June 29, 2007

Ten Movies About...How Great Drugs Are

(Each day I like to post around a thousand words of original content here to the CCLaP website; the days I don't have a review of a contemporary book or movie ready, I like to try other ideas, like this series of hopefully funny, hyper-specialized themed movie lists. For the full list of "Ten Movies About..." entries, click here.)

Today: Ten great movies featuring scenes that glorify drug use. As is often the case, listed in chronological order.

A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Or technically, that is, if you count only the movie version of this tale plus the American version of the book, which both had the final chapter of Anthony Burgess' original British cutting-edge dystopian novel lopped off, in the book's case simply to save a little money. In fact, in Burgess' original final chapter (the 21st, picked for symbolic reasons), the main character realizes that even after everything he's been through, looming adulthood was simply making him naturally lose the taste for sex, drugs and violence he had had as a rebellious teen; without that final chapter in the movie version, it seems like he's gone back to his debaucherous ways for good after being rehabilitated from his rehabilitation. Of course, that's part of what's kept it so popular among rebellious teens this whole time; hey, who doesn't feel like getting together every so often with their jobbos for a night of the ol' ultra-violence?

9 to 5

9 to 5 (1980)
Yes, I know, not exactly the most subversive movie I've ever featured here; but it's a smart script, has a surprisingly dark message for something starring Dolly Parton, is very indicative of the time period it was made (both cinematically and thematically), and most importantly for this list, features three middle-aged suburban women smoking pot and not automatically dying or becoming prostitutes. A more intelligent movie than its insipid title song might have you believe, for all you young 'uns who might not know.

Heavy Metal

Heavy Metal (1981)
Heh heh. When I was in college at the University of Missouri - Columbia in the 1980s, there was a dilapidated former grand moviehouse still open that was simply called the Missouri Theatre, which like clockwork every Saturday night showed another in a variety of great midnight cult films, in that age when VCRs were still prohibitively expensive. And this was the film the theatre ended with each semester, shown right in the middle of finals; and I confess, it was pretty much standard operating procedure to shovel down as many controlled substances that one could get one's hands on that night, and make an entire evening of it if you wanted any chance of getting in. Heh heh. Cartoon boobies.

The Big Chill

The Big Chill (1983)
A watershed film for the generation just in front of mine, this impromptu reunion of a group of college buddies (because of the suicide of one of their friends) both brings back a lot of the undergraduate dysfunction that marked their relationships, as well as a newly adult weariness as to how to react to such behavior. The consistent scene-stealer of this movie, however, is the character William Hurt plays, aka "The One Who Never Grew Up," who even in his mid-thirties is gobbling a whole mixture of different drugs nearly constantly, as well as being the instigator of some of the movie's most awkward and craziest moments. Keep an eye out for Hurt's hilariously confrontational self-interview done on home video, which at the time was still mostly a rarely-seen expensive toy for the suburban upper-class.

Blue Velvet

Blue Velvet (1986)
This supremely odd masterpiece by the supremely odd David Lynch has our villain Dennis Hopper (in a career-reviving role) huffing...well, some sort of gas on a regular basis, right before engaging in all manner of crazy-wacko antics. Nitrus oxide? Ether? Industrial-size popper canisters? In Lynch's world, it's hard to guess what exactly is in there, which of course is part of what makes it all so damn intriguing. Plus if you count alcohol as a drug, this movie has one of the all-time great pro-drug messages: "Heinekin? F--- that s---! Pabst Blue Ribbon!"

Less Than Zero

Less Than Zero (1987)
Wow, I had no idea how many pro-drug movies were made during the Reagan administration until compiling this list! And like many of the others, this one (based on the breakthrough novel by Bret Easton Ellis, which actually is quite a horrific tale about drugs gone bad) was supposed to be an anti-drug movie, but then ended up being so hysterically made (as in comedically hysterical about how bad drugs are) that it actually convinced a lot of '80s undergraduates to start doing drugs for the first time. (Er, I plead the Fifth.) Featuring a pre-rehab Robert Downey Jr., Andrew McCarthy when he was still considered...edgy?, and a surprisingly intense Jami Gertz before getting relegated to that special sitcom hell -- the unlikely hot wife of a fat and ugly Long Island stand-up comedian schmo. Poor Jami!

