Archive for the ‘Generation X’ Category

Streets_of_fireThere’s much more to Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire than meets the eye. Too bad most people didn’t get it back in 1984.

Streets of Fire utilizes a plot that’s been stolen by nearly every 80s arcade game: An evil gang kidnaps a beautiful girl and it’s up to her tough (ex) boyfriend to rescue her and defeat the bad guys. Described as a “rock n’ roll fable,” the film is set in a strange world that incorporates elements of the 1950s and the 1980s.

Streets of Fire Directed by Walter Hill

Walter Hill made a name for himself with hits The Warriors (1979), The Long Riders (1980), and Southern Comfort (1981). This proved him a worthy successor to his idol, Sam Peckinpah. Like Peckinpah, Hill’s films featured tough guys who let their fists – and bats, bullets, and other weapons – do the talking. Streets of Fire was no exception, but its high-concept setting and Wagnerian rock-opera meets rockabilly soundtrack proved to be too high concept for the era.

Walter Hill’s Characteristic Subtext

On its surface, Streets of Fire is action-packed battle of good vs. evil. But nothing about Streets of Fire – or any Walter Hill film – can be considered basic. Streets of Fire tells a deeper, more complex story of a man’s battle with his own inner demons. More to the point, it’s the story of the protagonist’s battle with his “shadow self,” which is personified and brought to life by the film’s antagonist.

Psychoanalyst Carl Jung identified the concept of “the shadow” or “shadow aspect.”In layman’s terms, Jung’s shadow represents all the negative qualities and traits about ourselves that we do not like, such as greed, cowardice, anger, fear, etc. Most people cannot admit to having this traits. Jung’s theory states that the more we ignore or deny our shadows, the darker, denser, and stronger they become.

So, to sum up my theory about Streets of Fire, the film’s hero and villain are actually the same person. And the battle between these two forces is merely symbolic of the battle that the hero is having with himself over whether to stay with the woman he loves or let her go.

Hero and Villain are One in the Same

The hero and villain in Streets of Fire are Tom Cody (Michael Pare) and Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe), respectively. Hill provides enough clues throughout the film to suggest that Raven symbolizes Tom’s shadow self. Some of the more obvious though well-hidden hints include:

  • The villain’s last name is “Shaddock,” which is very close to the word “shadow.” His first name, Raven, is a black bird that’s associated with darkness and death in many cultures.
  • Raven Shaddock and his gang kidnap Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) at a rock concert. Tom Cody and his gang rescue Ellen at a bar where a rock n’ roll band is playing. Note: This is one of many examples of “mirroring” between the two characters.
  • Raven Shaddock is seen wearing a patent-leather abattoir suit, aka his “leather waders.” These look very similar to Tom Cody’s pants-and-suspenders.
  • Raven keeps Ellen tied to a bed. Tom cuts the ropes that bind her. Later, Ellen asks him why he left her and he says he didn’t want to keep her from her music career. In other words, Tom doesn’t want to “tie her down.” (Another good example of conflicting desires within the same person.)

Music Conveys “Shadow” Motif

During the rescue scene, 80s rockabilly pioneers The Blasters play two songs that spell out what’s really going on in Streets of Fire. The first is “One Bad Stud,” which describes a tough, dangerous man moving into the singer’s neighborhood and stealing his woman. If you think about it, this applies as equally to Raven as it does to Tom, making each man the “stud” and the jilted former lover.

If “One Bad Stud” weren’t enough, The Blasters have another song during the big rescue scene. This one is called “Blue Shadows.” This is Walter Hill’s rather direct way of calling attention to the film’s powerful, psychological subtext.

The Final Battle Personifies Tom’s Inner Battle

The film’s final battle between Tom Cody and Raven Shaddock is a cinematic masterpiece. Both men fight each other using chrome-plated railroad spike-drivers, making each one equal as they head into the fight. To emphasize the shadow vs. light motif, Raven is dressed in a black leather pants and shirt combo while Tom wears a white Henley. Tom eventually defeats Raven, stopping short of delivering a final blow that would have likely killed the man. Tom can’t kill himself, after all!

