Teenagers

WEA Sydney Film Society Sunday 5 December 2010 program

Pretty Poison

USA 1968 89 minutes DeLuxe colour
Directed by Noel Black

20th Century-Fox. Executive producer, Lawrence Turman; screenplay, Lorenzo Semple Jr. from Stephen Geller’s novel ‘She Let Him Continue’; cinematography, David Quaid; film editor, William Ziegler; art directors, Harold Michelson, Jack Martin Smith; original music, Johnny Mandel.

Anthony Perkins (Dennis Pitt), Sue Ann Stepaneck (Tuesday Weld), Beverly Garland (Mrs. Stepeneck), John Randolph (Morton Azenauer), Dick O’Neill (Bud Munsch), Clarice Blackburn (Mrs Bronson), George Ryan (drillmaster and team [George Ryan’s Winslow High-Steppers]).

New York Film Critics Circle Award 1968: Best Screenplay (Lorenzo Semple Jr.).

Dennis Pitt (Perkins) a former teen arsonist recently released from a mental institution, still lives in a fantasy world behind a shaky mask of normality. On probation, he is found a job in a chemical factory in a small and serene Massachusetts town, where he becomes infatuated by the high school beauty queen and cheerleader Sue Ann (Weld) and shares with her his simmering CIA fantasies and conspiracy theories, unaware that she is scheming to lead him into real drama, well beyond his relatively innocent daydreams.

After Anthony Perkins’s (1932-1992) first major success in William Wyler’s Friendly Persuasion (1956), he was heavily publicised to teenagers as a successor to the late James Dean but proved awkward and unconvincing in romantic dramas such as Desire Under the Elms (1958). Even after a lifetime career of 65 films and TV movies/mini-series, including the 1983 Australian remake of For the Term of his Natural Life, he is still best remembered by posterity as Norman Bates, Hitchcock’s mother fixater. In Psycho (1960) he finally found his individual acting persona, an introverted man/boy, outwardly charming but nervously twitchy, perhaps hiding a mysterious secret. Ironically, in the most famous shower scene ever, Norman Bates was played by a double while Perkins himself was in New York rehearsing the lead role in Frank Loesser’s stage musical ‘Greenwillow’.

Tuesday Weld (b.1943) became Hollywood’s reigning teenage minx, pretty but artful, an image she managed to spin out for at least 15 years. She began in show business at the age of three by modelling for press advertisements and catalogues, a financial support for her widowed mother and two older siblings. Surviving a childhood both precocious and precarious (a nervous breakdown at nine, a heavy drinker by ten, worse to come), she made her first film appearance at 13 in Rock Rock Rock!, then alternated between film and TV. She was a knockout in her first major film Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys! (1958) and is well remembered as the teasingly unattainable Thalia Menninger in seventeen episodes of The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1959-1962). Although most of the civilised world believed Tuesday Weld had been born primarily for the film version of Nabakov’s Lolita, both she and Kubrick thought she was too old at 19, but she continued to play teenage vamps for years thereafter. She enjoyed acting and generally received good reviews but turned down some good roles, seemingly to avoid the perils of becoming a major celebrity. Her second husband was the comedian Dudley Moore, her third was the violin virtuoso Pinchas Zukeman.

The director, Noel Black, had made an auspicious debut in 1965 with his short film Skaterdater that toured the international film festival circuit (including Sydney). With Pretty Poison, his first feature film, he constructed a quirky thriller that combined successfully two very different personas into a bizarre team, Perkins playing riffs on Norman Bates, Weld becoming cheerfully more manic. Although Pretty Poison attracted the attention of perceptive critics (and the Australian censor) and became a minor cult favourite, Black’s subsequent extensive work was mainly in television.

Sources:
Ibbeson, Jack. Review of Pretty Poison in Sight and Sound, Spring 1969, vol. 38 no. 2.
Milne, Tom. Review of Pretty Poison in Monthly Film Bulletin: April 1969, vol. 36 no. 423.

The Breakfast Club

USA 1985 97 minutes Technicolor
Directed by John Hughes

A&M Films, Channel Productions for Universal Pictures, Produced and written by John Hughes; cinematographer, Thomas Del Ruth; film editor, Dede Allen; production designer, John W Corso; original music, Keith Forsey; music consultant, David Anderle (A&M Records).

Judd Nelson (John Bender), Emilio Estevez (Andrew Clark), Molly Ringwald (Claire Standish), Anthony Michael Hall (Brian Johnson), Ally Sheedy (Allison Reynolds), Paul Gleason (Principal Richard Vernon), John Kapelos (Carl, the caretaker), Perry Crawford (Allison’s father), Mary Christian (Brian’s sister), Ron Dean (Andrew’s father), Tim Gamble (Claire’s father), Fran Gargano (Allison’s mother), Mercedes Hall (Brian’s mother), John Hughes [uncredited] (Brian’s father).

The scene is a Saturday detention at an Illinois co-ed high school, where five teenage students from contrasting social backgrounds and different school cliques are assigned an essay: ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’. Gradually the five virtual strangers interact – aggressively at first -– then open out as they reveal the unseen family pressures behind their individual facades. Bender, the bully and potential criminal, admits his abusive home life; Andrew the athlete is driven by his father to be the winner every time; Claire the prom princess, who earned her detention by cutting classes to go shopping, resents her parents using her to get back at each other; Brian the brainy nerd is contemplating suicide because of parental pressures to excel in subjects which don’t interest him; Allison the neurotic social outcast and potential runaway says she joined the detention to get away from her unhappy home life. At the end of the day, each has been affected by their insights into the others’ lives and what they have found out about themselves. But will these new understandings influence them once they are back with their families and their school cliques?

An art student who became an advertising executive, then a successful Hollywood writer, John Hughes was fed up with enduring others changing his scripts and wanted to direct them himself. But how to start? Afraid of working with experienced actors, he came up with the simple, if chancy, idea of five contrasting young characters confined in a single room. It became The Breakfast Club, the first (but released second) of his quintet of 1980s high school films (the others: 16 Candles (84), Weird Science (85), Pretty in Pink (86) and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (86)). They are an interesting bunch that at least tries to play with ideas, unlike most of the superficial and brainless teen films of the immediately preceding years, and they influenced the content and style of subsequent films of the genre. Five young people unburdening themselves in neatly contrived psychoanalyses is an unashamedly schematic plot structure that works, although blaming it each time on the parents seems either simplistic or obsessive

When concerns were expressed at some of the The Breakfast Club’s rough dialog, Hughes explained that he wrote in the current idiom used by most teenagers as one of their rites of passage to adulthood to make the film more acceptable and plausible to its target audience. He went on to write and direct Planes, Trains and Automobiles and write Home Alone I,2,3, and 4, among others.He was approaching early retirement when he died suddenly at the untimely age of 59. The cast of many of his successes paid tribute to him from the stage of the most recent Academy Awards ceremonies.

The irresponsible robot in the Matt Groening/ David X Cohen animated TV series Futurama is named after Judd Nelson’s Bender character.

Sources:
Floyd, Nigel. Review in Monthly Film Bulletin: May 1985, vol 52, no. 616.
Hughes, John. Draft script http://www.script-o-rama.com/snazzy/dircut.html
Westfeldt, Amy and others. “John Hughes Dead” Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/08/06/john-hughes-dead-director_n_253306.html

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