Global Warming Totally Sucks – Birdemic: Shock & Terror

After seeing Tommy Wiseau’s The Room in Cleveland a few months ago, I was sure it reached a new benchmark in bad film-making. Not only is it steeped in horrendous acting, baffling dialogue, fleeting plot points and characters, awkward sex scenes, a grossly unappealing leading man, and suspiciously plentiful assertions of heterosexuality, but, adding to the humor, Wiseau tried to save face by selling it as a black comedy.

Then, I saw Birdemic: Shock and Terror.

Completed in 2008, but not released until this year,  Birdemic is the latest “Best Worst” movie gaining a cult following on the indie theater midnight movie circuit. Generously described (with intentional humor) in the Moviehead press release as a “Romantic Thriller,” the first 40 minutes painstakingly detail the reunion of high school classmates who start dating. It almost like watching one of those movies from high school language lab that teach conversational French. And it’s followed by another 40 minutes painstakingly detailing the new young couple’s mostly pointless attempts to escape a sudden attack by a mob of crazy ass birds. And there’s still the 10 minute finale where the heroes collect to watch the birds, which seem stuck in mid-air.

And all while pushing a serious political agenda!

Brazenly submitted for the Sundance Film Festival in 2009 (although let’s face it, they do show a fair amount pretentious shit there), it was not surprisingly rejected. Aside from trying to make a movie out of two halves of a half-developed whole, coupled with the usual flaws that make these movies so comical (bad acting, loose logic, and bizarre dialogue, etc.), Birdemic demonstrates a new level of technical ignorance. Reaction and establishing shots are done to death. Scenes filmed in noisy locations muffle conversations several times. Shots that look like the mistaken start of a dream sequence. My particular favorite was the stock photo in the news report about melting glaciers in the Arctic that was obscured by the Ghetty Images watermark. But above all else, Birdemic takes the cake for worst special effects which are truly so awful, they’ll leave you speechless. And how do you create an atmosphere of destruction and avionic terror on a mere budget of $10 grand? Why, animated GIFs! Except, most of the time, it seems as though the flying terrors are both harmless and impervious to threat, as though all people needed to do was settle for the fact that birds will now occasionally hover above them because they’re angry about pollution.

Hey, it’s a small price to pay for messing up the environment!


Zen and the Art of Bad Movies

Our first BBQ of the summer this year ended with something different this time: a screening of the spectacularly bad fantasy film, Troll 2. The recent release of the making-of documentary, Best Worst Movie, has sparked renewed interest among cult fans. That it has generated headlines in major media goes to show you that the history of an utterly shitty movie can turn out to be even more entertaining than the movie itself. And this particular making-of documentary was directed by none other than Michael Paul Stephenson, the toothy, freckle-faced young star of Troll 2.

There’s something really intriguing about bad movies. Like that way that you pass a really bad car wreck and just can’t look away. Badly written, poorly acted, and shoddily designed, these movies are some kind of confounding testament to serious malfunctions in filmmaking, if not the human psyche altogether.

And yet, even the worst can, paradoxically, be the best…around. Their sole redeeming value is basically social cohesion. That they’re laughably horrible makes them ripee for riffing with a roomful of friends. And there’s certainly been far more cinematic stinkers than any “Worst Of” list can reasonably fit without being overwhelming. There’s plenty of obvious choices. Most any movie Ed Wood ever made. A slew of Japanese creature features from the 1950s. (The Japanese have come a long way, even inspiring American filmmakers who hunger for source material for sub-par remakes). There’s the over-hyped flops like The English Patient (elaborated on in a Seinfeld episode) and Battlefield Earth (which was labeled “Travolting”).The commercially-driven star vehicle like Cool as Ice.

