The '60s generation, which George Lucas is part of, is so storied because they ignited a cultural renaissance that changed global society, a Big Bang that we are still expanding from. One outgrowth of that creative revolution was that the counterculture saved Hollywood.
Young people had quit going to slick films that didn't speak to them by the late '60s and Hollywood was going bankrupt. In desperation they gave the reins to hippie creators. Overviews of this New Hollywood era like "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" and "A Decade Under The Influence" reveal how the resulting films -more daring, more realistic, more nuanced- reversed their bad fortunes and progressed a better cinema.>
Now, you can go with their unfortunate snide postscript that 'the auteurs did serious pictures with depth, but then George and Steven dumbed it all down into blockbusters for the masses'.
"I find your lack of faith disturbing."
Or...go with the reality that all of these directors were applying a modern, realist sensibility to what used to be dismissed as 'genre pictures', and that Lucas and Spielberg are part of that same pantheon.
Left to Right: Easy Rider; The Godfather; The Exorcist; American Graffiti
Genre pictures as Art:
EASY RIDER (biker pic)
PATTON and APOCALYPSE NOW (war pic)
M*A*S*H* and ANNIE HALL (screwball comedy)
THE GODFATHER (gangster pic)
THE FRENCH CONNECTION, CHINATOWN, and TAXI DRIVER (crime pic)
THE EXORCIST and JAWS (horror pic)
THE LAST PICTURE SHOW and AMERICAN GRAFFITI (teen pic)
PAPER MOON and BOUND FOR GLORY (period piece)
ROCKY and RAGING BULL (sports pic)
Those outmoded genre labels no longer really applied, because the counterculture auteurs had now raised these forms into cinematic art.
These classics were made by smart film buffs who recognized how these stories should have been made, and lifted the subject matter to the level it always deserved. This is the same generation that resurrected the forgotten CASABLANCA, invented Art Houses for showings of Italian Neorealism and Japanese directors and French New Wave, canonized the Silent Film comedians and the Marx Brothers, archived comic strips like "Prince Valiant" and "Krazy Kat" in coffee table books, filtered comic books through Pop Art and deconstructed them in Underground Comix, and upgraded dusty crime pictures to 'Film Noir' shaded with expressionism and existentialism.
They knew what it was like to live and breathe this material when they were young, process it through higher education and hindsight, and filter their film works through the bold faith of a youth coupled with the insightful craft of an adult.
"Don't call me a mindless philosopher, you overweight glob of grease."
STAR WARS is actually richer than those films.
It is a polyglot that references all genres of film, myth, and text at once. Not one of these films or those before them, for all of their unimpeachable merits, does that. As such, it is a metatext for the entire creative century. Its prism of the past for the present anticipates the following future of hybrid art from cyberpunk to steampunk, postpunk to hiphop, WATCHMEN to FIREFLY, RAW magazine to JUXTAPOZ.
In the 20th century, modern life had become fast and complex, and was best expressed in the mosaic; whether it's Pablo Picasso's overlapping abstractions, Hannah Hoch's or Romare Bearden's collages, John Coltrane's 'sheets of sound', or the cover of "Sgt. Pepper", meaning was conveyed in multiplicity. If you knew all that stuff, you knew, and if you didn't, you're Mr. Jones.
"Something is happening here
and you don't know what it is..."
In the wake of ON THE BEACH and PLANET OF THE APES, early '70s Science Fiction had become message pictures warning about where we were heading. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, SOYLENT GREEN, and THX-1138 were valuable for social criticism and heady enough to earn critical credibility, but that ethical outlook soon strayed into a pessimistic solemnity. Pointing out a fire is a good thing, jumping into it without hope is a wrong move. Yet Science Fiction and Horror could only find validation from academia when they subscribed to the dark side. This unfortunately played to that critical failing which mistakes the depressing for depth and bitter disappointment for insight. That defeatist view is actually a form of spiritual cowardice which succumbs to the disease of despair instead of the antidote of the possible.
STAR WARS was the welcome antidote to pessimism, reminding us that the optimism of the counterculture strove for a funner, better world. Joy was just as valid and more essential than darkness, and for audiences exhausted by Watergate and roiling times, that view was exactly what they needed.
"Seriousness is the only refuge of the shallow." -Oscar Wilde
Lucas' triumph was also in proving that 'pop trash' and 'genre culture' were just as worthy as the 'realistic' stuff, and that smart films can still be fun.
At first, the critics knew that. TIME magazine declared it "The Year's Best Movie" when it was only May, and a televised countdown that year of the 'Greatest Films Ever Made' had STAR WARS already in the Top 10.
"He doesn't like you."
But gradually the Huffs and Tsks slung euphemisms like "effects pictures", "high concept", "popcorn flicks", and "blockbuster" in disdain for these rabble-driven affairs, and went to worship Woody Allen without his permission.
"Ohhh, the Great Unwashed! (throws wrist to forehead) Quickly, Jeeves, turn on UPSTAIRS DOWNTON! The vapors!"
The idea that blockbusters are 'simple pictures for simple people' is simply elitism, of course.
The earlier work of Lucas and Spielberg like AMERICAN GRAFFITI and JAWS were initially recognized for the same depth of craft and story as parallels like MEAN STREETS and THE EXORCIST, in particular by young critics informed by a similar outlook and cultural background. But STAR WARS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS expanded the palette to a speculative fiction range that started to make conservative 'realist' critics uncomfortable.
That's because they tend to respect introspection but lack imagination. Or think that these are mutually exclusive. Dry dramas suffused with muted angst reassure them of their reality, while -for centuries- any story with imagination was dismissed as 'flights of fancy', 'boys adventure tales', 'potboilers', or 'escapist fare'. It's the same blinkered way in which narrow critics relegated the visionary Jules Verne to the 'Juvenile Fiction' shelf, heard Bebop's sophistication as cacophony, and called comic books subliterate trash while EC was pumping out subversive art.
The learned opinion was invalid here because it was based on reflexive prejudice and dismissive ignorance.
"Every normal human being is interested in two kinds of worlds; the Primary, everyday world which he knows through his senses and a Secondary world or worlds, which he not only can create in his imagination, but also cannot stop himself creating."
-W.H. Auden, 1967
But the mass success of the films also troubled newer critics, who feared that the victory of personal artistic films won by New Hollywood was now in danger of losing out to a backlash of kitsch crap.
To be fair, there was cause for concern. The late '70s was propelled by a rising wave of younger people who embraced hedonistic excess or slick fun over communal spirit and political revolt, and the mainstream age became ever glossier, finecombed, bubblegum, and hollow by the minute. Alarmed critics saw it all as one dumb throb of Hype, full of loud emptiness and signifying nothing. The sheer freshness and vitality of STAR WARS and the epic scope and careful character of CE3K won initial kudos, but with their seismic social success, what would Hollywood copycats wreak in their wake?
"Brought to you by the makers of Mr. Prolong/
Better known as Urge Overkill/
The pimping of the pleasure principle."
It was a valid concern but applied to the wrong suspects. Lucas and Spielberg were friends, peers, and equals to the best respected of the New Hollywood creators like Scorsese and Coppola. Their craft, intelligence, and works stands with the best of the class. But if their imagination surpassed the limited scope of some starchy critics or clueless awards shows, whose failing is that?
You might see quaint photos, from when Beatlemania first hit New York, where unhip Businessmen mocked it wearing bad Beatle wigs and danced around. They look clueless and stupid because they were. The exponential legacy of the band only makes their obliviousness more archaic and laughable. They're a drag, and a well-known-drag; we turn the sound down on them and say rude things.
