In my collection of movies are five movies from the mid-1980s that I describe as “guilty pleasures.” None of them is a great movie, and each of them contains scenes which I would be embarrassed to watch with either my mother or my daughter. None of these movies could compete with Amadeus or Gandhi for awards for excellence. I enjoy watching these movies on occasion, not because of the R-rated scenes, but because other elements of each movie have captured my fancy. No doubt that time period is part of the reason for my fondness for these movies.
The first is Body Double, made in 1984. The director, Brian de Palma, is known for intricate plots and clever twists, and this film is no exception. It tells the story of a struggling actor who accepts an offer to house-sit, only to use the opportunity to spy on a (female) neighbor. When she is murdered, the events he witnessed are vital to the case. Although the movie contains elements of horror and a strong portrayal of a crime investigator, the real focus of the film is levels of false reality. Beginning in the opening credits, the movie plays with the mind of the viewer, changing perspectives and along the way changing facts vital to the story. Critics have called it uneven, but it aims to be uneven; its purpose is to keep the audience bewildered.
Into the Night (1985) is a minor masterpiece of John Landis. Twenty-four Hollywood directors, including Landis, appear in the film, as well as Jeff Goldblum, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dan Aykroyd, Richard Farnsworth, Irene Papas, David Bowie, and Carl Perkins. The story is about a man who cannot sleep, so he goes to the airport where he inadvertently becomes involved with dangerous criminals. Into the Night could also be accused of being uneven, drifting between violence and comedy. Using the element of surprise to startle the audience, Into the Night succeeds at being entertaining if only slightly thought-provoking.
Purple Rain (1984) is essentially an extended music video featuring the artistry of Prince, as well as Morris Day and the Time and Apollonia. With probably the most wooden acting of any movie I have seen, Purple Rain succeeds at telling the story of a rock star on his way toward success. Prince is portrayed as a flawed character, self-centered and misogynist. Although I have never been a big fan of his music, I find this portrayal of life in the entertainment industry oddly interesting.
Streets of Fire (1984) also tells the story of a rock singer, although she is fictitious and is portrayed by an actress. When she is kidnapped from the stage during a concert, her friend contacts the friend’s brother, an ex-lover of the singer, to rescue her. The adventure is set in an urban environment with elements of the 1980s and elements of the 1950s. The characters constantly converse in snide sarcasm, which becomes annoying quickly, but the story is strong if stereotyped, and the cast is excellent: Michael Pare, Diane Laine, Rick Moranis, and Amy Madigan.
Tai Pan (1986) is based on a novel by James Clavell, who is known for writing about China and Japan by taking a few scattered historic events, blending them into one story, and then creating characters of his own to populate the new version of history he has invented. This movie focuses on the British traders who brought about the territory of Hong Kong, as well as the Chinese citizens who deal with these traders in various ways. The story itself is outlandish, and the acting makes it more outlandish yet. Still, the filming and the score are beautiful. With Bryan Brown, John Stanton, and Joan Chen.
As I said at the top, these are not great movies. I find them intriguing and entertaining, but that probably says more about me than it says about the movies themselves. J.