With the Drive-In and late night movie marathons on cable television now being all but a thing of the past, obscure selections like Space MutinyMitchellSanta Clause Conquers the MartiansMonster A Go-Go, and a curious abundance of 1950s teenage rebel movies that overdid it on the slang were resurrected for Mystery Science Theater 3000. (Mike Nelson and the gang continued the tradition with the mp3-based Riff Trax). In addition to regular screenings of Rocky Horror Picture Show, the midnight movie circuit in various cities now run a small monopoly of so-bad-it’s-good fare. DC residents at least are also privy to the goodwill of the Washington Psychotronic Film Society, now with 20 years of real turkeys under their belt. Carl, the host, usually enlightens attendees of the free, weekly screenings with hilarious backstory. And I wonder,  if in time, Stephen Baldwin’s hammy Target, will join the list.

(Click here to read the rest of this post).

Rock n’ Roll in the Rising Sun: Tokyo Pop

Tokyo Pop is probably an unrecognized film title to all but a handful of people, most of whom are likely rabid 80s film fans. And without the transition to the more readily accessible DVD, it remains not a great film (pacing tends to be a problem), but still an overlooked, low-budget gem in the grand universe of obscure cult films.

Centering on young and naive aspiring American and Japanese musicians, Tokyo Pop contrasts the mid-80s new wave, punk and rock influences of urban Japan with the backdrop of idyllic tradition and historical roots; an obvious criticism of commercial globalization and the “Americanization” of a once-distinct Eastern identity. Rock, pop, punk and new wave (check out an early performance of “Rauken Rauken” by Japanese goof-girl rockers, Papaya Paranoia) – it’s all image and personality. Like the old photos of youth in 1980s post-Communist countries: a carefully manufactured young “cool”.

There are essentially two leading characters who, by fate (and the script!), cross paths. Carrie Hamilton, the late daughter of comedienne Carol Burnette (she may be more recognized as one of the instigating rivals in Shag), shares the lead as Wendy Reed, a struggling singer with no hope for security and mobility in the New York City dives scene. Inspired by a postcard of a friend who boasts of success in the business following a move to Tokyo, Wendy packs up her sparing belongs and decides to join her friend. Except things don’t go as plan. Stunned not so much by culture shock, but news of her friend having already moved someplace else, she sticks it out. And, on the advice of fellow nomadic gaijins (the romanticized gringo: Americans) she,  takes up residency in a group house plastered with Disney memorabilia and, in the closest thing to paying singer she could quickly find, entertains drunken entourages of Japanese businessmen in a karaoke bar with half-hearted renditions of corny American folk songs.

Stranded in the city one night, Wendy meets Hiro (Yutaka Tadokoro, the vocalist for the Red Warriors who is probably better recognized as the director of the whiskey commercial in Lost in Translation), another young, aspiring rock musician. Obsessed with American and British pop culture, especially the musical legends like Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, and the Beatles, this is basically the bulk of the limited English he can communicate to Wendy. His family is the same – in one scene, his grandfather, in traditional garb, scowls at his daughter who is attempting to follow the jazzercise routines she’s watching on television as they sit around the dinner table with Hiro and his sister. A big bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken crowds the table and Hiro’s mother is ironically bewildered that her son isn’t interested in more “Japanese” things. Even Hiro’s father, a divorcee (taboo no more!) specializes in the 80s novelty of synthetic food sculptures.

Hiro and Wendy’s first encounter is eventually miffed by a misunderstanding over the sharing of a hotel room, but eventually the two hit it off, much to the delight of Hiro’s band, a rock quartet, who want the newfound blond gaijin to be in their band, certain that this is just the gimmick they need to get recognized by the country’s most famous producer, since sneaking trying to sneak him demo tapes hasn’t worked. Reluctant at first, Wendy seems unable to find any other band to meaningfully support a singing career (X of Japan briefly appear in their massive coifs, and delegate Wendy, the new band mate for about a second, the back up singer’s tambourine).

Hiro’s band is basically a cover band, churning out live performances of corny American pop songs like Three Dog Night’s “Do You Believe in Magic?” Amazingly, they do achieve major public recognition, but only through some trivial event – a photographer happened to capture a backstage spat between Wendy and someone else. Suddenly, the cover band is topping the country’s charts. And yet, both Wendy and Hiro, at the helm of  a thriving gimmick band, aren’t entirely happy with the expected definition of “success” (money and fame). In private, Hiro has performed for Wendy the songs he has written, which he sings in Japanese. Completely absent of the Western manufacture, the songs are sincere. Wendy, willing to walk away in order to get Hiro and his bandmates to abandon the gimmick, encourages Hiro to perform these songs for his audiences. In other words: art for the sake of art.