Note: The concept of two men fighting each other on euqal terms to symbolize man’s inner struggle with himself is a Walter Hill trademark. Consider these other Hill-directed films as examples:

  • The Warriors: Many of the gang members strongly resemble each other. Further, in the scene where Swan fights the Baseball Furies, he clutches his fists together and strikes his enemy, which symbolizes swinging a baseball bat, the chosen weapon of his foe.
  • The Long Riders: Cole Younger (David Carradine) and Sam Starr (James Remar) fight each other in a bizarre knife duel in which both men stay connected via a long sash they hold in their teeth.
  • Bullet to the Head: In an homage to Streets of Fire, the hero and the villain – both professional hitmen – fight each other with matching fireman’s axes. Much like the duel in The Long Riders, this battle symbolizes a wise, older warrior (Sylvester Stallone) doing battle with his younger, impetuous self (Jason Momoa).

To Sum Up Streets of Fire…

On the surface, it’s a classic tale of good vs. evil in a highly-stylized world. Symbolically, it’s one man’s battle with his shadow self over whether he should stay with the woman he loves or let her go. And the stylized world where this battle takes place is actually his mind.

It’s a Shame More People Didn’t “Get It”

Hill envisioned Streets of Fire as the first part of a trilogy. The sequels were tentatively to be called The Far City and Cody’s Return. As a huge fan of Streets of Fire, I can’t help but wonder what could have been had Hill been able to finish this trilogy. Would Raven seek revenge? Would Tom and Ellen reunite for good? We’ll never know. Instead, Streets of Fire is a cinematic gem that remains a misunderstood cult classic to those who remember it fondly.

About J.P. Ribner

J.P. Ribner is the author of Viking fantasy adventure series “The Berserker’s Saga.” Currently, the saga features two novels – “Legacy of the Bear” and “Prophecy of the Bear.” For more about his written work, check out his website.

freshFresh Horses (1988) is a hauntingly good movie that could have been great. That said, it’s still one of my favorite teen movies of the 1980s.

Cincinnati college student Matt Larkin (Andrew McCarthy) seems bored but content with his perfect college life and wealthy fiancée. Larkin’s lifelong friend Tipton (Ben Stiller) convinces Larkin to go to a “non-stop house party” over the bridge in rural Kentucky. There, Larkin meets Jewel (Molly Ringwald), a backwoods country girl in need of saving. Things get complicated after Larkin breaks off his engagement to pursue Jewel… sort of. His friends try to convince him to break it off, but Jewel’s young age and her dangerous husband aren’t enough to change Matt’s mind.

“Fresh Horses” Must Have Looked Like a Winner

The film was based off Larry Ketron’s stage play, which was burning up Broadway in 1986. The film gave Andrew McCarthy and Molly Ringwald a chance to reprise their rich-boy-falls-for-poor-girl routine, a la “Pretty in Pink.” The rest of the cast was made of people whose names and greatest performances were yet to come, particularly Viggo Mortensen and Ben Stiller. When it hit theaters in 1988, however, “Fresh Horses” failed to impress. Fortunately, it seems to have a very small cult following these days, and I’m proud to consider myself a member of said cult.

The Best Thing About “Fresh Horses” Went Largely Unnoticed

“Fresh Horses” is a good study of two people who set out to use one another yet try to convince themselves that they’re in love. It was a departure from other 80s teen flicks, which centered upon the “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” zeitgeist that defined the decade. “Fresh Horses” represents a turn from the quest to score to lives rooted in morning-after regrets. This puts it in a similar category as “Less Than Zero” – also starring Andrew McCarthy – and other somber 80s teen gems.

“Fresh Horses” a Study in Narcissism

Let’s take a look at how “Fresh Horses” illustrates the heartache and pain of entering into a relationship only to deceive from each protagonist’s point of view, staring with Matt Larkin:

From the very beginning, we see that Matt Larkin is a smug, commitment-phobic jerk. The film starts with Matt and Tip (Ben Stiller) riding Matt’s boat up and down the Ohio River. After this 10-minute montage, we discover that Matt deliberately showed late to his own engagement party. Throughout the movie, he continues to show his passive-aggressive propensity for abandoning women at the precise point in which they seem to need/want him the most. Most notably:

  • He strikes up a relationship with Jewel so he can break off his engagement with his fiancée.
  • He fails to go with Jewel to confront Green about signing the divorce papers, even though her facial expressions and tone make it obvious that this is what she wants him to do. He lets her go alone, instead.
  • Even though Ellen (Molly Hagan) makes it clear that she’s up for a one-night stand, Matt basically ignores her offer and insists they go to the abandoned railroad house. (Likely because he knows Jewel will see him there.)

