Film at Lincoln Center announces Make My Day: American Movies in the Age of Reagan, August 23 – September 3.
The presidency of Ronald Reagan was marked by such eighties movie events as First Blood, Conan the Barbarian, The King of Comedy, Gremlins, and The Terminator. These films, plus the birth of MTV, helped form the pop-cultural backdrop for the Cold War and the delirious 1984 presidential campaign that led to Reagan’s re-election. In his latest book, Make My Day: Movie Culture in the Age of Reagan—the culmination of a trilogy he began with The Dream Life and An Army of Phantoms—renowned critic/historian J. Hoberman contextualizes and examines Reagan as historical figure and symbolic totem, placing the key American films released during his presidency within a narrative bookended by the bicentennial celebrations (coinciding with the beginning of Reagan’s national ascendency) and the Iran-Contra Affair. On the occasion of this essential new book’s publication, Film at Lincoln Center will present a series of special double features selected by Hoberman from the films he discusses.
Make My Day showcases some of the biggest stars of the decade, including Tom Cruise in his breakout role as a yuppie college hopeful in Risky Business, Madonna as a mysterious NYC bohemian in Desperately Seeking Susan, Michael J. Fox as quintessential ’80s teen Marty McFly in Back to the Future, and several appearances by action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger and character actor James Woods—now emblems of Hollywood conservatism. Other pairing highlights include an opening 35mm double bill of Ivan Passer’s rarely screened Cutter’s Way and Brian De Palma’s Blow Out, motor murder mysteries with a keen eye for early anti-Reaganism; Kathryn Bigelow’s Southwest vampire road movie Near Dark and Tim Hunter’s River’s Edge, brilliant genre hybrids that tear down the facade of the American dream; David Byrne’s True Stories and Tim Burton’s Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, zany pop visions of suburban America from the Talking Heads’ frontman and soon-to-be cult actor/writer Paul Reubens; and, of course, Sudden Impact, featuring Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry uttering the iconic catchphrase and namesake for Hoberman’s book, “Go ahead, make my day.”
Organized by J. Hoberman and Dan Sullivan.
Tickets go on sale Thursday, August 1. Special 2-for-1 pricing! See both films in that day’s back-to-back double feature and get two tickets for the price of one. Individual screening tickets are $15; $12 for students, seniors (62+), and persons with disabilities; and $10 for Film at Lincoln Center members.
The New Press
FILMS & DESCRIPTIONS
All films screen digitally at the Walter Reade Theater (165 W. 65th St.) unless otherwise noted.
Ivan Passer, USA, 1981, 35mm, 105m
An alleyway breakdown triggers a labyrinthine murder mystery in Ivan Passer’s atmospheric neonoir, a film maudit that wreaked internal havoc among United Artists execs, who saw it as resolutely uncommercial and effectively buried it upon release. Richard Bone (Jeff Bridges) witnesses a curious dumping of something or other in the alley, and when the next day’s newspapers announce that a young girl has been found murdered in the same spot where Bone left his out-of-commission automobile, he enlists his friend from the Vietnam War, Alex Cutter (an excellent John Heard), to help with their own increasingly paranoiac and perilous investigation. In Make My Day, Hoberman describes Cutter’s Way as “a premature critique of Reaganism” that uses “patriotic displays as ironic backdrops.”
Friday, August 23, 7:00pm (Introduction by J. Hoberman)
Monday, August 26, 2:00pm
Brian De Palma, USA, 1981, 35mm, 108m
One of Brian De Palma’s greatest films and one of the great American films of the 1980s, Blow Out finds De Palma mixing a variety of elements—the Kennedy assassination; Chappaquiddick; Antonioni’s Blow-Up; the slasher genre that was then in full flower; elements of Detective Bob Leuci’s experiences working undercover for the Knapp Commission; the harshness and sadness of American life; and, as ever, Hitchcock’s Vertigo—into a hallucinatory thriller that builds to a shattering conclusion. With John Travolta, in perhaps his greatest performance, as a low-budget horror movie sound man who accidentally records a murder, and Nancy Allen, absolutely heartbreaking as the girl caught in the middle.