Released in 1988 and yet to be re-released, the film was co-written and directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui, though her 1992 directorial effort is more widely known: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Tokyo Pop was a lot like the 1987 culture-clash dramedy, Living on Tokyo Time. Unfortuantely, there’s little net-recorded history on the movie, other than (surprisingly) a 2007 New York Times Review.

Imagine That! Rumors of a Mighty Boosh Movie

Okay dear anglophiles… yes, the Muvika! blog is reserved for posts about movies. But, rumors of The Mighty Boosh finally making it to the big screen in the next two years, gives license to discuss the television show here… even if the status of the movie at this point is unclear to the point of making it little more than a vague rumor.

It’s not just any show, which is why I’ll take this stretch of liberty. The Mighty Boosh is one of the funniest and most original British sitcoms in the BBC catalog in at least the last five years. And, that’s a tough claim to attempt to defend, considering that the competition these days include the wonderfully written League of Gentlemen, Spaced, Black Books, Peep Show, the inter-related Garth Merenghi’s Dark Place and IT Crowd, and even the redundant sketch comedy of Little Britain and Catherine Tate.  But, while every one of these shows (and others I haven’t mentioned) puts nearly every bit of American sitcoms of the last decade to utter shame–except for the intermittent genius in shows like Seinfeld, Arrested Development, and 30 Rock–few have attained more than cult status among American television consumers (unless introduced to wider audiences redressed as a tame American version of its more daring British source). These are the brilliant secrets that, until they ever achieve that transition into a region code suitable for DVD players in the United States, must often be enjoyed in fragmented bootlegs. To that I’ll say thank goodness for YouTube… but, damn the copyright police!

At least in the realm of network television, BBC offerings expose the limitations of American sitcoms. The BBC sitcoms aren’t “daring” just because the British allow fewer restrictions on language and sexual content. But that most American sitcoms, bound by the hollow FCC restrictions on language, indulge sexual innuendo to an overly compensatory extreme.  Maybe a writer for American television can get away with slipping in the words “dog penis” more than twice, but this is basically what has come to embody the definition of “risque.” Despite the supposed history of more daring content in American television in the last twenty or thirty years (especially anything with Bea Arthur attached), the bulk of American sitcoms today are predictable and watered down, an observation was recently made in an episode of 30 Rock. (Imagine being subject to hours of episodes of The Big Bang Theory). By contrast, the BBC has nurtured shows that experimented with the traditional notions of sitcom construction. League of Gentlemen completely destroyed the paradigm in terms of consistency of characters throughout the life of a series, and, along with Little Britain and Catherine Tate dedicated a significant part of the budget to costume and effects. Even the more familiar Extras, created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant following the success of their previous sitcom, The Office, offered criticism of its own industry’s obsession with celebrity and spectacle–albeit in a sort of defeatist soapbox manner.

The brilliance of modern British sitcom has been injected into the American lineup in another form: Americanized versions. The most obvious example is The Office, although in Americanizing the show, the emphasis has shifted to its comedic ploy of heightened awareness and awkward situations taken to an extreme, while omitting the social and political commentary regarding the drudgery of the office life. HBO recently bought the BBC comedy Little Britain, pumping money into the show and now having it filmed live on location. Most recently,  NBC was to have an American version of The IT Crowd, but thankfully the project was scrapped before a pilot even aired, although the Independent Film Channel (IFC) had talked about picking up the project. And in November of 2008, MTV2 discussed the development of  a Boosh spin-off.

The Mighty Boosh originated from the stand-up performances of Noel Felding and Julian Barratt. Before the irreverent adventures of the Zooniverse aired on television for three series (British sitcoms typically run shorter terms than do American ones and are referred to as “series” rather than “seasons”) beginning in 2004, it was performed as a live stage show (and still is, touring in festivals in Europe), and later, as a BBC radio program. Described as a surrealist comedy and increasingly more so as it reached a third series, the show was something obviously targeted for younger, hipper audiences. Most of the episodes retained that theatrical look to it, especially in fantasy scenes which depended more on costume, color and lighting for effect.