Here is another of Matt Larkin’s other, obvious flaws:

  • He becomes physically abusive with his friends whenever they suggest that he just break it off with Jewel. He doesn’t do this because he loves her, he does this because his friends’ suggestion that he’s just using the girl cuts a little too close to the truth for him.

Matt repeatedly shows contempt for Jewel throughout the film.

  • When they meet and he asks for a drink of her soda. (Narcissistic boundary issues.)
  • When Matt and Tip are talking to a lawyer about Jewel’s marriage to Green, Matt does all the talking while Jewel is left to wait outside the room. (Jewel doesn’t matter even when it comes to her own life.)
  • Throughout the film, Matt talks down to Jewel in an annoying, condescending manner. (Correcting her English, chiding her about her name, etc.)
  • Matt tries to keep Jewel from meeting his parents. (He’s embarrassed to be with her.)

While Matt is a jerk, Jewel isn’t much better. Her greatest flaw is that she’s a near-pathological liar who’s also not honest with herself. She claims to resent Matt for treating her as though she’s stupid and helpless, yet she purposefully presents herself as dumb and helpless in order to convince people to help her. Then, she resents Matt for behaving in a way she more or less manipulated him into behaving. (My guess is that she does this as a justification for using people the way that she does.)

Some additional examples of Jewel’s duplicity include:

  • She sees in Matt the chance of escaping from her low-class, white trash rural existence.
  • She casually concocts stories of being abused by older men – typically older men/father figures – in order to elicit sympathy from other men.
  • She married Green for the same reason she hooked up with Matt – to hopefully improve her position in life.
  • She hints at what she wants from Matt but never comes out and says it. (Sorry! Pet peeve of mine.)
  • The lies she tells are dangerous in that they could cause men to fight and kill each other to protect her “honor.” (I think she secretly yearns for this as a means of proving her “worth.”)

Other Things That Worked in “Fresh Horses”

The film features some beautiful cinematography. The scenes shot in rural Kentucky – Jean’s house, Jewel’s house, the abandoned railroad building – have a misty and mysterious back-country beauty complete with cold metal fences, frosted grass, and dead trees that seem to reach through the fog to guide the star-crossed lovers upon their fated path.

The film also touches upon differences that separate people yet ironically make them appealing to each other in a grass-is-always-greener way: man/woman, city/country, college/high school dropout, rich/poor, etc.

What Didn’t Work in “Fresh Horses”

It’s not that Fresh Horses was filled with all things bad. It’s more of the case of wasted potential, which is even worse. It robs this amazing of film of the chance to have made a deeper impact upon pop culture.

Some of the film’s shortcomings include:

  • Molly Ringwald’s wardrobe. With her characteristic prairie skirt and high boots, she looked like she walked onto the set straight from “The Breakfast Club.” I know this was her trademark look but the character of Jewel is a backwoods country girl of meager means. She likely wouldn’t have dressed in the latest 80s teen fashions.
  • Viggo Mortensen was underused. Throughout the film, Matt Larkin is warned about Jewel’s husband, a supposedly dangerous character named “Green.” Unfortunately, he only appears in two scenes. The first is a brief appearance in a diner where Larkin sees him but doesn’t know who he is. The second is near the end, where Green delivers a highly philosophical and much-needed reality check to Larkin.
  • Note: If I had written this film, the character of Green would have appeared in at least three significant scenes. For example, I would have had Green beat up Larkin at Jean’s house rather than some random hillbilly played by playwright Larry Ketron. This would have been a better use of an interesting character AND a very talented actor! (No one knew Viggo’s potential back then, though.)
  • Ketron needed to explore Larkin’s relationship with his parents. The character of Matt Larkin was not the best of people: he cheats on his fiancée, knowingly sleeps with a married woman, and pushes his friends around, among other things. Something had to make him this way. My guess is a dysfunctional family upbringing. It would have been nice to see more than a passing hint of this.