Friday, August 23, 9:15pm (Introduction by J. Hoberman)
Monday, August 26, 4:00pm
The King of Comedy
Martin Scorsese, USA, 1982, 109m
In Martin Scorsese’s iconic cringe comedy, Robert De Niro stars as Rupert Pupkin, a cheerful but deranged comic who aspires to get his big break on the late-night talk show hosted by Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). Beneath his cockeyed smile and dorky suits are the creepy trappings of Travis Bickle, so make no mistake: Pupkin’s a psycho, albeit a hilarious one. Featuring superb supporting performances by Lewis and Sandra Bernhard, The King of Comedy remains one of the great films about excruciating embarrassment, and an evocation of a lost New York. Hoberman writes: “Langford unavoidably evokes Ronald Reagan, nearly killed by an assassin who imagined himself as Travis Bickle, but so does Rupert Pupkin—a mediocre comic who is brilliantly delusional.”
Saturday, August 24, 6:30pm (Introduction by J. Hoberman)
Saturday, August 31, 2:00pm
The King of Comedy will be the subject of Film at Lincoln Center’s next Film Club, a quarterly discussion for New Wave members exploring a film’s aesthetics, themes, and why it matters over wine and light bites. For more information on New Wave membership, visit filmlinc.org/newwave.
David Cronenberg, Canada, 1983, 35mm, 89m
David Cronenberg’s seminal head trip ranks among the great explorations into technology, the media, and the human body. Smut-peddling Toronto TV exec Max Renn (James Woods), always on the prowl for new, controversy-arousing programming, is recommended a mysterious broadcast by a colleague, apparently issuing from Malaysia, in which anonymous victims are tortured and murdered. Renn is instantly intrigued by the snuff show and begins putting it on air himself, exalting in the resultant public furor; but, just as quickly, his reality mutates into a televisual nightmare, marked by some of Cronenberg’s most iconic feats of body-horror. Hoberman writes: “Cronenberg suggests that television changed everything, even our brain functions and hence our understanding of the world.”
Saturday, August 24, 8:45pm
Satuday, August 31, 4:00pm
Conan the Barbarian
John Milius, USA, 1982, 35mm, 129m
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s breakout role came in John Milius’s sword-and-sorcery box-office hit. Based on a Marvel comic book (and originally scripted by Oliver Stone, before Milius rewrote it), Conan finds the titular muscleman hero seeking revenge against Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones), the evil leader of a band of raiders, who killed Conan’s parents when he was a child. Trained as a gladiator and having discovered an ancient sword, Conan undertakes a phantasmagorical, violent, and campy odyssey, encountering all manner of outlandish characters and fantastic locales on his way to confront Doom. Hoberman notes that Conan the Barbarian is “a spectacle of brute violence rather than snazzy special effects, taking its cues from Alexander Nevsky, Samson and Delilah, and Triumph of the Will.”
Friday, August 23, 2:00pm
Sunday, September 1, 2:00pm
Ted Kotcheff, USA, 1982, 93m
According to Hoberman, “First Blood turned the assumptions of the returning vet films inside out . . . Rambo is everything: super-grunt, Green Beret, hippie protester, VC guerrilla, righteous outlaw, Hollywood Freedom Fight, total violence, the War itself. First Blood was a manifestation of the nation’s unresolved Vietnam trauma.” Fresh off his ascent to superstardom with the first two Rocky films, Sylvester Stallone stars in this franchise-launching action thriller as Vietnam vet John Rambo, who travels to Washington state to visit an old war buddy—who, it turns out, has died from cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange. But the trip takes a turn for the ultraviolent when the sadistic local authorities decide to make an example of the wayward commando, and Rambo finds himself with no choice but to put his combat skills to use in taking down these bad actors with badges. New 4K restoration!
Friday, August 23, 4:30pm
Sunday, September 1, 4:30pm
Beyond the Law
Paul Brickman, USA, 1983, 35mm, 99m
Tom Cruise’s breakout role was in this epochal hit, which Hoberman calls a “paean to yuppie self-actualization . . . Risky Business was positioned as a raunchy youth comedy but, with its surplus of style—including a score by the avant-pop, techno-rock ensemble Tangerine Dream—was something odder, a parodic Spielberg idyll that was also a premonition of High Eighties movies like Blue Velvet and Something Wild.” Cruise’s appropriately named high school student Joel Goodson has his parents’ house all to himself while waiting to hear back from Princeton about whether he’ll be enrolling there as a freshman in the fall. In a bid to lose his virginity, he hires a prostitute named Jackie (Rebecca De Mornay), and soon finds himself running something resembling an underground brothel out of his suburban abode.