More accurately, The Mighty Boosh is a surreal musical comedy. Like Cheech & Chong did in their stand-up and later, in their movies, the Boosh cast (and primarily, Barratt and Felding) wrote and performed an array of hilarious and relevant new wave tracks to highlight their situations, with the duo establishing a trademark for crimping.

At least for American viewers not really yet exposed to revolutions occurring in British sitcoms, this violated the assumption of most British sitcoms being very dated and mildly funny shows surrounding proper English folk, something influenced by the handful of shows like Are You Being Served and Keeping Up Appearances which continue to run on PBS, the poor Yanks outlet of the cultural products (outside of films) coming from the Motherland.

BBC’s uniqueness, too, is the luxury of situational comedy whereas the American sitcom settings tend to be very limiting, centering around the interactions and relationships of family and close-knit friends, the primary setting typically being someone’s home. Originally, The Mighty Boosh took place in a zoo (the Zooniverse) where the ambitious traditionalist, Howard Moon (Barratt) and his charmingly dim-witted Mod friend, Vince Noir (Felding) worked as zoo keepers. And it was usually Howard envisioning himself the revered hero of every occasion that got them both in trouble. Secondary characters include Dixon Bainbridge (originally the IT Crowd‘s Richard Ayoade), Bob Fossil, the wry shaman Naboo (played by Noel’s brother Michael, who was the inspiration for the show’s name), his faithful gorilla companion, Bollo, and the Hitcher, a regular, rhyming semi-nemesis. As the series aged, the setting changed to Howard and Vince sharing a flat with Naboo and Bollo in second season, and then, steered into the really surreal with Howard and Vince working in Naboo’s second-hand shop.

BBC Films has expressed their interest in producing a Boosh movie, but there has never been a firm date set because the order of projects for the Boosh team at this point is unclear. They intend to tour the live stage show (which has been solidly booked in venues around Eastern Europe for the last few months), but afterwards, expect to take a break and then resume with either a fourt series or the film. Whatever the next move, nothing is likely to be ready by 2010. Get started catching up on the episodes, my fellow Americans.

*Thanks to J. Rushton & Co. for introducing me to the show.

One For My Brother: A ‘Best Of’ List

(DRAFT) Anecdotes and commentary on Gilroy Drastik’s Top 10 favorite movies… (as hard as it was to limit the list to just 10)…


Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women!

Inspired by the Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916, Spielberg’s 1975 iconographic movie of the predatory Great White terrorizing the fictional northeastern Amity Island (filmed at Martha’s Vineyard) was adapted from Peter Benchley’s novel. Ironically, Benchley has said if he’d known a bit more about the behavior of Great Whites, he’d not have written the book as it was. Although, when approached by Doubleday, the writer was told that what they wanted wasn’t non-fiction. They wanted a story about a shark terrorizing a town. For once the Creature Feature was enormously successful (rated among the top 250 of IMDB) and only slightly corny (the obvious moments when on-screen actors are dealing with difficult, animatronic puppet). Despite the intensity and suspense that establishes Jaws as one of the greatest horror movies (or maybe plain old thriller is a better genre heading), it was followed by several sequels, a shitty NES game, and one incredibly ridiculous cheesy theme park ride that only nominally have anything in common with their predecessor film (they were definitely “some bad hat, harry!”).

In a nutshell, the plot centers on the newly ordained Amity Police Chief, Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) who inherits a major dilemma in his initial service – a string of shark attacks during the Island tourist town’s busiest season. Initially met with stupid, yet understandable political and economic pressures bearing down on him as to whether the beaches should be shut down, a few deaths has the small town eager for a quick solution like taking row boats out and a hanging a slab of meat on a fish hook, waiting to throw a handful of dynamite in a hungry shark’s mouth. But, Brody, ever the pragmatist, solicits the help of a university-trained marine biologist (Richard Dreyfuss) and a wry traditionalist boat captain (Robert Shaw, who also starred in The Deep, another sea-side Benchley adaptation) to put an end to the town’s crippling threat – a great white shark.