“Fresh Horses” Haunted me for 30+ Years

I felt compelled to see “Fresh Horses” again. I last saw it in 1989 with my then-girlfriend. At that time, I thought that Matt Larkin was the unwitting and innocent victim of Jewel’s manipulative games. I remember calling her a “scheming bitch” during the final scene where Matt Larkin tearfully walked away from the ice skating rink.

After I saw it again, 27 years later, I see this movie – and the message it subtly implies – much differently.

My 40s have been a time of brutal self-examination. Some painfully honest personal inventories of all my negative qualities have taught me a lot. I now see that I was able to bury, ignore, or project these traits onto others in my 20s and 30s. Long story short, I was Matt Larkin, I just didn’t see it in 1989. My subconscious recognized the similarities and used its tricks to keep me from realizing it.

Your Favorite 80s Teen Movie…

A lot of great movies came out in the 80s. I won’t be able to revisit them all, but that won’t stop me from trying. In the meantime, feel free to shared your memories of great 80s movies such as “Fresh Horses” or any of the rest. I’d like to hear about the films that kept you awake in the dark during that amazing decade.

About J.P. Ribner

J.P. Ribner is the author of Viking fantasy adventure series “The Berserker’s Saga.” Currently, the saga features two novels – “Legacy of the Bear” and “Prophecy of the Bear.” For more about his written work, check out his website.

With the recent death of Scott Weiland, Generation X has lost yet another spokesperson. This deserves a eulogy… for my generation and the decade we called our own.

Of course this is sad news for Gen Xers. Scott Weiland was one of the cool guys of the 1990s. He belonged to an elite group grunge vocalists who sang the soundtrack of our lives. Despite the impact he made upon my age group, Weiland’s death comes as no surprise. It is yet another bitter reminder that Generation X is getting older and more mortal by the day.

The 1990s Were a Decade of Darkness for Generation X
Stone Temple Pilots as being among “The Big Five” of 1990s rock music. (The other four are Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains.) These bands had a HUGE impact on the 90s sound as well as its overall musical direction. To fellow Gen Xers who came of age during that halcyon decade, the music was a journey into the causes and effects of childhood trauma.

Songs about rape, child abuse, and murder dominated the airwaves, CD players, and MTV rotations. At the time, I wondered how this morbidity could be so popular. Now I understand. As a generation, we were collectively working through the issues associated with being raised by our parents. Bands such as Stone Temple Pilots – and the rest of the Big Five – acted as the moderators for this decade-long group therapy session.

Most Me Generation parents weren’t the Brady Bunch. They were a bunch of pot-smoking, wife-swapping, cocaine-sniffing, child abusing assholes. And after their myriad fuckups, their greatest advice to us was “Just say ‘No.’” Needless to say, we saw through the bullshit, and our greatest act of rebellion was spending our disposable income on the pre-packaged subculture served up by people just like our dipshit parents.

I Fucked up and Missed Out on the 90s
Despite its trauma and false pretenses, the 90s were one hell of a party! Too bad I was too busy wallowing in resentment. I didn’t need Woodstock 94. I came of age in Flint, Michigan’s nascent punk rock scene of the 1990s.When my band wasn’t playing the stage at the Capital Theater, I was hanging out with my friends, seeing some great bands and slamming in the circle pit up front.

Then one day everything changed. Sometime in mid-September, 1991, I heard Kurt Cobain stroke the first chords of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I didn’t feel elated that the music that was so much part of my life was now recognized by the mainstream. Instead, I felt betrayed. To me, it was a blatant commercialization of the 80s punk that defined my teens and early 20s.

Of course I feel differently now. The concept of “selling out” is bullshit. No artist should be forced to toil away in obscurity just because some small group of fans want to selfishly lord over that artist’s popularity. More importantly, the 90s were just so fucking cool, creative, and free. I wish I would’ve done more to appreciate that unique time in history. But there are no decade do-overs.

