. But what else are we to expect in a country that is required to spend 1/3 of all HIV/AIDS-prevention dollars on abstinence education programs? What else are we to expect in a country where the FDA is not allowed to approve an HPV vaccine that would help prevent CANCER because the government fears that teenagers will have--gasp!--sex.

At 5:52 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

Joey, you have fooled me once again. That website did not allow me to make extra cash, what a scam. Seriously, after watching that movie and doing some 4/20-esque activities that cannot be discussed on a family-style blog, I've decided that it is imperative to make more Fast Times, Ferris Bueller, Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Stripes, movies that you don't see anymore. I ask you to re-watch Ghostbusters. All of them smoke cigarettes. Do you think that there wouldn't be some huge outcry today in a family movie. It seems that no one is allowed to ever think for themselves and make their own decisions.

At 8:20 PM, Blogger amphimacer said...

(One of those messages appeared in my comments once, too. How gauche.)
Now, what's 4/20? Other than the birthday of Adolf Hitler and jazz great Lionel Hampton, of course.
History lesson: Here's what happened, culturally and politically, for "Fast Times" to get made: the 70s. Once the great fertile film period that gave us "The Godfather" (I and II), "Nashville" and all the other fine stuff in between, the low-budget people had something to work from, artistically. That's why the 80s were really a good era of cheaper movies, while the studios slowly turned to crap.
And thanks for the info from the forum. When I finally get a DVD player, it'll save me a couple of hours . . . Except for Ferris Bueller, an annoying picture, I agree with your little list.
Finally, the late great Ray Walston was at his very best as a judge on "Picket Fences," David Kelley's series before "Ally McBeal," but he was also excellent in a bunch of other stuff over several decades, from "Damn Yankees" to my own favourite, "Popeye" (the most underrated movie ever made). He was good in "Fast Times" as well. Wouldn't you be annoyed if Spiccoli were in your face?

At 9:16 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

We're going to have to agree to disagree on Ferris. I'm gonna' throw down on Ferris being one of the coolest characters in cinematic history. If I could write a character that awesome, I would be one happy man.

At 8:14 AM, Blogger Ian said...

The worst part about this incredibly accurate post is that I generally watch nothing but I haven't been able to see a whole lot of movies in the theater as of late (40-Year Old Virgin might've been the last).

Thank you for pointing out the bit about Band Camp Girl not even being that cool. In fact, she's a colossal dork. Being uncool in no way, shape or form makes a girl hotter. My friend is trying to argue that this one chick in law school that is fairly attractive but plays WarCraft is the hottest in the school. Fuck that. He doesn't even play WarCraft. Popularity is where its at...provided they like the same shit as you.

At 1:51 PM, Blogger Joey said...

I just want a girl who will let me play "Pop That Coochie" at our wedding and will dance to some Jodeci with me.

At 4:21 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

Its funny. I almost never see dramas either. I think the only one I saw last year in theaters was Capote, which I really liked.

And about the popular girls, for me, it's all about finding the weirdest girl in the popular crowd. IE the one a bit too smart to totally fit in with the cool girls but too good-looking to hang with the nerds.

At 4:23 PM, Blogger Ian said...


At 5:05 PM, Blogger Nate said...

Jeff: Great Post. I agree with you in every way possible. But the problem is that a lot of idiots still go out to see many of these films. Until people say to themselves: "I am not forking over my hard earned dollars for Crap" movie studios will still put everything out. Also, the box office is down, but DVD sales and Net Flix (Pretty much everyone in NYC has net flix) probably are contributing to that. Meaning that idiots are still going out and spending money on terrible movies...

Joey: LMAO about "Pop that Coochie" and Jodeci at the wedding. Now that would be a special lady. So special that you might have to play "Forever My Lady" for her at your wedding. I am almost positive no such lady exists in this cesspool of pretentiousness called Los Angeles...

At 11:05 PM, Anonymous silawe said...

Uhm...But Willow IS really really cool.

At 11:26 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

The only Willow this blog is familiar with is a sanctified 1988 film starring Val Kilmer and a whole lot of midget.


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