Next time, Mock Turtle, know the difference between genius and junk. Lucas and Spielberg may have made auteur films that happened to be popular, but personally I think it's their acolytes afterward that truly lost the plot. I could go on about how Dante, Zemeckes, and Columbus tended to make mall movies for the suburban bubble, and how that approach devolves into real Effects Catastrophes like GODZILLA, TRANFORMERS, and G.I. JOE...but I just did, so next.
“Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.”
― Joseph Campbell
What was undeniable from any perspective is that George and Steven changed the paradigm of film in favor of the people.
L to R: Metropolis; The Hidden Fortress;
Darkseid of The New Gods; 2001: A Space Odyssey
The film is a prism that taught young people to 'refine the past, redefine the future'. It divined its light from many sources.
-Books from "John Carter Of Mars" to "Dune", from "Lord Of The Rings" to Joseph Campbell's "Man Of A Thousand Faces"
-Pulp Science Fiction magazines from the '10s to the '40s
-Westerns like THE SEARCHERS
-Easterns like THE HIDDEN FORTRESS
-Middle-Easterns like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA
-Early Science Fiction films from METROPOLIS to Saturday matinee serials
-Comic Strips like "Buck Rogers", "Flash Gordon", and "Prince Valiant"
-Comic Book influences from Doctor Doom to Darkseid, from PLANET COMICS to Cody Starbuck
-The arthouse cred and SFX acumen of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, and offspring like SILENT RUNNING and DARK STAR
-The metaphysical New Wave Of Science Fiction books, and the used universe aesthetic of SOLARIS and Metal Hurlant/Heavy Metal.
And then there was Big Picture stuff like:
-World War II
-The Space Race
-The Counterculture values
"Where did you dig up that old fossil?"
John Williams skipped the atonal electronic scores then current in the downer flicks and modeled his score deliberately after the triumphant orchestral themes and marches of great '30s film composers like Erich Korngold and Max Steiner.
Even the classic art deco 20th Century Fox logo intro was brought back from mothballs as a triumphant celebration of the past by the present.
Sly Stone said, "If it was good in the past, it's still good." The sharp kids got that about STAR WARS, and backtracked to all these sources with equal respect. Or they ate their popcorn and had a good time, which is nice, too.
STAR WARS Reissue poster, 1978
(by Drew Struzan & Charles White III;
in the spirit of J.C. Leyendecker and N.C. Wyeth)
"It's an energy field created by all living things."
STAR WARS clearly made no claims for arriving full-cloth by itself. It wore all its many influences as precisely the point. But it also succeeded on the crest of many social undercurrents that lifted it up.
-From the early days of SF fandom, when Forrest J. Ackerman created the first pen pal networks and attended the first 1939 convention
-to the rise of '60s fanzines and small comic conventions
-to the letter-writing campaign to save STAR TREK, and the networks of fans who then created the exponentially successful TREK conventions in the early '70s
-to the art cred of new speculative literature like "2001", "Slaughterhouse-5", and "Gravity's Rainbow"
-to the modest success of LOGAN'S RUN (1976), an unusually large-budget SF film that spawned comics, books, and a brief television series
-and especially to the success of toys and merchandise for STAR TREK and PLANET OF THE APES in the mid-'70s, even after those franchises had been years dormant.
The support system is in place, and the precedent has just been set by an unlikely film.
Before JAWS (June 1975), movies were released gradually across time by regions, building up word-of-mouth momentum. Only exploitation movies had wide simultaneous release, which was meant to grab a quick buck before advance word sunk them.
When JAWS was dumped into wide-release as a summer quickie, it became the highest-grossing film ever released. Crowds knew it was a smarter take on monster pics, full of craft and character beyond the shocking thrills, and came back again and again. Lines formed around the block for every showing and stayed that way for months. Hollywood was blindsided by this reaction, but Lucas saw the value in opening wide close to Memorial Day, when kids are out of school and the summer would drive droves into air conditioning.
One advantage STAR WARS had was no competition. In the few years after, there were few at the studios canny enough or fast enough to grasp how to respond. There were incredibly long gaps for impatient fans wanting more. The announcement that the second STAR WARS would take another three years was almost an inconceivable wait. (The talk was there would be '12 Adventures Of Luke Skywalker', and at this rate we wouldn't be done till 2010!)
This was endurable for awhile because the film was still thrilling the throngs months and months after it had opened. There were no multiplexes with multiple showings yet, so you went to the traditional contained theatre and stood under the hot sun in a line measuring 12 parsecs. In fact, it came right back when it left. Normally, a film may have a reissue on a tenth or twentieth anniversary. STAR WARS was rereleased on its first anniversary when it had barely left the dollar theaters! And it made money all over again.
What came next were only films that had already been in process. At first there were just grinders like THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN and LASERBLAST. But verrrry gradually the great successors rolled out:
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (Dec 1977)
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (Dec 1978)
SUPERMAN (Dec 1978)
ALIEN (May 1979)
STAR TREK: The Motion Picture (Dec 1979)
L to R: CE3K; Invasion Of The Body Snatchers; Superman; Alien
It's important to note not just how great these films were, or how successful they all became, but how diverse they all are. And that they pretty much owned the times they debuted with little or no competition. It also gave audiences time to really appreciate each film as a work, instead of being lost in a cockfight competition.
"What a piece of junk."
Which is where we mention that the Suits threw out also-rans like BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, METEOR, SATURN 3, FLASH GORDON, KRULL, and THE LAST STARFIGHTER along the way. Disney was so rattled that they just remade their own 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA as THE BLACK HOLE with a pinch of 2001 at the end. If these films looked like what some hapless Suit thought a Sci-Fi or Fantasy film was, well, yeah. Which I say to make the point that these bandwagon movies were committee-driven instead of creator-driven.
(If you were a kid and liked these films, don't take my flip quips to heart. If some yob with a blog dissed ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN, I'd probably get miffed, too. 'Like and let like', I say.)
1977 to 1982 is a golden age for great SF films, but also a learning curve for the new Hollywood machine.
By 1980, you finally had the true sequel THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, plus bonuses like ALTERED STATES and SOMEWHERE IN TIME. And in 1981, the gears start turning with RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, along with scattered gems like SUPERMAN II, TIME BANDITS, EXCALIBUR, and OUTLAND. These films were spread out across the year, paced carefully to give each one room to profit. But it wasn't till 1982 that The Machine had finally got into full gear, producing what is arguably 'The Best Sci-Fi Summer Ever'>:
STAR TREK II
THE ROAD WARRIOR*
*(THE ROAD WARRIOR was actually the 1981 sequel, MAD MAX 2, from Australia. The first hadn't been a hit here, so they renamed the sequel in the United States.)
See that gap? That's because the first three made immediate money and the next four were written off as flops. In that time, the STAR WARS model still held sway: people rung blocks all day for months on hit films. Months. The latter films were crushed by that kind of competition, and were only saved by the new rise of home VHS tapes and cable showings a few years later. I remember enjoying BLADE RUNNER, appropriately in a huge vintage 1930s theatre, with only three other people.
Another factor that would make or break films was that you could only see them in the theater, so you had to go back repeatedly. A fraction of people had HBO then, and the very lean choices on VHS were impossibly expensive. STAR WARS wouldn't be shown on TV or be affordable on tape until 1984. The theater was the temple of the times.