Farewell and adieu to you fine Spanish ladies…

In part, the movie has survived the test of time because of the cool of its leading late actors, Roy Scheider (Brody) and Englishman Robert Shaw (Quinn). But, it also survives as an example of effective elements in suspense that went beyond the transparent thrills and scare tactics that have saturated most modern American horror. Jaws manages to bring all of its nervous development to a claustrophobic climax rigged with intense doubt – will three desperate men aboard a rather small boat managed to finally put an end to the small town’s persistent terror?

It’s been said that the beach population was significantly down in the year of Jaws‘s release, something understandable where audiences were just as unfamiliar with shark behavior as the author of its source material.


March of the Indie Kids: Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist generated buzzing interest prior to its theatrical release in early October. But, as a film where most all of the positive reviews could offer little more than descriptions as a “sweet little movie,” it’s destined for cult status upon DVD release.

The failure to make much of an impression isn’t all that surprising. Adapted from Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s pop novel, the anti-climatic plot centers on a handful of bland, interconnected teenage indie music fans who spend a Friday night traversing Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Village to fend off obnoxious ex’s, flesh out potential new relationships, track down a missing drunk friend, and find clues to a secret show hosted by their favorite band. All of it is very reminiscent of young, night-out vignette relationship comedies like 200 Cigarettes and Detroit Rock City. But where Nick & Norah lures admirers with innocent charm, it becomes persistently (and annoyingly) unimposing. This is “indie” personified.

With playful lettering doting about the opening credits, or the casting of Michael Cera as the leading character, Nick, or filling the soundtrack with popular indie bands, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist might elicit expectations that this is something obsessed with being quirky like Juno or willing to trump substance entirely for the sake of novelty like Napoleon Dynamite. Aside from Nick’s unique mode of transportation – one of the last functioning Hugos, a queer-core band called The Jerk Offs, and a running gag involving chewing gum, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist gives its characters and settings a genuine and sincere focus, but to the extent that it becomes about as “slice of life” as you can get… well, except for Norah’s family ties to the music industry.

The movie begins with the typical exaggerated teenage dramas. Heartbroken Nick (portrayed in Michael Cera’s typical soft-spoken, down-to-earth manner) takes the day off from school to busy himself with making a mix CD for the insensitive Tris (Alexis Denzia, who makes a more believable as a Romanian Olympic gymnast than a high school student), the girl who broke up with him on his birthday. His friends, with whom he plays in The Jerk Offs, encourage their depressed mate to get out of the house and join them for the gig they’re playing in the city (curiously, they’re headlining for Bishop Allen).

Elsewhere at a posh private school, Tris tells a gaggle of gossipy classmates that she’s glad she and Nick finally broke up as she tosses into the trash yet another mix CD he’d given her. It’s the typical situation of the decent guy temporarily clouded by the insincere girl. Norah (Kat Dennings) rescues the CD from the trash, as she’s done before. She’s Tris’s classmate and also her opposite. She doesn’t know Nick, but she’s a fan of his mix CDs, noting that he doesn’t just carefully select a playlist, but creates the artwork for the sleeve, too. Obviously, Tris just never “got it”.

Nick and Norah: innocuously adorable smart kids with a musical kinship who are clearly perfect for each other.

The young cast of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist are are unsupervised, vintage-clad, self-conscious, occassionally profound, and randomly adventurous. And they share a Friday night we’ve all had at that age: vague plans with friends and no particular need to remain stationary. Hell, the aimless wandering and haphazzard interaction still occurs for the unsettled drinking-age crowd living in the city. And for the curiously nomadic, the possibilities are endless in New York City. Though, it’s funny how much gas these particular friends blow driving all over Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Village, or how they always manage to find a parking space right in front of their destination.

But, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist deserves praise for reviving a seemingly dead sub-genre of teen films: music as a quintissential role in youth socialization (not to sound so academic about it). This is a sub-genre distinct from the urban teen movies that have emerged in the last ten years, as the vicarious thrill of breakdancing showdowns or the epic drum cadence take on music in a more concrete, rather than abstract political and expressive form or, more simply, that understanding of “better living through music.”

Early on, it was rock n’ roll (American Grafitti, I Wanna Hold Your Hand) that embodied the youngster’s principals, ambitions and rebellion and, for most teen films (exceptions being movies like House Party), it has been variations of rock n’ roll ever since (Quadrophenia, American Pop, Suburbia, Empire Records, 200 Cigarettes). Indie music is the latest epoch of rock music (derivative as it is), one guided by a new generation of music-makers and fans quite different from the cigarettes-and-leather generations before them. It may seem tamer by comparison, but indie music embraces themes of the inward and emotional, the sentiment (even Juno did the same, with it’s Moldy Peaches/Kimya Dawson-filled soundtrack). Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist‘s own playlist includes the likes of the more well-known: Band of Horses, Ratatat, We Are Scientists, Tapes N’ Tapes, The Ravonettes, Vampire Weekend, Modest Mouse, and Bishop Allen, who also make a cameo appearance, among others.

Indie, in its somber form, shares a devotion to the internal with the last major epoch of rock: Grunge (although only to some extent, since Grunge itself still had ties to the politics of punk). But, where indie does avoid indulging quirky novelty, it seems to remain so dreadfully subtle. The marching feet fade into whimpers.

Cigarettes, Dirty Laundry, and Mangled Manifestos: Reality Bites

There seems to be a puzzling trend lately of non-fiction authors in their 40s publishing defenses of “The Greatest Generation.” But, contrary to the presumption that this title refers to those of the World War II era, as it commonly has before, the new (self-)decried honor instead refers to Gen Xers, although these authors frequently lament over the validity of the title, or any title at all. These defenses are similar in their reporting of the history: Baby Boomers are a selfish lot, incessantly urging credit for influencing some kind of revolution. But that by the 1980s, this wave of liberalism was instead replaced by the one-track capitalist ambition of the Yuppie. The “revolutionaries” getting their pictures in the paper for their part in a protest are now driving the kids to soccer practice in a minivan. But the demand for credit never ceased, and continually intrude to remind or altogether impose their values and ideas on the generations of youth to follow.

By the 1990s, with college graduates facing one of the most hopeless periods in the job market, the overhyped myths of the Boomers fell on deaf ears in a way that mirrored the brief punk boom in the late 1970s, with its snarling recognition (and acceptance) of a cultural, social and economic apocalypse. (Compare Leggs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s oral history of punk, Please Kill Me to Michael Azzerand’s Our Band Could Be Your Life). The Gen Xers penning these books proclaim their generation to be the smartest and the most creative (spawning a major transformation with YouTube, MySpace and Google). Although, puzzling enough, the examples always stem from a limiting and definitive Holy Trinity: director Richard Linklater (Slacker), author Douglas Coupeland (Generation X), and Nirvana. The Generation X histories remind their audience that the lifespan of Gen X was brief, and their contributions are frequently masked by the Boomers who refuse to acknowledge their irrelevance. Ironically, these histories also skip over any mention of a Generation Y to chastise the Millenials as a worrisome return to everything the Gen Xers had declared as wrong: self-absorption, obsession with celebrity, mass obedience, and worst of all, insatiable material pursuit.

This shaping of Gen X’s mark on humanity was already told years ago during its brief existence, although in the medium of film, the Gen X biographies were frequently shaped by Hollywood Hands, no matter how attractive it was to call something a product of the Alternative or Grunge Era. In particular, there were three histories that survive memory. One was writer/director Cameron Crowe’s 1992 romance dramedy, Singles. The second is Linklater’s improvised vignettes, Slacker, a favorite in the cult circuit released in 1991. And the third is, Reality Bites, marking Ben Stiller’s directorial debut (written by Helen Childress), followed two years later.

