“Shit from the Thrift Store” is a blog series on thrift-store-bought DVDs that came to me in the shower one morning, about a week after having exhaustively written and scheduled 17 articles for the Delirious Cinema blog and 1 horror article for the next Absolute Underground – apparently my sleep-deprived brain felt it needed even more to tackle, so it went on making more things up to do without so much as a consultation. But I thought this might actually be a fun sideline for film-writing, as I had been sidestepping into the Thrift Store on my way downtown sporadically (when I've been able to waste a few minutes without completely missing the seabus from North Vancouver to downtown) – and in a self-conceived notion of competition, I've used said time to feed the friendly competition that probably exists only in my own mind between myself, finding the best,out-of-print DVD and forgotten cinema gems, and my friend-slash-imaginary-competition who runs an online webstore for sought-after DVDs and VHS tapes. Said friend seems to have more luck than I do acquiring the really cool stuff from the same couple of thrift stores the exist around the Lower Lonsdale area (or LoLo, as the local businesses call it), but I'm not just in it for the competition – no, I'm in it to find those forgotten-about nuggets of something special from the Hollywood and Canadian Tax Credit films of yesteryear. And indeed, I always keep the corner of my eye sharpened for those little slices of culture and film that I may have missed the first time around – you know, things like Staying Alive and Flashdance.
Although never having seen either of these films, I retain a childhood memory (which admittedly may have gotten warped, somewhat, over time) of both of these films, plus John Landis' Trading Places, having been fake-reviewed in a Mad Magazine spoof of Siskel & Ebert's movie review show which was on the air in 1983, “At the Movies”. Two things always struck me about Staying Alive, other than the fact it is a direct and official sequel to the late-seventies hit that made John Travolta a Hollywood superstar – Saturday Night Fever – and that is 1.) it was directed by Sylvester Stallone, and 2.) is appears to thoroughly and unapologetically exploit John Travolta, as he appears in all of the film's promotional stills mostly naked, mostly sweaty, quite oiled-up, and pretty damned ripped. (When did he do Blow Out again? Before? After? Anyway, he was pretty popular around this time. Which reminds me, I still need to see Perfect, which also starred Travolta alongside Jamie Lee Curtis, which is probably another entertaining take Hollywood take on how narcissism will get you everything). Where was I? Whatever, I can move onto Entertaining and Narcissistic.
In fact, Stayin' Alive is sort of an exercise in Hollywood meta-narcissism – as it's a bizarrely narcissistic story about a narcissistic character told by Sylvester Stallone himself, who somehow manages to ooze his very own style of narcissism, which used to be somewhat attractive in the 1980s. In Stayin' Alive, Travolta's Saturday-Night-Fever character flip-flops between two intimate relationships between two women, neither of whom seem to mind his promiscuous wishy-washiness in regards to either relationship, while he unscrupulous climbs over his professional peers to gain a top spot in a high-profile Broadway dance-musical – and we're meant to be on his side through his unprincipled “dilemmas” as the movie asks (expects) us to see this all as some sort of existential crisis that he's going through (and we are on his side, because aren't we all just a tiny bit narcissistic ourselves? Well, it is the 1980s, and Travolta is a little bit irresistible, even if he spends half the film in his tighty-whities).
So what of Flashdance? Surely the alluring girl form the wrong side of the tracks with the heart of gold who only wants to dance her way to success isn't a Regan-era narcissist, is she? Well, I'm still mulling over an inner debate about that one, but it seems to me that the movie was telling me that if you are this type of girl, then you'd better find an older and slightly more experienced white male to fall in love with you so that he can help you out by pulling some strings on your behalf in that prestigious dance academy to get you that major audition that will launch your professional career, or else don't bother, because you'll probably just become a stripper like your old friend Jeanie.
The really amazing thing here is that both Staying Alive and Flashdance are actually two wildly entertaining films – because Hollywood in the 1980s knew damn well how to pull our strings – with flashy movies filled with electrifying choreography, dazzling set-pieces, ups and downs in just the right places, attractive leads and supporting cast members, and a constant barrage of upbeat music tracks. Not like the Hollywood movies of today, where far more sophisticated means of storytelling and a focus to modern audiences are...
Ah, hell, I'm going back to the thrift store.