L to R: E.T.; Star Trek II; Blade Runner; The Thing
There were also parallel attempts that year like MEGAFORCE, CONAN, AIRPLANE II, SWAMP THING, and CAT PEOPLE. The distinction is the classic one. The best of all these films were by fans/auteurs who knew what they were doing. The worst were by hacks who didn't know to respect the material or the audience.
"The plans you refer to will soon be back in our hands."
1982 is a watershed year because The Machine is now in place. They know the market, the release pattern, and the media (like Entertainment Tonight and Time) to promote it. And they know the two times to release the big guns: either Summer or Christmas. If 1977 is when the SF blockbuster was invented, then 1982 is when the Summer Of Competing Blockbusters came to fruition.
The wilderness years are over and our modern system is here, for both good and ill.
Ultimately, STAR WARS became the wave that floats all boats.
The global success of STAR WARS single-handedly...
-made Science Fiction and Fantasy viable industries in the mainstream
-resurrected STAR TREK in films and new TV series
-created a cottage industry of merchandise: mags, books, posters, toys, etc.
-accelerated the importation of Japanese animated series like "Battle Of The Planets" (Gatchaman) and "Star Blazers" (Space Battleship Yamato), which opened Anime and Manga to the West
-saved Marvel Comics and Fox Studios from bankruptcy
-rewrote how movies are greenlit, budgeted, crafted, marketed, merched, and released
-advanced all the technology to make films
-generated enough popular demand to initiate multiplexes
-improved movie theaters with THX sound and, later, digital projection
-paved the later success of Fantasy, Comic Book, and Video Game films
-created a generational tide of fans
After John Williams, movie scores returned to full symphonic suites from heirs like James Horner ('80s), Danny Elfman ('90s), and Mark Giacchino ('00s).
The San Diego Comic-Con was a modest hive of comics mavens when STAR WARS did a poster giveaway for publicity in 1976. Now it's bigger than God with lavish extravaganzas footed by all the major and minor multimedia empires, covered by all the major and minor media.
Without its success there would never have been franchises/cash cows like LORD OF THE RINGS, THE MATRIX, TOY STORY, HARRY POTTER, TWILIGHT, and HUNGER GAMES. Or television series like the five new STAR TREKS, ANDROMEDA, FARSCAPE, FIREFLY, LOST, and CLONE WARS.
Or parodies like HARDWARE WARS, SPACEBALLS, and ROBOT CHICKEN!
But beyond the superficial level of accountants, there is the deeper level of how the film inspired and empowered the creatives.
"It binds the galaxy together."
STAR WARS fans didn't want to just consume the movie, they wanted to create it themselves.
The first question on their minds was, "How was that done?"
They bankrolled the first waves of media culture. The SF start-up magazine STARLOG suddenly went from pulp to glossy along with satellite mags like FUTURE (hard science) and FANGORIA (horror films). STARLOG -essentially the TIME magazine of Science Fiction in its day- became so important as the monthly community lifeline that every year legions of genre celebrities flooded them with birthday greetings. There were studied theses in academic rivals like SCIENCE FANTASY FILM CLASSICS and FANTASTIC FILMS: the mythological subtext of STAR WARS; a long treatise on the original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS as a criticism of McCarthyism; and a radical and prescient theory positing all of Superman's powers as actually being telekinetic. And the seminal FAMOUS MONSTERS reminded you where all this came from.
Film studios had given up on SF films right before STAR WARS and dismantled their Special Effects departments. Lucas had to invent the Industrial Light And Magic department just to do his film. But magazines like STARLOG and CINEFEX taught a new generation of teenagers and children how SFX were done and about all the pioneers like O'Brien and Harryhausen who perfected them: blue screen, green screen, motion control, glass matte paintings, optical printing, stop motion, maquettes. They also introduced the young to the canon of great films, shows, and books and interviewed the casts and creators. They relayed the continuum into the community.
Beside mags, the fans bought soundtrack albums, official film storyboard books, ship and set blueprints, the published scripts and the bootleg drafts, and even under-the-table bad bootleg VHS dubs of STAR WARS years before it was released publicly.
And of course toys. When they finally came.
"I thought you said this thing was fast!"
As impossible as it seems, there were no STAR WARS toys when the film came out and wouldn't be for awhile. Lucas was smart to release a novelization well in advance and a Marvel Comics adaption a few months early. Between those and the cover story of STARLOG #7, he hooked folks like me who hit spinner racks, Waldenbooks tables, and drugstore mag stands. Once we were hooked, the Hildebrandt poster and the rest were scooped up. But there were no toys. You had to buy a voucher from Kenner for four action figures, which would be delivered in a little white box well after Christmas in February, a full nine months after the film opened. Measured in Kid Time, this was like aeons. And after decades of 12" G.I. Joes and Barbies, their 4" simplicity came as sort of a shock. But they sold enough figures that next year to outnumber the present population of the United States!
This generation was insatiable to know how to do everything, based on their inspiration from STAR WARS: Special Effects, Scriptwriting, Directing, Music, Sound, Cinematography, Storyboards, Set Design, Editing, Costume Design, Creature Design, Posters, Credits, and Logos. Just as The Beatles inspired untold millions to jump into music, so this film drove a tsunami of talent into every phase of production for films, and eventually games, software, digital art, and toy design.
It's why sculptors and game designers now can become superstars at conventions. And why fans will watch the 'Making Of' features on discs as intently as they watched the film.
"How is it done? I want to do that for a living."
Doubt their impact on the 'mainstream' culture? Your smartphone, desktop, laptop, and tablet were created by STAR TREK fans.
"I can't think of a story meeting I've ever had without STAR WARS being evoked at some point." -Jon Favreau >
If you want to see this come full circle, watch the movie SUPER 8 (2011). This sweet ode to the films of 1977 to 1982, and the teen auteurs it inspired, is made by J.J. Abrams who was one of them. Their rooms look like my room did. That Chewbacca trading card, that cover to Detective Comics #475, the Starlogs. It's all there, and wonderfully done. [Or you could watch STRANGER THINGS (2016), or read PAPER GIRLS (2016).]
Then, of course, J.J. Abrams made the circle complete, first reigniting STAR TREK with his retelling of the original crew (2009), and then helming the critically acclaimed and monstrously-lucrative comeback film, STAR WARS: Episode VII, The Force Awakens (2015).
There is no geek culture. There are only creators.
There's this media myth called the Geek. It's based on the fact that media archetypes are essentially like being in High School Forever: reward the Football Hero, swoon for the Prom Queen, party with The Bully, and knock the Nerd. (And follow the Popular until they aren't.)
Even the U.S. Congress resorted to these stereotypes about Nerd-calling in referring to educated people with computer savvy. As Jon Stewart pointed out on The Daily Show, "Really? Nerds? You know, actually, I think the word you're looking for is 'experts'." (Audience explodes in cheers.)
It may be all geek to them, but let's drop those fratboys. Let's reject Geek. We wear it like a Scarlet G, but enough. We're too grown for their word.
I reject 'Geek' and 'Nerd'. These are cruel words used by those who lack imagination to hurt those who use their imagination to make a better, funner world.
When you walk around Comic-Con, you're in a Disney World of every variation of creativity. Look at the hundreds of thousands of varied faces and interests and personal styles there and try to point out the Geek. Only a news crew can, when they shoot the only cliches they know (cosplay of film characters). The reality of the event is too much to quantify and the crowd more so. This is just...everyone, and it sure isn't High School anymore. It's the diversity of the real world beyond hurtful stereotypes.
I recognize us on smart shows like SPACED, but not in the grating cliches on BIG BANG THEORY.