While Singles served as a time capsule of the Gen X lifestyle, it is really only ancillary to it’s primary focus on the romantic relationships of its various characters. It was something of a bust at the box office. Slacker has dominated the discussion when it comes to Gen X films, but Reality Bites deserves some spotlight in the analysis of life as a twenty-something in the early 90s – fresh out of college, full of ambition, jaded, and about to cement their cynicism. (“The script was initially turned down by all the Hollywood studios because it tried to capture the Generation X market like Singles and that film was not a box office success.” 1)

It is worth noting that the application of generational titles, although always marked by some range of birth dates, is that it’s usually not all inclusive of it. There’s always the unspoken distinction in demographic, or socio-economic status, or some other variable. Though Generation X is said to refer to anyone born between 1965 and 1981, its histories really tend to be dominated by whites that met this criteria. And more specifically, college educated whites. For those outside of that demographic, but born within that time, does Generation X even have the same meaning? Does it even apply?

Reality Bites frames Gen Xers in the same way as the Gen X histories do today (though it’s more first-hand than the material coming out now), doing so through a variety of themes: romantic relationships (obviously), commercialism of art, contempt for parental values, overeducated and underemployed graduates, AIDS, homosexuality, and so forth. The movie centers on the dynamics of four college friends (three having just graduated and one having dropped out) sharing a house in Texas. Lelaina (Winona Ryder), one of the film’s major characters, works a thankless job as a production assistant for an arrogant morning talkshow host (John Mahoney). The documentary filmmaker assumes her art will be her escape, though it never seems likely to get off the ground until she befriends an entertainment executive (Ben Stiller). Troy (Ethan Hawke), the other central character, is extremely smart, jaded, and both frequently unemployed and aloof. (The real Troy Dyer is reported to be a financial planner these days). The witty Vicky (Janeane Garofolo), rarely finding herself in positions of responsibility in her career and relationships, starts to turn this around. And the least seen, Michael (Steven Zahn), is a homosexual who eventually, though anti-climatically, comes out to his friends.

The linear history of Reality Bites is nearly identical to the celebratory histories released of late, even opening with the impetus for the principals of Generation X. Valedictorian Lelaina (Winona Ryder), addressing her graduating peers, has no advice about their post-college futures, as even she is uncertain what direction is best. But one thing she is adamant about: criticizing their parents’ promise of revolution, but despicably trading it for material ambition. The claims of perfect families and perfect lives that really weren’t, a statement supported by quick cut scenes from Lelaina’s documentary which features clips of her friends describing their parents. Divorces for some and indifferent marriages for parents of Lelaina’s friends that did stay together. Which leads to the construction of their ultimate dogma: avoid everything your parents did. For that reason, Reality Bites, whether just in retrospect or even when it was released, makes the Generation X crowd seem like the bubbly hippies they criticize.

The self-proclomations of the generational revolution, like those before it, once again settled as an embraceable myth. But, although the recent biographies of Generation X doesn’t just claim this to be the Generation’s defining principal, but it’s most admirable one (at least where it worked out without much flaw in retrospect), this blanket rebellion seems naively inflexible, fruitless, and excessive. Something, in other words, to hail at a young age, until reality kicks in after enduring the more difficult trials and error of life. The philosophy is embodied in particular in someone like the stereotypical Troy (Ethan Hawke), often simply characterized as the rebel philosopher, one with equal parts intelligence and cynicism coupled with zero motivation. Says Lelaina to Troy in one scene: “I have to work around here, and unfortunately Troy, you are a master at the art of time suckage.” Lelaina’s staunch refusal to let her artistic integrity be compromised is another example. She is appalled that her documentary is given a demeaning Mtv revamp once executives get a hold of it, illustrating the great fear of Generation X culture was the dreaded act of selling out.

While it is urged by some not to be taken as a serious portrait of the early 90s, though it should not be entirely dismissed as a falsehood of the times. Just like a lot of movies about the rise through adulthood (Lelaina: “I was really going to be somebody by the time I was 23”), whether the it’s twenty-somethings or thirty-somethings (The Last Kiss is a recent example), there’s this eventual realization that the difficulties that started with adolescence never conclude just because you leave your teens. The confusion of growing up is consistent.