Friday, July 18, 2008

THE SLIFR-ANIMAL HOUSE OPEN FORUM



Several participants in the most recent SLIFR film quiz, when asked to name what they felt was the most “important” film comedy of the last 35 years, bandied about National Lampoon’s Animal House as a contender. The film was most frequently earmarked as “important” not only because of its popularity, but because of its influence, for good, bad and worst, on the trajectory of American film comedy, introducing heretofore unheard-of levels of profanity and raunchy humor into mainstream movie theaters. (I’ll never forget my rather sheltered aunt’s reaction, after a screening in my hometown, expressing genuine shock over the contents of Otter’s black medical bag.) In honor of Double Secret Probation Month here at SLIFR, I’m throwing the question open to further discussion.

In what ways has Animal House been a good thing for film comedy?

What are some of the elements rippling through movie culture that have roots in the film’s popularity which you could have done without over the past 30 years?

What is your favorite moment in the movie? Your favorite line?

What is the best post-Animal House movie comedy that bears the obvious stamps of its influence?

And what is the worst, most crass attempt to cash in on the glory of Delta Tau Chi?

These are all questions on which I hope we shall ruminate over the weekend in the comments column as commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the movie’s release on July 28 draws nearer. Now drop and give me 20!

12 comments:

Patrick said...

In what ways has Animal House been a good thing for film comedy?

It showcased ensemble acting, giving excellent actors (nobody ever talks about how well acted Animal House is) roles that weren't mere two-dimensional caricatures. Even the uptight Hoover's able to juggle tennis rackets.

One aspect I've always liked about it is the friendship between Otter and Boon. There's an easy comfort in the way they interact; watching them, there's no doubt in my mind that they've been friends for years, even though Tim Matheson and Peter Reigert hadn't.

It also showed that a movie can be crass and affectionate at once. The Deltas cause thousands of dollars of damage to a town, yet still emerge as not only justified, but lovable. Quite a feat.

Finally, it showed that a low budget movie with no major movie stars can get below the radar and strike the hearts of millions - especially teenage millions.

What are some of the elements rippling through movie culture that have roots in the film’s popularity which you could have done without over the past 30 years?

I don't like the idea that crass EQUALS funny. Also, chaos at the end has to be built up to. I guess what really bothers me is less what the movie did than what people think it did - those who say its points are "it's fun to humiliate people (especially women)," "authority is evil," "drinking to excess is good," and the like are deliberately missing the point to present their own agenda. There are better ways to do that than misreading a movie.

What is your favorite moment in the movie? Your favorite line?

Favorite moment: D-Day playing out the Lone Ranger theme on his throat. Never gets old.
Favorite line: "Leaving! What a good idea!" (It's all in the delivery.)

What is the best post-Animal House movie comedy that bears the obvious stamps of its influence?

I'll skip all the college comedies and go with Caddyshack, which had AH writer Douglas Kenney's hand in it. Once again, the slobs best the snobs in an endlessly quotable funfest.

And what is the worst, most crass attempt to cash in on the glory of Delta Tau Chi?

That's an easy one - the movie Preppies, from 1984. A sex "comedy" set in a college, this is one of the ugliest films of the '80s, in every sense of the word.

"NO PRISONERS!!"

Dennis Cozzalio said...

I can't recall how many times I've seen the movie to this point-- I think somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-40, if you count network TV versions. But the last couple of times I saw the movie I was kind of surprised how much genuine laughter the movie still inspired even after so many visits.

Neidermeyer has good laff lines ("You're all worthless and weak!"), but Mark Metcalf's physical presence and line delivery are more than half his game. I love the stable scene for his mixture of contempt for Dorffman, his mutterings of sweet nothings to the horse, the passing along of the carrot, and the pokes he delivers to Dorffman's chest that I can practically feel myself as he spews his psychotically detached invective: "What kind of man hits a defenseless animal?"