The people libeled labeled Geeks or Nerds are not nebbishes, perma-virgins, dweebs, malcontents, librarians, math-heads, Slave Leia's, Klingon-abbees, inflexibles, misanthropes, obsessives, cockatoos, mice, or ugly ducklings. They are not loners on the margins of some fantasized Barbie and Ken mainstream. They are smart, funny, thoughtful people of every personality type, shape, and background who are engaged with the possibilities of the world. They read, they think, they make, they reimagine. They are capable people who can actually do things or say something meaningful about them, instead of just buying or voguing things.
They have never been just daydreamers, they are visionaries.
They are not the weird people. They are the interesting people.
They're your daughter or your best friend, or you, if you're reading this.
"You're braver than I thought."
The people called Geeks are the Experts who learned how to do everything fun and cool. They were inspired by STAR WARS or STAR TREK or something very cool like them.
This generation of creators led to the myriad Special Effects and Digital Effects companies; to Pixar and all the CG animation studios; to video games and software companies; and to entire syndicated networks like the SciFi Channel (now SyFy), The Cartoon Network, and Adult Swim.
They put us on the moon and placed the satellites that bounce the call to your cell phone that they designed. They turned Dick Tracy's wrist-TV into your video conference meeting. They're why your car can park itself or your bus runs on electricity, how you MapQuested your trip or GoogleEarthed the streets of other countries.
They write WIRED magazine and LOST and THE AVENGERS, expand the Internet, do all of the flashy TV commercials, design all the Apps, and made casual wear, action figures, and pop trivia essential in the hip office.
They are the life's blood of Silicon Valley, which is the engine of the economy. They're the bulk of staff at Apple, eBay, Amazon, Craigslist, Electronic Arts, FaceBook, YouTube, ThinkGeek,and any design agency.
They are Wikipedia, AintItCool, Anonymous, Rotten Tomatoes, MoveOn, Entertainment Weekly, Good Vibrations, Funny Or Die, Crackle, and Huff Post. They are Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. They are Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Elon Musk. They are the Cosplayers, the Webcomic makers, the IT gurus, the DJs, the Steampunks, the Fan Fiction writers, the Indie Rock and Hiphop bands, the Film and Art and Fashion students, the Plush makers, the Modern Primitives, the Comic Shop owners, the Podcasters, graphic designers, illustrators, and voice talent.
They are the indie filmmakers behind HALLOWEEN, BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET, BLAIR WITCH, PI, DISTRICT 9, MOON, and CHRONICLE.
They conjured all the devices and programs that let you make movies, music, and art of your own.
If it was cool and imaginative and fun, they made it.
"So I believe that dreams -day dreams, you know, with your eyes wide open and your brain-matter whizzing- are likely to lead to the betterment of the world. The imaginative child will become the imaginative man or woman most apt to create, to invent, and therefore foster civilization."
-L. Frank Baum, 1917.
They aren't just the consumers that prop up the economy, they are the creators who enable it.
As they always were, but now more than ever, creative people are the architects of the real world.
L to R: Brother From Another Planet; The Blair Witch Project; District 9; Moon
"I don't know, I can imagine quite a bit."
Now we live in a time when the flood of new film franchises is almost simultaneous. This is not just because Suits have become adroit enough to milk us (The Architect). More crucially, it's because we have grown up to become the creators in the industry (Neo).
It's our imagination that ripples the social waves. We are going from galley slaves to captains.
Quality is the tell. Let's look at how 'subliterate trash' like Comic Books have been redefined by a generation of filmmakers who knew better, for a global audience that responds to that quality.
Since the '60s, Comics have undergone continuous renaissances that have broadened and deepened their scope, and made superstars out of their artists and writers. It's inevitable that a comic-culture wave of auteurs is, like before, showing Hollywood the merit of genre material and how to do it at the better level it deserves.
'Refine the past, redefine the future.' They knew what it was like to live and breathe this material when they were young, process it through higher education and hindsight, and filter their film works through the bold faith of a youth coupled with the insightful craft of an adult.
Tim Burton admits to being clueless about Batman as a character, but Christopher Nolan knew him inside out; Burton coasted on goth style and Jack Nicholson, while Nolan respected the great Comics writers and artists by making great character films. When Kenneth Branagh pitched his ideas for a Thor film, the Marvel Comics chief admits that Kenneth knew their mythos better than even they did. Joss Whedon seamlessly integrated all the storylines and styles of other Marvel films into his astounding AVENGERS, but more importantly, he made an ensemble character piece with wit and imagination that honors the true mythos of Marvel Comics, the creators, the fans, and thrills the general audience.
But it's not all capes and clang. Meanwhile, fans/creators have made critically-acclaimed pictures without many viewers realizing they were from graphic novels: GHOST IN THE SHELL, FROM HELL, GHOST WORLD, ROAD TO PERDITION, PERSEPOLIS, AMERICAN SPLENDOR, V FOR VENDETTA, TAMARA DREWE, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, SCOTT PILGRIM, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR, THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL; and TV series like THE WALKING DEAD, JESSICA JONES, PREACHER, and LEGION.
There's even a rich world of acclaimed comics-inspired films that don't come from actual comics at all: THE MATRIX, UNBREAKABLE, THE INCREDIBLES, DR. HORRIBLE'S SINGALONG BLOG, PUSH, HAUNTERS (Korea), CHRONICLE, and series like MISFITS and THE FADES (both U.K.).
L to R: American Splendor; V For Vendetta; Persepolis; Scott Pilgrim
Is V FOR VENDETTA 'subliterate' when it is inspiring actual democratic change in the world? When did MANHATTAN or HOWARD'S END ever do that?
Who galvanizes the viewers and the critics with TWIN PEAKS, LOST, and GAME OF THRONES?
Maybe it's time to snap out of the 'Praising The Pretties' media routine and quit segregating the interesting people out of reality.
Newspeak like 'Geek Chic' only glosses over the once-ostracized putting the free in Freak. Are the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and Rolling Stone devoting constant columns to this culture as just a hot trend...or, more likely, because the staff is part of this vast culture?
Lazy journalists will write cringe-inducing 'Bam! Crash! Zow!' articles about these works decades out of date. But a generation of fans now writes professionally for all the major outlets. The days of the bad translator are ending when the person who speaks the language is finally hired. TIME magazine counted the WATCHMEN graphic novel as one of The 100 Best Novels of the past century. Alison Bechdel's graphic novel FUN HOME was considered one of the best books of 2006 by The Times of London, the New York Times, Salon.com, the Los Angeles Times, and more. And MAUS won the Pulitzer Prize.
Which leads to the ultimate question: if Geeks are outside of the mainstream, how come they are the ones creating it?
From the top grossing films for thirty years, to the devices that we all use, to the popular culture we converse in, to the new creative ideas that generate all the wealth, to the music that matters, to the vast array of creative undergrounds that always pave our cultural future...the mainstream has been our doing for quite awhile.
So, for the record once and for all, we are not in that conceptual closet anymore.
We are the tributaries that create the mainstream.
"Still, she's got a lot of spirit."
By the same token that they can't exclude us anymore, we shouldn't exclude each other.
White suburban dudes are often getting their geek props, but I'll be more impressed when proper due is finally given to overlooked oceans like the female >>>> or the Asian >>> or Black >>>> fan communities.
Hello, always here, always a part of it, too (waving arms)...
Girly Vader finds your lack of faith disturbing.
STAR WARS: The Force Awakens
The new stars of the third STAR WARS trilogy: John Boyega and Daisy Ridley.
Art by Drew Struzan.
Sabine Wren; Jyn Erso; Dr. Aphra; Rey
STAR WARS had a unique perspective on spirituality that hadn't been expressed before in mainstream films.
I grew up through a religion that controlled people through guilt. It constricted joys and emphasized suffering. The best you could be was a pawn in a chess game between a Good and Evil you should fear equally.
STAR WARS took a Buddhist stance that instead empowered you personally with real choice over your own faults or strengths. This sheared the shackles of dogma right off of me in one swoop.
There's a dark side and a bright side to all this, of course.
"I have a very bad feeling about this."
In many ways, all the success of STAR WARS is eating itself.
-Contest Media: STAR WARS became the biggest film of all time for awhile. Since then, entertainment pundits reduce every new release to a money score. Films are ruthlessly vetted over mass bucks in opening weekend, rather than on their quality or long-term success. From BLADE RUNNER to JOHN CARTER, many fine films got bum-rushed by this accountant narrowness.
Popularity contests are for High School. Drop the cock fight and spread the spotlight.
-Insane Budgets: STAR WARS cost $10 Million to make. EMPIRE doubled that. Now, it costs $100 to $200 Million just to design a poster. Meanwhile economies falter and kids starve. I avoid the obvious schlockbusters as much out of economic protest as from their lack of quality.
-Franchise-Building: The new F word is Franchise. LORD OF THE RINGS was a legitimate literary trilogy. Splitting TWILIGHT into two parts to milk teens is just greed.
-Dumb Summer Glut: For every STAR WARS you were bound to get a GALAXINA. And now the budgets of small countries are spent foisting TRANSFORMERS and loud clattering CG animals on us weakly weekly.
"If money is all that you love, then that's what you'll receive."
-Merchandising: Just listen to Kevin Smith talk about Joel Silver and Warner Brothers wasting the entire '90s trying to turn a wrongheaded SUPERMAN film into an excuse for horrible toy revenue...(shudder).
(Proving that Suits never learn, they recently threw Brayn Singer's magesterial -and successful- antidote SUPERMAN RETURNS under the bus so they could regress to making wrongheaded Superman films with Zack Snyder instead.)
"Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed."
-Ronnie's Raygun: A paranoid Reagan devised an impossible missile defense system that got tagged 'Star Wars' by a zombie press, and the courts enforced their right to do so over Lucas' objections.
(Some of you kids missed this bad movie, but they remade it recently as the Bush years.)
-Rupert Murdoch: STAR WARS' profits pulled 20th Century Fox out of bankruptcy, where it was later bought up by this scheming megalomaniac and corporate criminal to destroy journalism and democracy through apprentices like Fox News.
"Only a master of evil, Darth."
"He has too much of his father in him.":
-The Father Complex: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK has one of the greatest surprise reveals in film history. This was rapidly devalued by everyone and their left asscheek. James Earl Jones was playing the villain in CONAN a few months later; when he laughingly remarked that some of the dialogue with the hero reminded him of that moment, the director rewrote it to make it the same revelation!
Susan Faludi, the Pulitzer-winning journalist, writes in "Stiffed: The Betrayal Of The American Male" of the counterculture's true conflict: they asked their parents and elders to live by the ethics they taught instead of betraying them in practice, and were demonized for the request. It's a very clear pattern that countercultural films from ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE GODFATHER, CHINATOWN and ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, to CARRIE and THE SHINING, APOCALYPSE NOW and EMPIRE used the paternal rift as a metaphor for betrayed social (/familial) pacts.
But now Hollywood steals that specific Darth riff for every hero/villain confrontation. 'You're evil!' 'But I made you.' BATMAN, ALIEN 4, THE X-FILES, SPIDER-MAN 3, MINORITY REPORT, BATMAN BEGINS, IRON MAN, THE DEPARTED, THERE WILL BE BLOOD, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE ...
At least TOY STORY 2 had fun with it!
"Stay on target.":
The inspiration of STAR WARS is exponential.
-It energized a generations of creators, who now share the saga their kids.
-It revolutionized tech innovation: computer-aided special effects, theatre speaker systems, editing software, games, personal devices, and applications.
-The best disciples focus on storytelling and character at the core of their worldscapes.
-Smart fun craft has been made. People have felt great and wanted to share that.
"You have taken your first step
into a larger world."
Some movies should only be seen on the big screen where they are bigger than you. CITIZEN KANE, WIZARD OF OZ, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, 2001, THE GODFATHERs, STAR WARS, APOCALYPSE NOW. They're too big and they deserve the space. They make you come to it and respect its true granduer.
May there always be a big screen to see wonderful movies on.
STAR WARS also came out on my birthday. It was the best gift that has never stopped giving.
The original Rock styles of the '50s -Rockabilly, electric Blues, Honky Tonk, Mambo, Cajun, and Doo Wop- became classic forms continually revitalized, usually in deliberate spite to the prevailing trends of the eras that had followed.
They were the basic psalmbook underlining the '60s, the reformist manifesto galvanizing the '70s, and the gnostic gospels revolting in the '80s. By the '90s they became sacred texts for the heretical to go antithetical.
The Rockabilly renaissance of the late '70s seeded new indie record labels like Rollin' Rock, Fury, and Nervous. At the same time, reissue labels rose like Rhino, Cherry Red, and Bomp, bringing classics back to print and supporting new acts in the retro spirit.
This branched into the '80s with Ripsaw, Goofin' (Finland), and ABC's "Stomping At the Klub Foot" compilations of the UK psychobilly scene; parallely, with retro sounds on edgy indie labels like Sire and I.R.S.; and spiritually with roots labels like Malaco, Alligator, Hightone, and Rounder.
By the '90s, this fertilized a wide indie ecosystem that now included labels like Norton (run by The A-Bones), Raucous, and Pollytone; supporters of trashabilly deconstructionists like Sympathy For The Record Industry; and premier reissue labels like Ace (UK), Bear Family (Germany), and Sundazed.
With labels, a club tour circuit, package festivals, college radio, and fans to support them, retro revisionaries had an underground alternative to bypass and survive the mainstream. Rock'n'Roll had started as a rebel music on an ocean of independent labels in the '50s, and had come full circle.
The classic sound of Rockabilly continued its new spring.
The reunited Stray Cats and Robert Gordon furrowed further, now followed by upstarts like Catmen, The Quakes, The Jets, Kitty Little, Colin Winski, The Frantic Flattops, Bob And The Bearcats, Betty And The Bops (France), The Rockats, and The Rattlers.
Coiffs flipped, basses flopped, and suedes flew worldwide too with The Shaking Silhouets (Dutch), Taggy Tones (Danish), King Drapes (Finland), Screaming Kids (France), Nu Niles (Spain), and The Falcons (Japan).
Jessie Mae Hemphill; Colbert Hamilton And The Nitros; El Vez
"...beat is the father of your Rock'n'Roll
Rock with some pizzazz, it will last
Why, you ask?
Roll with the rock stars you'll never get accepted as.">
-Public Enemy, "Bring The Noise" (1988)
The original Rock'n'Roll started as a polyglot revolution from jump, made by eclectic styles and faces reacting to each other, and then quickly mirrored back planetwide. Inclusion is the vital heartbeat of Rock (and culture, and society), and exclusion has always been death to progress.
Creativity is an intersection of ideas, involving everyone and ever changing. It is fluid and inclusive, not static or exclusive. No one has a lock on anything, and every one has something valid to add. The moment someone claims total claim, in the name of tradition, culture, or as a 'group'... they are wrong. Their limits are their own. Always feel free to progress past their regression.