Sunday, August 25, 2:00pm
Tuesday, August 27, 2:00pm
Clint Eastwood, USA, 1983, 35mm, 117m
“San Francisco police detective Harry Callahan was Clint Eastwood’s most enduring character—the personification of political reaction, the antidote to the permissive Sixties and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society,” writes Hoberman. “Harry—like Reagan—was a walking contradiction, the authoritarian who hates authority.” Returning from a hiatus during the Carter administration, Eastwood’s Dirty Harry was back for Reagan’s first term to track a serial killer—who is avenging her own rape—only to unwittingly become romantically involved with her. Sudden Impact notably marked the first onscreen instance of Dirty Harry’s (and Eastwood’s) signature catchphrase, which Reagan would himself later quote: “Go ahead, make my day.”
Sunday, August 25, 4:00pm
Tuesday, August 27, 4:00pm
Joe Dante, USA, 1984, 35mm, 106m
When traveling inventor Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) brings home Gizmo, a deceptively adorable creature purchased in a Chinatown shop as a Christmas gift for his son, he unwittingly unleashes over-the-top violence and gleefully anarchic chaos into his quiet family-oriented suburb. According to Hoberman, this classic perversion of the “Spielbergian fantasy of toys come to life,” directed by Joe Dante from a script by Chris Columbus, “created an ambience of cozy, All-American wholesomeness purely for the fun of staging an adolescent or—appropriate to the post-E.T. world—infantile desecration.”
Saturday, August 24, 2:00pm
Sunday, September 1, 6:30pm
James Cameron, USA, 1984, 35mm, 107m
Released in the weeks immediately preceding Ronald Reagan’s reelection in the fall of 1984, The Terminator, writes Hoberman, imagines a “nocturnal downtown Los Angeles, a veritable free-fire zone that, with its near-constant car chases and massive construction sites, might have been designed by the machine-based performance artists of the Survival Research Laboratories.” In his starring role as the “hyper-macho humanoid machine” who travels back in time from a robot-ruled future to prevent the birth of the man who would go on to lead the human resistance, Arnold Schwarzenegger delivers “an entertainment mechanism that allowed audiences to identify with, even while fearing, its killer robot, a creature that might be humanity’s future self.”
Saturday, August 24, 4:00pm
Sunday, September 1, 8:30pm
Back to the Future
Robert Zemeckis, USA, 1985, 35mm, 116m
Hoberman describes Robert Zemeckis’s trilogy-launching classic as the quintessential example of a Hollywood film that “explicates the fantasy of Reaganland” by dramatizing an idealized dialogue between the fifties and the eighties: “No less than Disneyland or Reaganland, Back to the Future proposes the comforting past to improve the present and even frame the radiant future.” Michael J. Fox gives an iconic turn as eighties teen Marty McFly, “an American Oedipus” who travels back in time to 1955 and inadvertently disrupts the budding romance between his teenage parents. With the help of the time machine’s inventor, Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), Marty must contrive to bring his parents together while orchestrating his own return to 1985, in a mind-bending comedy that delivers an amped-up nostalgia trip by way of sci-fi mechanics.
Sunday, August 25, 6:30pm
Friday, August 30, 2:00pm
Desperately Seeking Susan
Susan Seidelman, USA, 1985, 35mm, 104m
Bored New Jersey housewife Roberta (Rosanna Arquette) only knows Susan (Madonna) through reading personal ads seeking her—until a bump on the head leads to a bout of amnesia and her taking on Susan’s identity. Roberta quickly finds herself caught up in a plot involving murder, stolen Egyptian earrings, and the mob, as well as a romance with a friend (Aidan Quinn) of the guy who places the classifieds. A spin on Jacques Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating, this screwball romp was mainstream America’s introduction to the ’80s underground Bohemian scene in New York and to the Material Girl herself, and features appearances by Ann Magnuson, John Turturro, Richard Hell, John Lurie, and more.