But perhaps my favorite moment in the movie (at least right now) occurs as Bluto moves away from the cafeteria line (after consuming the cheeseburger in one bite) and toward the table where Otter sits with some of the Omegas, the table where Bluto's infamous zit impersonation will take place. Neidermeyer's beloved horse has succumbed to cardiac arrest, and as a gentle reminder Bluto sidles past the ROTC captain, who is wearing a neck brace after being dragged by said steed across a field, and imitates a blustering horse. There's a quick cut to Neidermeyer, eyes bulging with shock and with pain, lunch bite interrupted, and then another quick cut to Bluto sporting an impish grin as he glides away.

Perfect, and perfectly hilarious.

Robert Fiore said...

I'll have to give some thought to the rest of the questions, but the man who wrote the book -- chapter of the book, actually -- on how the anti-authoritarian impulse behind Animal House was co-opted by the forces of complacency is Tony Hendra in his history of what he calls "Boomer Humor" Going Too Far. He charts the whole devolution from Animal House to Police Academy.

Dave Robidenza said...

And what is the worst, most crass attempt to cash in on the glory of Delta Tau Chi?

There was the atrocious Van Wilder, whose finest sequence was when our hero replaces the filling in a box of chocolate éclairs with semen from his pet bulldog and delivers the results to the "evil" fraternity house. We are then presented with loving close-ups of the brothers scarfing down their treats, their faces smeared with the "cream" filling.

And let's not forget American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile, whose highlights include a character intended to be in the mold of Steve Stifler and John Blutarsky but who comes off more as a sociopath than a party animal and a scene where two Viagra-enhanced teens engage in a form of penile Olympics, including ring toss, weightlifting and baseball. (Thankfully, the latter is not directly depicted on screen)

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Thanks, Robert, for your tip on Tony Hendra's Going Too Far. I'm looking forward to the rest of your thoughts.

Dave: You cite two examples of the downgrading of movie comedy that definitely exploit the Animal House template and then use the gross-out elements popularized by the Farrelly Brothers as their real focal point. Not that Animal House was some sort of tract or anything, but it is illuminating to look back on it and realize how politically based it is, because of the time it depicted (the waning of the '50s just before the death of JFK) and the time it was made (post-Watergate and Vietnam, when talk of reinstating the draft was beginning to swell). The antics of the Deltas were anchored in a time when there was the possibility of real consequences as a result of their outrageousness. What's depressing to me about comedies like the ones you mention is how they're content to define transgression as fucking pies and creatively recycling our precious bodily fluids, as Gen. Jack Ripper might say--there's not a lot at stake. And with each escalation of the gross-out factor, things seem to get less and less funny.

Robert Fiore said...

The answers to most of these questions run together in my mind:

The problem with this question is that there really was nothing in the form or content of Animal House that was particularly new. The college hi-jinx genre goes to back before sound era. The ensemble buddy comedy with countercultural overtones goes back to MASH originally. What made the movie was not the form or content per se but the wit, talent and sophistication that was brought to bear on it. The problem with going forward from there was that the John Lennon of the enterprise was Doug Kenny, and he apparently decided to play chicken with suicide and lost. Caddyshack is the only other movie Kenny was involved in, and Caddyshack is to Animal House what Son of Kong is to King Kong. Taking this metaphor further, Harold Ramis was Paul McCartney and Ivan Reitman was George Harrison. The best movies they made afterwards were Ghost Busters (Ramis and Reitman) and Groundhog Day (Ramis). Other than Ghost Busters Reitman seems to have been involved in little else but crap, Ramis's career has been more distinguished but tends to the mediocre. Really, the National Lampoon sensibility took hold much more through Saturday Night Live than in movies, and the Saturday Night Live that was most closely aligned with the Lampoon was ultimately outshone by the Phil Hartman era of the show.

As to the effect it had on other movies, I think honestly you'd have to say it was mostly negative, simply because the elements that were emulated were not the good ones, and they were almost invariably emulated in the most crude, crass and witless way conceivable. How bad movies in the Animal House mode will be depends on how high the roman numeral is; III, IV and V will be utterly ghastly, anything beyond that is positively toxic. The Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker idiom was a lot more fruitful than Animal House, really.