Sorry to Hear of Your Passing, Scott
So this brings me back to Scott. I can’t wax poetic about how much you meant to me during my turbulent and tumultuous twenties. I don’t have any memories of seeing you live and in your prime with Stone Temple Pilots. The truth is, I never knew you.

But you still were the voice of my generation. One of them, anyway. You had everything a young, aspiring singer such as me wanted; but in the end, you died as you lived: a faded rock star past his prime. All I can say is that that wherever you are, I hope you’ve been able to heal your wounds and put down those demons that haunted you for so long.

Say hello to Kurt and Layne for me…

About J.P. Ribner
J.P. Ribner is the author of Viking fantasy adventure series “The Berserker’s Saga.” Currently, the saga features two novels – “Legacy of the Bear” and “Prophecy of the Bear.” For more about his written work, check out his website.

ustv-girls-6James Le Gros, man! James motherfucking Le Gros. No one, and I mean no one, portrays the struggles of Generation X like this guy.

My wife started watching Girls, an HBO series about a group of 20-something hipsters who are vapid, conceited and completely self-absorbed… but not the least bit self-aware. The show is written by and about Lena Dunham, a young woman who’s supposed to be the “next big thing.” In reality, she’s a dead ringer for a freshly-shaven Paul Giamatti in a misguided pixie wig.

Watching the credits one day, I noticed that James Le Gros would be appearing in at least a few episodes and I was more than pleased. I knew that the mere virtue of Le Gros’ presence would elevate this bizarre shit-show into something somewhat redeeming and it did… in ways that I could have never predicted.

Before I go any further, there are some things you need to know about James Le Gros. First of all, his last name is pronounced “leh grow.” Secondly, he’s cooler than cool. In fact, he’s cooler than you and me put together. Lastly, he’s one of the coolest “that-guy actors” of the 1990s… you know, the kind of actor whom you don’t know his name, but always recognize him as “that guy” who was in another movie you saw.

With memorable performances in such films as Singles, Floundering, and Living in Oblivion, Le Gros was our guy – Generation X’s guy – and he helped usher us into the 1990s, which was our decade.

Watching episode after episode of Girls, I became antsy waiting for James to make his appearance. When he finally did, it was as Jeff Lavoyt, a character who was desperately clinging to his former 90s coolness despite being married, a father, and unemployed. With his characteristic acting chops, he evoked both scorn and sympathy for his character as he engaged in pathetic attempts to hook up with the babysitter his wife hired. His failure to do so was no doubt a metaphor for his character’s life.

And so, just like that, the man who introduced us to our decade of cool now ushered us into our decade of un-cool. Evoking both humor and pathos, he shows us how we with our children, mortgages, and dead-end jobs must appear to the generation to whom we’ve passed the proverbial torch. The whole thing served as a cautionary tale to my generation… a generation that failed to live up to its promise and ideals.

Looking back on it all, it seems the sum total of Generation X’s contribution was forcing the intellectually-bankrupt philosophy known as moral relativity (aka “political correctness”) into mainstream thought. Now we’re stuck in world of our own creation. It’s a bizarre nanny state where we’re not even welcome, and we’re reminded daily of our own uselessness.

No wonder we’re lost, no wonder we’re shiftless, no wonder our very poster boy is playing a pathetic character desperately trying to find his long-lost youth inside the pants of a woman half his age.

About J.P. Ribner
J.P. Ribner is the author of the Viking fantasy adventure series “The Berserker’s Saga.” Currently, the saga features two installments – “Legacy of the Bear” and “Prophecy of the Bear.” For more about his novels, check out his website.

SSPsharkII Anyone remember this awesome toy?

I’m taking a break from trauma and the personality disordered to bring you a lighter, whimsical tale of childhood memory: the Kenner Super Sonic Powered (SSP) Shark. It was one of many SSP Racers to come out in the 1970s, and it was a lean, mean, racing machine.

Basically, all SSP Racers had one large rubber wheel with a smaller wheel of teeth attached to it. To get the car to shoot across the floor, you inserted a toothed cord – I believe it was called a T-Stick? – then you gave it a pull, not unlike starting a small push-mower. Yanking on the T-stick got that wheel a spinning and you basically just set the car down and watched it zoom off at near-subsonic speed.