Sunday, August 25, 8:45pm
Friday, August 30, 4:15pm
David Byrne, USA, 1986, 35mm, 90m
The uncanniness of the suburban everyday is plumbed with aw-shucks gusto in the Talking Heads lead singer’s directorial debut. Byrne stars as a visitor to Virgil, Texas, a Reagan-era vision of utopia on the verge of its annual “Celebration of Specialness.” DP Ed Lachman’s cinematography throws the hyperrealism of the middle American landscape—littered with shopping malls and populated by a wealth of zany denizens (including memorable turns from John Goodman and Spalding Gray)—into sharp relief, and the Talking Heads’ soundtrack suffuses the film with a cohesively postmodern energy. Hoberman writes that the film “is so unambiguously patriotic as to be the avant-pop analogue to [Reagan’s 1984 campaign film] A New Beginning.”
Monday, August 26, 6:30pm
Wednesday, August 28, 2:30pm
Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure
Tim Burton, USA, 1985, 35mm, 91m
Tim Burton’s feature debut finds the young director and actor-writer Paul Reubens laying the foundation for Reubens’s iconic Saturday-morning TV series Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, according to Hoberman “a fully realized private universe” and “a candy-colored world of sexual ambiguity and a realm of total anthropomorphism.” Eccentric manchild Pee-Wee Herman (Reubens) is devastated when his beloved ketchup-red bicycle is stolen, propelling him on a delirious nationwide search that takes him all the way to the Alamo. Much like the TV series it spawned, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure delightfully attains an aesthetic that, per Hoberman, melds “high and low tech, the avant-garde and the vulgar […] racial diversity and frisky gender-bending.”
Monday, August 26, 8:15pm
Wednesday, August 28, 4:15pm
Return of the Repressed
Kathryn Bigelow, USA, 1987, 35mm, 95m
Starring Jenny Wright and Adrian Pasdar as a beautiful itinerant vampire and the young man she brings into the fold, this second feature from director Kathryn Bigelow is a flamboyantly cool, cult-favorite genre hybrid, described by Hoberman as “a road film set in the Southwest with a ‘family’ of vampires who strongly suggest a Mansonesque hippie cult driving through Bonnie and Clyde country in a succession of stolen vans.” With supporting performances from Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen and a memorable electronic soundtrack by Tangerine Dream.
Tuesday, August 27, 6:30pm
Monday, September 2, 2:00pm
Tim Hunter, USA, 1986, 99m
Crispin Glover, Keanu Reeves, and Ione Skye star in Tim Hunter’s classic of Americana-inflected horror and middle-class disaffection as what Hoberman calls “spawn of a suburban wasteland, a group of post-punk, stoned-out teenagers […] too vacant to register any emotion when one of them rape-murders his girlfriend and leaves her body unburied by the river.” Dennis Hopper also appears, playing a one-legged ex-biker who sells marijuana to the apathetic youths. Controversial at the time of its release, River’s Edge endures as a harrowing, transfixing, nightmarish vision of a generation for whom Reagan’s “Morning in America” was in fact an endless night.
Tuesday, August 27, 8:15pm
Monday, September 2, 4:00pm
Oliver Stone, USA, 1986, 35mm, 123m
Oliver Stone’s directorial breakthrough came with his Oscar-nominated third feature, a vividly rendered war drama that draws no quarter in its criticism of the U.S.-backed Salvadoran junta. An American combat photographer (James Woods) decamps from his native San Francisco to Civil War–wracked El Salvador with an unemployed DJ buddy (Jim Belushi), and they quickly find themselves neck deep in the brutal conflict between the FMLN and the right-wing military government. Hoberman calls Salvador “an attempt at shock didacticism”; in its violence and freewheeling critique, Stone made “the most reckless and confrontational of recent left-wing features depicting Latin American upheaval.”