So it didn't matter if marketed radio reinforced bigotry and segregation in music, because creative people flow past all phony barriers by nature. They can never be stopped, any more than ocean currents. Maligning the color-line signs, ignoring the bouncers, and crashing the club were iconoclasts like Jessie Mae Hemphill, Garland Jeffries, The Gories, Colbert Hamilton, and Lavelle White. Listen to Boyz II Men honor the traditions with their Doo Wop tribute "In The Still Of The Nite", or Public Enemy abstract Carl Perkins inside out on "Go Cat Go".
Rock'n'Roll had quickly ignited Spanish-speaking countries from Spain to the Americas, especially in the early 60's. And this wildfire still churned in the 90's with El Vez The Mexican Elvis, Los Lobos (and their spinoff, Latin Playboys), Rock'n'Bordes, Los Renegados, Mermelada, The Blazers, and The Texas Tornados.
Rosie Flores; Kim Lenz And Her Jaguars; Josie Kreuzer
Anyone who counts women out of Rock history is an idiot. And thankfully they've always been there to set the record straight with their own records.
The psychobilly boys klub finally got some needed ass-kicking by women like Something Shocking, The Dypsomaniaxe, and Psycho Bunnies.
Worldwide, the classic sound rebounded with The Shillelagh Sisters (UK), Kitty Little And The Roamin' Toms (UK), The Queen B's (UK), The Dots (Canada), Betty And The Bops (France), and Toini And The Tomcats (Norway). By decade's end -with the scene becoming a global community- Rosie Flores, Lena Marie And Hey You Playboys, Candye Kane, Tasha And The Enforcers, Kim Lenz And Her Jaguars, Marti Brom, and Josie Kreuzer brought more stomp to the bomp.
And The Midnight Dynamos deserve special spotlight for their brave and sweet ode to "Hayley", the queen of the hop.
These waves of '50s-based women would surge up into a tsunami in the 2000s and 2010s.
The original Rockers were really rockin' right with new records by Little Richard, Ray Campi, Sleepy LaBeef, Del Shannon, Billy Lee Riley, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Link Wray, and the rediscovered Hasil Adkins.
Their acolytes Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Robert Plant, Mick Jagger, Dave Edmunds, and Nick Lowe were now joined by artists like Brian Sezter, Lee Rocker, Billy Idol, and Morrissey.
The spirits of Elvis' swagger, Chuck Berry's octane, Wanda Jackson's growl, Jerry Lee Lewis' pounding, and Bo Diddley's thunder rock these joints inside out.
And how many variations on The Johnny Burnette Trio's yelps, barnstorm rhythms, and clanging riffs -namely "Train Kept A-Rollin'" and "Rock Billy Boogie"- can you count on the Music Player? Wait'll you get to the 2000s and the 2010s...
The Red Devils; Shemekia Copeland;
Big Sandy And The Fly Rite Boys
The '80s had explored electronic music in the main and out to the fringe, reflecting the era of futurism. But this ensured the countermovement to the organic, the passionate, the historical. Thus the early '90s backlashed against the synthetic and the slick with the raw and the revolutionary, with Grunge, Riot Grrrl, and Conscious Rap. And Roots (and World) musics also unrolled more soul into the CD age.
Blues was enfused by Jimmie Vaughan, Tinsley Ellis, Roomful Of Blues, The Red Devils, Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater, and T-Model Ford.
And reenthused by soulful belters like Safire -The Uppity Blues Women, Katie Webster, Ruthie Foster, and Shemekia Copeland, and fiery guitarists like Sue Foley, Deborah Coleman, and Debbie Davies.
Cajun raised the occasion with Beau Jocque, Lynn August, and Queen Ida.
Honky Tonk rebooted with Junior Brown, and Country Boogie kicked with Asleep At The Wheel, High Noon, and Big Sandy And His Fly-Rite Boys.
As a tonic to Grunge and atonal abrasion, many melodic musics of the past found revivals, like Surf, Ska, Lounge, Easy Listening, and Swing.
Rock'n'Roll had first swung out of the Jump Jive bands that succeeded '40s Swing Jazz, so the '90s Swing Revival became a swiveling cousin to the current Rockabilly bands. When Stray Cats went astray to different ways again, both styles found the perfect hybrid in The Brian Setzer Orchestra.
The '90s Swing scene jumped, jived, and wailed with Royal Crown Revue, Lavay Smith And Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers, Squirrel Nut Zippers, and The Atomic Fireballs.
Some wanted to bring the same level of shock, danger, and abrasion to Rockabilly that it had when it was first heard. They deconstructed and reconstructed it with trash, noize, tribal, and wailing textures.: psychobilly, trashabilly, tattoos, property damage, arrests, etc.
The Cramps, The Paladins, and Thee Headcoats brought it through the Garage.
The Reverend Horton Heat, Restless, The A-Bones, and Mad Sin paint-peeled squalid walls with Psychobilly.
Teengenerate (Japan), The 184.108.40.206.'s (Japan), Os Catalepticos (Brazil), and Lobos Negros (Spain) preached the unholy to the world.
Kryptonix, Dexter Romweber, and The Deadly Snakes thrashed it in the Trash.
Something Shocking; Pussy Crush; Mr. Airplane Man
Devil women like Thee Headcoatees (with Holly Golightly), Something Shocking, The Honeymoon Killers, Pussy Crush, Mr. Airplane Man, and The Detroit Cobras punched faces and carved epitaphs.
Hasil Adkins; Jon Spencer Blues Explosion; P.J. Harvey
And the unhinged continued to make doors where there hadn't been.
"Well, there's little ol' Suzie turning 17
But everybody knows her as the Rockabilly queen
And there's ol' Slim, quiet as a mouse
He grabs ol' Suzie, they'll tear up the house!"
-"Rock Billy Boogie", The Johnny Burnette Trio (1956)
Off in his own zone, Hasil Adkins had been banging out clamor on rare singles or home tapes since Rock actually started. He was rediscovered by Norton Records and set free to derange the new faithful with clatter, growl, and cackle.
And then there's Dread Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin done reggae sung by an Elvis impersonator. Or The King, an Irish Elvis bringing the flares to current songs like Nirvana's "Come As You Are". (Sadly, his other version in Japanese wasn't available for the music player.)
And what can you say to artists who pummel every song to pieces with glee like Ministry (with guest Gibby Haynes), Bodeco, The Honeymoon Killers, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and P.J. Harvey? Other than, "That's them, your honor."
There's the kitsch suburban dream impression of the '50s, and then there's the complex period of struggle and breakthroughs it actually was in reality. '80s films evoking the period struggled with these conflicting narratives (in a mirror of its own exact contradictions), and naturally the '90s films challenged these visions further.
In BLUE VELVET (1986), David Lynch had created a lumbering burg where the dusk of the '50s never quite faded. This took on deeper, dreamier, darker life with the phenomenal success of his series TWIN PEAKS, a timeless mid-century town where secrets bent back and there was always music in the air: especially Duane Eddy twang, Mancini bop, and the Girl Group sighs of Julee Cruise. Chris Isaak, on the same wavelength, brought the haunting shimmer to Lynch's WILD AT HEART (1990). And the post-series film TWIN PEAKS: Fire Walk With Me (1992) rumbled with Link Wray chords, Beat poetics, and heroin jazz.