Dazed and Confused

Dazed and Confused (1993)
Could this be the best stoner film ever made? Oh, I can hear you yelling all the way from here about Cheech and Chong; but in my opinion, as funny their films may be, they're also dated in a way that keeps getting worse with each year, as well as grittily urban in a way that turns some people (like me) off of the humor itself. Richard Linklater's infamous second film, though -- his first to be made in the traditional Hollywood system and with a largish budget -- takes more of a classic approach to the subject, painting a vivid picture of the last day of high school for a group of Texas teens in 1976, but which could seriously be just about any year since then and just about anywhere in the US. Not to mention, Matthew McConaughey's smooth-talking, sideburned jailbait lech still makes me pee in my pants in laughter, every single time I watch this film.

Permanent Midnight

Permanent Midnight (1998)
Well, all right, this ain't exactly a pro-drug film all the way through; I just dare you not to squirm and recoil when Ben Stiller (playing real-life television writer Jerry Stahl [CSI], who in the '80s famously wrote a series of Emmy-nominated scripts for schlock sitcoms while on heroin the entire time) stars shooting up in front of his baby in a parked car, or the way he tries to weasel out of it when eventually confronted by the cops. But I'll tell you, the beginning of the movie is what I heard a lot as a writer myself about what exactly a lot of non-writers think the romantically intense life of a writer is like; smoking "enough dope to kill a horse," hunched shirtless over an electric typewriter, pounding away on the keys like an out-of-control madman. It's not exactly glamorizing drugs, but it's certainly feeding into what a lot of non-artists think is the most glamorous thing about an artist's life -- the romantically tragic (and sweaty) nature of it all, that is.

Velvet Goldmine

Velvet Goldmine (1998)
Not so much a celebration of any drug in particular, but rather a grand celebration of the libertine lifestyle altogether, told through the filter of the '70s London glam-rock community, directed by one of my favorite artists of all time, all time, Todd Haynes (Safe, Far From Heaven, the infamously banned Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, and more, more, more). An elaborate pastiche of real history, fictional elements to tie together the themes, as well as long-form homages to Citizen Kane, Oscar Wilde and more, this is the film that supposedly almost gave Haynes a nervous breakdown, and the one that turned his producer Christine Vachon into an indie-household name. And by the way, there's literally never been another film made that's quite like it, doubtfully one ever made quite this way again. One of my most favorite films of all time; I command you to rent it tonight if you've never seen it before.

The Anniversary Party

The Anniversary Party (2001)
This was a tiny film that almost no one got to see, one of the first shot entirely on digital video, a labor of love between writers/stars/friends and perhaps former lovers Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cummings. And man, if you want a fantastic character-driven contemporary drama, one that always assumes you're incredibly smart and can put things together on your own, this look at the culture of fame and the ways it clashes with basic human wants is something you'll want to put on your queue list right away. Partly improvised, shot completely in one of their personal homes, starring their friends who are all volunteering to work for scale (and sometimes playing characters almost exactly like themselves), how this movie makes the list is by the way the characters celebrate the end of the awkward and intense party that's been happening throughout the evening; by all dropping a hit of Ecstasy and suddenly blurting out all their secrets to each other, while simultaneously running around the estate naked and making sure they're not busted by the paparazzi. Hilarious, heartbreaking, what you always imagined it must really be like to be a rich and famous Hollywood star, and why you're so glad you're not a rich and famous Hollywood star.

Got another great movie in mind that glamorizes drugs? By all means, feel free to leave it as a comment!

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:41 AM, June 29, 2007. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |