Political Landscapes

Lost In America, the new season of movies at London’s BFI Southbank, is exactly the sort of thing the BFI should be programming. Delving into the archives of the American independent scene, its subtitle is The Other Side of Reagan’s ’80s. You won’t find flashy Hollywood Eighties portrayals like Wall Street or The Secret of My Success here. Or even well-established indies like sex, lies, and videotape, Do The Right Thing or Stranger Than Paradise.

These are depictions of Americans on the fringes and a chance to see some rarely-shown gems. Among them is Bill Sherwood’s Parting Glances (1985), a seminal Brooklyn-set indie that was one of the first to deal with the AIDS crisis on screen. Whilst the focus is a gay couple who are readying for a work-enforced two-year separation, it’s most notable for featuring Steve Buscemi, in one of his earliest roles, as Nick, the ex-boyfriend who is dying of AIDS.

The yuppie-in-peril sub-genre became consumed by Hollywood in the 1990s with films like The Hand That Rocks The Cradle and Pacific Heights. But Something Wild (1987) remains one of the best examples; directed by Jonathan Demme before he made The Silence of the Lambs, this off-kilter screwball comedy stars a never-better Jeff Daniels as an office worker who meets Melanie Griffith’s good-time girl Audrey and goes on a crazed road trip. Watch out for Ray Liotta too, in a role so arresting it won him the lead in Goodfellas.

Also in the season is River’s Edge (1986), a fabulous cult movie from Tim Hunter. Based on a true story, it’s the antithesis to the John Hughes-led teen movies from the same era, as a group of Oregon high-schoolers come to terms, or not, with the murder of a classmate. For all you Keanu Reeves fans, this is what gave him his big break, whilst Crispin Glover, fresh off playing Marty McFly’s Dad in Back to the Future, is a wonderfully eccentric presence.

Dennis Hopper’s Out of the Blue (1980), his third film as director following Easy Rider and The Last Movie, also gets an airing. It’s another startling depiction of adolescence, starring Linda Manz as a rebellious teenager with a love for punk and Elvis Presley whose parents (Hopper, Sharon Farrell) are anything but role models. A portrait of a disenfranchised America, on the cusp of the Reagan era, it’s one of several must-watch movies in this excellent season.

Lost In America: The Other Side of Reagan’s ’80s runs at the BFI Southbank from 1-29 May. For more details, visit BFI.

James Mottram

Credits:
1. PACIFIC HEIGHTS, Matthew Modine, Melanie Griffith, 1990.