Wednesday, August 28, 6:30pm
Tuesday, September 3, 6:30pm
Alex Cox, USA/Spain, 1987, 35mm, 95m
A 1984 trip to Nicaragua fatefully introduced Repo Man auteur Alex Cox to the story of the 19th-century American mercenary William Walker (per Hoberman, “a crypto-Oliver North”), who served as the country’s president from 1856-57 and serves as the subject of one of Cox’s most gleefully incendiary films (scripted by Rudy Wurlitzer and scored by Joe Strummer). Walker, portrayed here by Ed Harris in a signature performance, has just fled Mexico following a failed coup attempt. Bankrolled by Cornelius Vanderbilt (Peter Boyle), Walker makes for Nicaragua with a private army of sixty men, sacks Managua, and proceeds to enact an increasingly deranged and dictatorial presidency, with the promise of his own self-destruction looming always. Harris, Hoberman writes, “brought the full weight of blue-eyed craziness to Manifest Destiny […] Harris plays Walker as a performer who, like Reagan or North, is hypnotized (and convinced) by his own rhetoric.”
Wednesday, August 28, 8:45pm
Tuesday, September 3, 8:45pm
Paul Verhoeven, USA, 1987, 106m
Paul Verhoeven demonstrated his ability to deliver both genre thrills and serious social commentary in this prescient and disturbing look at the rise of the corporate police state. In a dystopian, futuristic Detroit, a nefarious mega-conglomerate unveils the latest in crime-fighting technology: part cyborg, part revivified corpse of a police officer (Peter Weller) slain in the line of duty, RoboCop at first seems a surefire success—until he rebels against his programming. This sci-fi pulp masterpiece is packed with both inventive filmmaking—a grimy, cyberpunk look; satirical news broadcasts; chilling point-of-view shots—and provocative ideas about corporate takeover, the militarization of the police force, and the relationship between man and machine.
Friday, August 30, 7:00pm
Monday, September 2, 6:15pm
The Running Man
Paul Michael Glaser, USA, 1987, 35mm, 101m
This classic work of eminently ’80s sci-fi schlock (loosely based on a Stephen King novel, published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman) imagines an America whose economy has imploded and whose citizenry is kept stupefied by an unending series of gladiatorial game shows. Writes Hoberman, Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as “an honest cop who refused to fire on food rioters and was consequently framed for the ensuing massacre, is given a chance to survive as a participant in the most popular game show, and essentially turns Spartacus, leading a rebellion with a disco-MTV backbeat.”
Friday, August 30, 9:00pm
Monday, September 2, 8:15pm
Towards the Nineties
The Last Temptation of Christ
Martin Scorsese, USA, 1988, 35mm, 163m
Scorsese’s passion project, adapted by frequent collaborator Paul Schrader from a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis and starring Willem Dafoe in one of his greatest performances as Jesus Christ, ranks among the most controversial American films released during Reagan’s second term. Heavily protested by the Christian right on the eve of its premiere and proclaimed blasphemous by Republican congressmen on the floor of the House, the film, also starring Harvey Keitel, David Bowie, Barbara Hershey, and Harry Dean Stanton and featuring a score by Peter Gabriel, imagines Christ’s last days as, per Hoberman, “an unpleasant flashback to the counterculture,” and endures as one of cinema’s most provocative and moving works on the trials and tribulations of the soul.
Saturday, August 31, 6:00pm
Tuesday, September 3, 1:30pm
John Carpenter, USA, 1988, 35mm, 94m
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper stars in John Carpenter’s classic low-budget sci-fi allegory about the role of ideology in our unconscious daily lives (“the most anti-Reagan film ever to come out of Hollywood,” Lewis Beale noted in a profile of Carpenter at the time of the film’s release). Piper is John Nada, a dim but upright “post-hippie lumberjack” who, while coping with his own underemployment, stumbles upon a pair of magic sunglasses that permit him to see the truth of reality: namely, that a race of alien conquerors control the population’s minds through the products they consume and the coded messages they constantly receive from the culture industry. Writes Hoberman, “For Carpenter, They Live was made at a moment of crisis in response to an actual problem. He assigned himself a mission that he had to work outside of Hollywood to fulfill . . . They Live was designed to alter the viewer’s perspective—which is, in fact, its subject.”
Saturday, August 31, 9:00pm
Tuesday, September 3, 4:30pm
Film at Lincoln Center Talk: J. Hoberman & Dennis Lim
Join Film at Lincoln Center’s Director of Programming Dennis Lim and writer J. Hoberman for an expansive discussion about his latest book, Make My Day: Movie Culture in the Age of Reagan, the film series it inspired, the relationship between politics and pop culture in the 1980s, and more.
Wednesday, August 28, 7:00pm (Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center Amphitheater, 144 W 65 St)