As a child of the ’80s (born in 1976), I take for granted that my tastes were formed during an extended low point — if not the outright nadir — in American culture.
Nowhere is that clear more than the movies.
The ’70s are generally considered the last truly great epoch in American filmmaking. As the bloated studio system was breaking down, the balance of power in Hollywood briefly shifted to a few headstrong, ultra-talented writers and directors — Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Paul Schrader, Stanley Kubrick, Robert Altman and others.
But, by late in the decade, corporate America mostly had bought up the remnants of Old Hollywood and its feuding family-run fiefdoms, gradually bringing it into line with Wall Street’s bottom-line expectations.
Once, a few powerful personalities would occasionally risk utter ruin on a wildly unrealistic, risky stab at greatness like “Apocalypse Now,” “A Clockwork Orange” or “The Godfather.” But by the early ’80s, Hollywood had been largely transformed into a profit-driven assembly line for blockbusters and star vehicles.
The early ’90s saw an uprising of independent film, as a wave of young, talented outsiders with outsized personalities — Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher, Steven Soderbergh and others — pushed into the mainstream. Though they were mostly later co-opted by the Hollywood establishment, suddenly, making ambitious, challenging movies was in vogue again.
Sandwiched between these two fruitful decades was the ’80s, a post-apocalyptic wasteland populated by irradiated mutants like Conan the Barbarian, Freddy Krueger and lots of Muppets-gone-bad — “Gremlins” (1984), “The Dark Crystal” (1982), “Child’s Play” (1988).
OK, so the ’80s had very few truly great films. The decade has few equivalents to “Chinatown” or “The Deer Hunter.”
But there was one thing about the ’80s that redeems the entire decade in my eyes — even the years with Mark Malone at quarterback, when I wasn’t allowed to stay up and watch “The A-Team.” A certain kind of movie got made in the ’80s that virtually doesn’t exist anymore.