THE HOT SPOT; THE IRON GIANT
Dennis Hopper's neo-noir THE HOT SPOT (1990) featured jam music by his dream-team of John Lee Hooker, Miles Davis, and Taj Majal. John Waters' CRY BABY (1990), starring Johnny Depp and Iggy Pop, pulled his most perverse move yet by scoring a mainstream hit and inspiring a Broadway musical.
The story palatte broadened. Robert Townsend echoed the early Doo Wop years of The Temptations with his parable THE FIVE HEARTBEATS (1991), as sung by The Dells. The early '50s music scene -including Jazz, R&B, and thus Rock'n'Roll- had been vitalized by Cuban Mambo bands, as fictionalized in THE MAMBO KINGS (1992), based on a Pulitzer-winning novel.
The public had now worked through its reveries on the 50's in twenty years of films, but -with generational turnover- it now moved on into the '60s (THE DOORS, THAT THING YOU DO) and the '70s (VELVET GOLDMINE, SUMMER OF SAM) through the decade. These films reflected revolutions in culture and ideology that had been kindled by the '50s.
But since the '50s was the spark of these rebellions, it still flickered through the flicks. PLEASANTVILLE (1998) attempts to contrast the current suburbia with the idealized '50s sitcom version, and posits itself as a liberating force. (The enjoyable BACK TO THE FUTURE films reflect this same blinkered view. Middle Class suburbia is actually a cartoon coccoon in any era, too sated with comfort to push for change, and oblivious that all social advances come from the less privileged outside of it.) More cannily, this is handled better in THE IRON GIANT (1999), the classic animated film by Brad Bird, in a compassionate allegory of freedom of choice vs. conformity and aggression. The better stance in any era is to face the ugly truths by challenging and changing them. Rock the present and roll forward.
The '90s indie labels and the explosive sales of CDs brought a new depth and range of support to the ongoing 50's Rock'n'Roll music revival. In the 2000s, more acts than ever would arise, but with new challenges in the digital music age.
The original Rock'n'Roll styles of the 1950s -Rockabilly, electric Blues, Honky Tonk, Mambo, Cajun, and Doo Wop- became perennials that never stopped. Even with all the radical mutations of musics that followed, hardcore tribes still kept the original root sounds alive in the '60s and the '70s.
In the '80s, this roots underground became more rampant, propelling a spectrum of artists, from the traditional to the radical.
1950s Rock'n'Roll continued to undercurrent Punk music in the spillover to the '80s. Its reckless rhythms and delinquent sneer rumbles all through The Ramones, Subway Sect, Lydia Lunch, Pearl Harbor & The Explosions, X, The Clash, The Fall, and Dead Kennedys.
Since Ska had originally morphed out of Jamaican love of R&B, naturally the Ska Revival bands like The (English) Beat, The Specials, and Madness took it back to the roots at times.
It spread laterally through acolytes like Social Distortion, Husker Du, Joan Jett, The Smiths, The Delmonas, and Jesus & Mary Chain. The style of '50s Rock and the energy of Punk would lead to Psychobilly.
FM radio formatting (and, initially, MTV) continued to resegregate people out of the music they helped create, with the robot mantra 'Rock=white, Dance=black'.
(Short truth: everybody creates everything.)
Despite this closed-loop ignorance, defiant artists still echoed the sonic heritage they had every right to, with '50s styles glimmering in songs by Donna Summer, Joan Armatrading, The Spinners, Gary U.S. Bonds, and The Neville Brothers, as well as Howard Huntsberry's note-perfect portrayal of Jackie Wilson in the film LA BAMBA (1987).
If 1970 had been all about cultural inclusion, a decade of enforced division by FM Radio formats had resifted everyone into separate niches. Thus The BusBoys arrived in 1980 into a music system and marketed audience more segregated than any time since 1954. They turned this challenge into a mission to subvert every stereotype from every angle, from their mock-servant persona to their gleeful tear through music styles. In "Johnny Soul'd Out" they channel Chuck Berry to parody all imposed limitations.
Buzz And The Flyers (photo by Mick Rock);
At the same time, Dig Wayne and his Rockabilly band, Buzz And The Flyers, sparked New York but lit up the Ted crowds best in the UK. (Dig went on to front the hit new wave/soul band, JoBoxers.>) London's own Colbert Hamilton And The Hell-Razors trysted the cats and kitties with their first single in 1984. By then, Barrence Whitfield And The Savages were rippin' it up and havin' a ball tonight going full-throttle Little Richard on their first album.
Little Richard himself would team with Fishbone and Living Colour; and Mick Collins of The Gories transmitted John Lee Hooker.
Contrary to sexist narratives, women were a huge force in the original 1950s Rock'n'Roll. They continued on into all the various styles that evolved through the '60s and '70s in ever-exponential numbers, but were often thinned out from the herd of '50s revivalists.
But if someone is held out because of false limits, they will fight back by ignoring them.
In the '80s, rockin' women began reclaiming this aspect of their herstory. Heart and Girlshool had the boogie; The Cosmopolitans sassed from the garage; Cyndi Lauper first perfected her Buddy Holly hiccup fronting Blue Angel; The Pretenders never forgot to keep it real; and rockafillies finally infiltrated the Teds movement, and bands like The Ace Cats and The Dead Beats, or flew solo like Rosie Flores and Beverly Stauber.
This turf stake would expand in the '90s, and become a continent in the 2000s.
Shakin' Stevens; Jimmy Lee Maslon; Gina And The Rockin' Rebels
The late '70s Teddy Boy Revival train kept a-rollin' with Shakin' Stevens, Crazy Cavan, Bonneville, Jimmie Lee Maslon, and -at last- with women like Ravenna And The Magnetix and Gina And The Rockin' Rebels.
"The Cramps weren't thinking of this weird subgenre when we coined the term 'psychobilly' in 1976 to describe what we were doing. To us all the '50s rockabillies were psycho to begin with."
-Poison Ivy, of The Cramps
The Cramps may've sired Psychobilly sideways, but it quickly metastasized globally with Misfits, The Meteors, Guana Batz, and Batmobile.
Misfits; Demented Are Go
By the mid-'80s a Psychobilly scene stomped at London's Klub Foot, with acts like Restless, Frenzy, Styngrites, The Coffin Nails, and Demented Are Go. (Like the initial Teds revival, it started too male, which would gradually change.)
The blistering rush was paralleled by revivalists like Barrence Whitfield, The Milkshakes (with Billy Childish), and The Leroi Brothers; blues blasters The Paladins; and the garage of The Delmonas (with Ludella Black) and The Gories.
David Bowie in 'Absolute Beginners';
Neil Young; The HoneyDrippers
The second wave of rockers still relayed the torch with incendiary numbers by Neil Young, John Fogerty, The Rolling Stones, Bill Wyman's Willie And The Poor Boys, Charlie Watts with Rocket 88. And was run forward by third decade rockers like David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Sylvain Sylvain, Patti Smith, and The Honeydrippers (fronted by Robert Plant, featuring Jimmy Page)..
And of course true-school Rock bopped in the solo endeavors of Messrs. Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr.
But some just wanted the original Rockabilly back as pure as they could distill it. In the early '80s a legion of coiffed, tattooed, slapbass combos dizzied up the dancehalls. Following in the suede shoes of the Teds and Robert Gordon, they mirrored the zest and flair of the psychobillies but with a more deliberately classic sound.
Carl Perkins once wailed, "Go, cat, go!", and now catalyzed a movement: thus prowled The Blue Cats, The Rhythm Cats, The BopCats, The Polecats (UK), The Teencats (Norway), The Ace Cats (Germany), The Go-Katz, Levi And The Rockats, and The Catmen loud and proud.