I’m guessing this particular model was made post-1975, shortly after the Jaws movie craze. The popularity of that film spawned a slew of shark-related toys, iron-on patches (remember those?), and games all marketed toward kids whose parents allowed them to see that awesome movie. Thing is, the shark on the SSP racer looks like it’s been crossed with a proboscis monkey, but I still thought this car was the shit back in the day.

Though I was never short on toys as a kid, I never had the SSP Shark. It’s not like my parents wouldn’t let me have one, either; it’s just that every time Xmas rolled around, I always wanted something else more than I wanted the Shark. By the time I thought to ask for one, the 80s were in full swing and video games, role-playing games, and kung fu movies were more my focus. C’est la vie!

Now, with the halcyon days of my youth behind me, I sometimes think about those amazing things from my childhood. Perhaps one of these days, I might go cruising eBay in hopes of one day finding a “for sale” sign hanging above a bright yellow Kenner SSP Shark. It might be too tempting to not put in a bid. SSPshark

Ever have an SSP racer? Or any other awesome toy from the 70s? Share your Generation X toy memories here!

About J.P. Ribner
J.P. Ribner is the author of Viking fantasy adventure series “The Berserker’s Saga.” Currently, the saga features two novels – “Legacy of the Bear” and “Prophecy of the Bear.” For more about his written work, check out his website.

 

The 90s were our golden age, so why did we try so hard to turn it into the 70s? Seriously, Generation X!

Clinton was Carter All Over Again
Let’s start with our choice in Presidents. Wanting to copy our parents’ generation, we elected another liberal-minded, white male Democrat from the South. Perhaps we believed his idealism was what the country needed after back-to-back terms from Reagan and Bush Sr. Something had to account for the widespread optimism that marked the beginning of our decade.

The 1990s was the Comeback of Smack
Heroin was another 70s reject that needled its way into the 90s. What was up with that? helped make the 90s the 70s all over again. Twenty years earlier, only losers shot up the junk; but by the time the 90s were in full swing, everyone was dancin’ with Mr. Brownstone. Yeah, he just wouldn’t leave us alone.

It didn’t help that many of our idols were hooked on smack – Kurt Cobain being the poster boy – and movies such as The Basketball Diaries, Trainspotting, and Pulp Fiction made us all wanna put a spike in our veins … even if it was just the tip, just to see how it feels. Even supermodels were sporting the “heroin chic” look — pale skin, dark circles under the eyes, and a skeletal frame. (They weren’t your granddad’s pin-up girls!)

90s Grunge was 70s Rock All Over Again
The Seattle sound, aka Grunge, defined our decade. This was another 70s rehash. Heavy guitar riffs the likes of KISS, Zeppelin, and Cooper married 70s punk rock sensibilities to create the musical sensation that swept the nation. And speaking of music, remember Saturday Morning: Cartoons’ Greatest Hits? Released in ’95, this compilation featured an A-list roster of 90s bands covering cartoon theme songs from the 60s and 70s. (Matthew Sweet’s rendition of Scooby Doo, Where are You? was positively sublime.)

The 1990s was the 1970s on Film and TV
With Dazed and Confused, Hollywood helped the 90s pay homage to the 70s on film. Who would’ve thought a movie about 70s stoners on their last day of school would strike a chord with us 90s slackers? And for the ultimate 90s street cred, film icon and 70s pop culture connoisseur Quentin Tarantino included it on his list of the 10 greatest films of all time. TV threw its hat in the ring with That 70s Show in ’98, offering Gen X one last wistful fling with an idealized version of its collective childhood. Kickass, Kelso!

We Were Given a Decade and we Blew It!
Like so many generations before us, Generation X failed to live up to its promise. The 1990s were supposed to be our chance to shine, yet we spent most of it looking backward through the perpetual haze of our beer/dope goggles. We’re halfway through 2014 and we’ve replaced our dreams with gluten-free meal-planning, a discerning taste for obscure micro-brews, and a wide-eyed wonderment for the latest flavors at Biggby Coffee. Anything to keep our mind off the whining sound of our car’s engine as we head out on our dead-end cubicle drive.

It’s times like this that make me wonder, where were you while we were getting high?