Monthly Archives: November 2013

Gregory’s Girl (1981)

Gregory's Girl Movie Poster

Release date: April 23, 1981 (UK); May 26, 1982 (US)

Written and Directed by Bill Forsyth

Starring John Gordon Sinclair, Dee Hepburn, Clare Grogan, Allison Forster, Robert Buchanan

Did you ever flip through the channels and stumble on a movie that just makes your night?  Monday November 18th brought about an unexpected surprise when Turner Classic Movies played Bill Forsyth’s coming of age classic Gregory’s Girl in the 8PM timeslot (which is absolutely deserved – the film, produced in Scotland, ranks # 30 on the British Film Institutes list of the top 100 British films, and a clip from the film was included in the opening ceremony video of the London 2012 Olympics).  Gregory’s Girl has a special place in my cinematic heart and I remember watching (repeatedly) when when it premiered on cable TV around 1983.  We didn’t have a VCR at that time, so it must have been on the schedule at least 20 times over the course of one month.  I lost count of how many times I’d seen it back then.

High school student Gregory (played by John Gordon Sinclair) has his complacent life as a high school student and soccer player upended when Dorothy (Dee Hepburn) earns a spot on the boys soccer team.  He’s immediately smitten with her, and doesn’t even mind that she’s taken over his position at center forward and he’s been moved to goalie (at the expense of his best friend Alan losing his place on the team).  He polishes the ball before handing it to her instead of kicking it to her during the games and practice, and feels the pangs of jealousy (and a little left out from the other side of the pitch) when their teammates and the opposing team each kiss her after she scores her first goal.  His attraction to her reaches a fever pitch but he can’t muster the courage to ask her on a date.

At first Gregory’s cavalier attitude on life is charming and brings the audience back to their carefree teenage days (he calls his father “Mike,” arrives at school as he pleases, isn’t phased by losing a soccer game and doesn’t take his soccer coach seriously when told he may be kicked off the team), but it makes you wonder how he’ll take on life as he gets older if he simply lives his life as “just happy to be there.”  Despite the toll his unrequited love takes on Gregory emotionally, it’s what he needs to begin taking stock of himself and breaking the mold of complacency.  His ten year old sister Madeline is his voice of reason (“If you don’t pay attention to yourself, how do you expect people to pay attention to you?”) as well as his stylist when he finally musters the courage to ask Dorothy on a date.

The tag line of the film says it best: “There’s a little of bit him in all of us.”  Forsyth allows the audience to feel Gregory’s ups and downs with all of the angst in between.  But what I appreciate the most about Gregory’s Girl is how it doesn’t over dramatize Gregory’s situation or the every day lives of him and his friends.  The opening scene may give the mistaken impression that the film will take a sophomoric approach a la Porky’s, but there are no pacts to lose their virginity, no plans for revenge on their teachers, or pranks that will make them legends.  Forsyth didn’t need to go down that road.  He’s crafted a beloved story and film that only needs to be about a young man trying to get a date with the girl that has his heart.

Compared to American teen films of the 80’s like The Breakfast Club (a great movie in its own right), Gregory’s Girl keeps it simple, and this simplicity keeps the characters and plot grounded in a way that each of us can pick a character and substitute ourselves.  Gregory’s Girl succeeds as a film because we can relate to the themes of the awkward teen years, unrequited love, etc. and cheer Gregory on.  Forsyth’s style of directing is understated and charming, and he is a master at making a subtle gesture pop out of nowhere and turning it into a funny moment (see his 1983 classic film Local Hero).  Several of the scenes that bring out the personalities and idiosyncrasies of the supporting characters may leave the audience guessing as to Forsyth’s motivations for including them, but each of these scenes adds a new layer to the film by showing us what Gregory has around him and how he is shaped by his friends and surroundings.

As a teenager watching Gregory’s Girl, I simply enjoyed the ending without interpreting it too deeply (no spoilers here!).  But watching it again in my 40’s, as the closing credits rolled I couldn’t help but wonder how life would have turned out for Gregory, which of his high school friends he would still be in touch with, and how he coped with the loves that would eventually pass in and out of his life (I guess I’ll have to screen Forsyth’s 1999 sequel Gregory’s Two Girls to find out).   I looked back almost 25 years since my high school days and reflected on the course my life took, and I’m still fortunate to have two of my close friends from high school in my life.  As awkward as my friends and I were back in the 80’s (okay, and maybe through the 90’s too), and with all of the ups and downs of the subsequent years, I think Gregory’s Girl’s normally silent character Charlie summed it up best in a scene where one of Andy’s dreams is crushed: “I think everything’s going to be alright.”

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Rock & Rule (1983)

Rock and Rule Movie Poster

Release Date: August 12, 1983

Directed by Clive A. Smith; Written by Peter Sauder, John Halfpenny and Patrick Loubert (Story)

Starring Susan Roman (Angel), Gregory Salata (Omar), Don Francks (Mok); vocals by Debbie Harry (Angel), Robin Zander (Omar) and Lou Reed (Mok)

Rock & Rule is an animated film that I initially planned on including in my retrospective on the films of the Summer of ’83, but didn’t get to in time.  Although it had a theatrical release in Canada in August 1983, it had a very limited release in the U.S. but developed a cult following when it ran on cable TV.  It’s amazing how vividly I remembered Rock & Rule even though I only saw it once in my life prior to this week’s screening, and that was back around 1985 on cable TV during a marathon game of Dungeons & Dragons.  The details and the quality of the film stuck with me over the years, and each time I watch a traditional hand drawn animated film, I’ll measure it up against Rock & Rule.

The opening credits set the film’s tone as dark clouds part to the sounds of thunder, lightning and the heavy synthesizer of composer Patricia Cullen’s score.  As I watched this, my first thought was “Does it get more 80’s (in a good way) than this?”

Fading rock superstar Mok (who looks like he was modeled after Mick Jagger and/or Keith Richards) travels the world seeking the voice that will sing the Armageddon Key and open a doorway to the underworld.  He finds that voice in Ohmtown, where bandmates Angel, Omar, Dizzy and Stretch play an empty dive club.  Mok invites them to his mansion, drugs Omar, Dizzy and Stretch, and kidnaps Angel when she refuses to leave her band.  Angel’s bandmates snap out of it and follow Mok’s zeppelin to Nuke York to save Angel.

This film was better than I remembered, and what struck me the most about Rock & Rule when I screened it this week was how the film’s production hit on all cylinders.  The animation and photography of Rock & Rule combined classic techniques developed by Disney in the 1940’s with the state of the art computers available in the early 80’s.  But what’s most impressive is the level of musical talent associated with Rock & Rule.  Debbie Harry.  Lou Reed.  Cheap Trick.  Earth Wind & Fire.  Iggy Pop.  None of them could be accused of phoning it in for a cartoon.  They went all out in the songs they contributed, and their enthusiasm for the film is evident in the documentary The Making of Rock & Rule.  I only have one criticism of the film: the animation of the characters in the scenes in which they were singing had a lack of movement that took away from the energy of the music.

When I think of the animated films I’ve enjoyed over the years, several that immediately come to mind are Heavy Metal, American Pop, Watership Down and Fire & Ice.  As much as I still enjoy each of those films, Rock & Rule holds up better than all of them thirty years later.  It had great animation, a cool score, and a great soundtrack.  Unfortunately for all of this praise, the reality is that Rock & Rule didn’t find a theatrical audience due to lack of interest by U.S. distributor MGM.  But despite the lack if distribution and low box office, 30 years later Rock & Rule is still well crafted movie and a must see for fans of animation.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,