Lee Rocker, Brian Setzer, Slim Jim Phantom
This of course unleashed the massive mainstream success, through MTV exposure, of Stray Cats, featuring Brian Setzer, Lee Rocker, and Slim Jim Phantom; their breakthrough may have arguably done more to revive '50s Rock for the mainstream and cement it as a tradition for the ages than any other act or movement.
Also rockin' the bop till the sock hops sagged dragged and dropped were Les Forbans (France), The Shakin' Pyramids (Scotland), The Sharks, The Rattlers, and The Dead Beats led by Suzy May.
The Fabulous Thunderbirds; Lucinda Williams; Los Lobos
Meanwhile the main force in '80s music was synth-driven, a gestalt expression of futurism.
Rock has always trysted in the cross-current between the earthy and the alien, the organic and the eerie. One movement insures a parry. But for all the sleek sheen and chrome dreams of the sythethic scene, others pined for rust and dirt and soul.
By the mid-'80s a Roots rebuttal kicked butts with revisals of Blues, Country, Mariachi, and Zydeco. The pulse of '50s Rock throbbed in the veins of The Fabulous Thunderbirds (with Jimmie Vaughan), Joe Ely, Lucinda Williams, Los Lobos, Marcia Ball, Rosie Flores, Dwight Yoakam, Katie Webster, Omar And The Howlers, Buckwheat Zydeco, and Lou Ann Barton.
Abstractly, Paul Simon connected the historical circuit from Township Jive to Doo Wop when he worked with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, as recognition of organic World musics flourished.
Texacala Jones; Jason And The Scorchers; k.d. lang
Simultaneously, some artists shotgun-wed these roots forms to punk energy, in a trend loosely corralled as Cowpunk.
Bringing some throwdown to the hoedown were Tex(acala Jones) And The Horseheads, The Knitters (X in plain disguise), Lone Justice, The Textones with Carla Olson, Jason And The Scorchers, The Long Ryders, and the early k.d. lang.
Meanwhile, in the wake of Outlaw Country artists like Nelson and Jennings, a new breed of Country upstarts were rejecting the factory pop to re-embrace Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and George Jones. Thus rose Neotraditionalists like Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakum, Roseanne Cash, Townes Van Zandt, Patti Loveless, Lyle Lovett (who brought in Soul and Jazz), and Steve Earle. Bluegrass caught new fire with Allison Krauss. The spirit of Gram Parsons lived in Emmylou Harris and The Desert Rose Band (with Chris Hillman). And k.d. lang worked with Owen Bradley, Patsy Cline's producer, to redefine herself as a Country torch singer.
These movements set the stage for Alt-Country in the early '90s.
Willie "Mink" DeVille;
Jim Jarmusch and Tom Waits;
And you know, some people are just crazy. You can't tell 'em nothin'. They're just gonna go right on.
Somewhere in the mania of Mink Deville, Alan Vega, David Byrne, The Gun Club, Tom Waits, The Birthday Party, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, 45 Grave, and the deranged Hasil Adkins, you can darkly parse the distorted shards of '50s Rock.
Chuck Berry's all-star concert film;
Little Richard's biography;
Eric Clapton, Carl Perkins, George Harrison,
Ringo Starr, Dave Edmunds
But you can't beat the real Real.
The original pioneers of Rock'n'Roll got a lot of respect due in the '70s and this reached a peak in the late-'80s.
The Million Dollar Quartet returned in 1985 for a new 30th anniversary album: Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, with Roy Orbison subbing for Elvis. Jerry of course went and got a gun to hunt down a Rolling Stone scribe (because they had accused him of killing one of his wives).
Chuck Berry was celebrated royally by his peers and scion in the concert documentary HAIL! HAIL! ROCK 'N' ROLL (1987), with all-stars led by Keith Richards, including Julian Lennon, Etta James, Linda Ronstadt, and Robert Cray.
A bestselling biography brought the Fourth Coming of Little Richard, who became ubiquitous on chat shows and record cameos.
Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" haunted David Lynch's BLUE VELVET (1986). (The film's eerie evocation of a late-'50s/early '60s-esque variant of the present day, with dream pop music, would be the template for 'Twin Peaks'.) It brought Roy back in a lavish relaunch album and special supported by famous acolytes, including U2, Jeff Lynne, Tom Waits, Bonnie Raitt, and Elvis Costello.
Carl Perkins likewise got the all-star treatment with a concert TV special featuring George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Dave Edmunds, Lee Rocker and Slim Jim Phantom, and Roseanne Cash.
The Traveling Wilburys
This led to the tongue-in-cheek supergroup, The Traveling Wilburys, with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison.
'Back To The Future' (art by Drew Struzan);
Lou Diamond Phillips as Ritchie Valens;
Youki Kudoh and Masatoshi Nagase in 'Mystery Train'
The '70s had remembered the '50s directly in films and shows, whether heartfelt or half-baked.
The '80s reflected the '50s more abstractly.
HEART BEAT (1980) simplified the true love triangle of Kerouac and the Cassadys. STREETS OF FIRE (1984) collaged all the styles from the '50s to the '80s into one parallel world. ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS (UK, 1986), featuring David Bowie, achieved the same through anachronisms about '50s Britain.
Conservative Americans in the '80s lived in a suburban sitcom fantasy of the 50's revived, that ignored the real tumult of either decade and specifically the progress of the '60s and '70s between. Hence Reagan and BACK TO THE FUTURE. (Relax, I'm not knocking your favorite movie, I like it, too. Bear with me.)
This clever time-travel movie connects 1985 to 1955 in an ancestral causal loop. Yes, we all like the movie..., (spoiler critique:) but saying a suburban '80s kid inspired Chuck Berry to invent Rock'n'Roll by way of Van Halen is a crime against culture on too many levels. No. Luckily, this bogus butterfly effect got its wings clipped when HAIL! HAIL! ROCK 'N' ROLL arrived in time soon to restore reality.
Just as Buddy Holly was immortalized for new fans with THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY (1978), the same happened for his friend Ritchie Valens with LA BAMBA (1987); the biopic featured Marshall Crenshaw (as Buddy Holly), Brian Setzer (as Eddie Cochran), and Howard Huntsberry (as Jackie Wilson), with a hit soundtrack ghosted by Los Lobos.
If the spectres of '50s gang pulps and films echoed in Francis Ford Coppola's adaptions of THE OUTSIDERS (1982) and RUMBLE FISH (1983), then the era was reflected directly with the magic realist timetrip of PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED (1986).
And if the '50s had haunted the decade askance, then the ghost of Elvis literally haunts the modern Memphis of Jarmusch's MYSTERY TRAIN (1989), featuring Screaming Jay Hawkins, Rufus Thomas, and Joe Strummer.
With the overground success of Stray Cats, and all the underground experimentation beyond the margins, the '80s broadened the scope and depth of the '50s revival. In the '90s, these seeds would flourish in a new landscape of support for proud Revival acts.
"Liberation for all. Everything must be rethought." ______________
Rock'n'Soul music is a baton relayed by everyone. ROCK SEX is about all of the creative connections that link our shared culture together: ____________
BLUES, MAMBO, JAZZ, ROCKABILLY, SURF, BEAT, SOUL, GARAGE, PSYCHEDELIA, FUNK, GLAM, PUNK, NEW WAVE, HIPHOP, POSTPUNK, GRUNGE, RIOT GRRRL, ELECTRO! _______________
This is our party and everyone is invited!