Favorite moment: John Belushi wiggling his eyebrows at the audience when he realizes what he's going to see in the sorority window. Favorite line: "Ramming speed!" Favorite line not cited here before: "Senator and Mrs. John Blutarsky." Happiest ending in movies.

J.D. said...

In what ways has Animal House been a good thing for film comedy?

Well, I'd say it loosened up the comic boundaries -- opened up what was permissible in a comedy, which is always a good thing.

What are some of the elements rippling through movie culture that have roots in the film’s popularity which you could have done without over the past 30 years?

Probably gross-out humor for the sake of it, with no real meaning, purpose but just to up the ante and be more disgusting then the last film.

What is your favorite moment in the movie? Your favorite line?

Oh geez, there's so many. Favorite moment: Probably when Bluto tries to cheer up Flounder after his car his trashed and smashes a beer can against his head and then a bottle. It's the facial expressions that Belushi gives that gets me every time.

Favorite line: "My advice to you, is to start drinking heavily." Followed by Otter's great reply, "Better listen to him Flounder, he's in pre-Med." I like to use this line every once in a while in real life and if someone gets it I know I've met a kindred soul.

What is the best post-Animal House movie comedy that bears the obvious stamps of its influence?

PCU. A very underrated, underappreciated film that got slammed when it first came out as an ANIMAL HOUSE wannabe but I like it a lot if not for Jeremy Piven's inspired performance.

And what is the worst, most crass attempt to cash in on the glory of Delta Tau Chi?

As someone else pointed out, the VAN WILDER films. Awful, awful films. Yikes.

Felix said...

In what ways has Animal House been a good thing for film comedy?
Because it simply set the standard for which all depictions of school comedies should be made on. It's a man's movie, it's a classic underdog flick.

What are some of the elements rippling through movie culture that have roots in the film’s popularity which you could have done without over the past 30 years?
The constant wannabes from movies, to shows to toga parties. This was funny THEN, it's not funny anymore unless seen in the movie.

What is your favorite moment in the movie? Your favorite line?
The guitar smashing from Belushi, and anything with Neidermeyer.

What is the best post-Animal House movie comedy that bears the obvious stamps of its influence?
Revenge of the Nerds. Good rip off.

And what is the worst, most crass attempt to cash in on the glory of Delta Tau Chi?
"Old School." A mediocre comedy trying to take the glory from "Animal House." There's also "Van Wilder."

bill said...

I don't see what any of this has to do with The Dark Knight.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

I was going to post a question or two about this later tonight, but since you brought it up: Has anybody seen the vitriol David Edelstein and Keith Uhlich have been subjected to because they dared to write negative reviews of The Dark Knight? It's downright bizarre. And most of the spew was written by people who, at the time of writing, likely hadn't even seen the movie yet (at least in Edelstein's case). It's as if the movie had already been predigested and accepted as a masterpiece and anyone who disagreed-- and especially if he used big words in doing so-- was a pompous twit whose intelligence and credibility for writing about film was somehow now suspect. I haven't seen the movie yet, and I am interested, of course. But I just find this whole phenomenon somewhat disturbing, like there's some sort of mob mentality at work that can't stand the idea of this movie's reputation being called into question in any way. What gives?

But who cares about The Dark Knight right now anyway? I saw Hellboy II: The Golden Army last night and was bowled over... Just call me Johnny Come Lately.

bill said...

I did see those reviews and comments. On the way home from work tonight, I said to my wife (and please note that my use of this word is to illustrate a point) that easiest way to get someone to call you a "faggot" is to post a negative review of The Dark Knight on the internet.

But I loved the film, and think that booth Uhlich and Edelstein are completely off-base. I just wish that those who shared my view would call them out about sloppy thinking, etc., rather than their use of big words.

The Dark Knight is phenomenal. Heath Ledger is riveting. I'll say more when and if you get your own review up.

I also saw Hellboy II. There were things about it (the Elemental, the Angel of Death), that I thought were extraordinary, and overall I liked the film. But certain attempts at humor (like "glasshole"), and the character of Krauss, and the treatment of Tambor's character, put me off somewhat, and left me slightly disappointed. Still, it's very strong, for the most part.

kaicevy said...

Now drop and give me 20!