From TisEng to Son of Rambow, not to mention Ashes to Ashes, movie versions of The A-Team, re-makes of Battlestar Galactica and horror icons such as Nightmare on Elm Street, the 80s revival is finally here!
FromApril 23, 2010
For today’s movie moguls it was the decade that rocked their world and they are certainly not going to let us forget it
The emblematic scene of summer 2010 is from the ribald comedy Hot Tub Time Machine. Here our four beleaguered protagonists stumble through a hotel lobby and slowly realise that they’ve been transported back in time to 1986. They see mullets to the left of them and leg warmers to the right. They see Miami Vice T-shirts and pink pastel tops. And finally, to their horror, after spotting giant mobile phones, bright yellow cassette players and TV clips of Ronald Reagan, they realise that the Eighties are fully upon them once more — at which point one of them, Nick, screams and dashes out the door in panic.
The scene is drolly funny, and one of the smartest in an otherwise hit-and-miss movie. Yet it is also directly analogous to the reality that’s fast approaching the modern filmgoer. For stumbling through the summer multiplex, one will soon be surrounded by cinematic flashbacks from Eighties past. The choice is to see big-budget Hollywood remakes and reboots of Eighties staples such as A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Karate Kid, Tron, Wall Street, Footloose and Clash of the Titans — with Conan the Barbarian, Police Academy and Private Benjamin on the way — or to see original movies such as The Expendables, which is steeped in Eighties action nostalgia and features a cast list, including Dolph Lundgren and Sylvester Stallone, that recalls the Rockys and the Rambos of bygone times.
Or there are TV adaptations, such as The A-Team, which gives Liam Neeson the same cigars and the same catchphrases that made George Peppard the undisputed star of long-forgotten Saturday evening television. Or there’s even Hot Tub Time Machine itself, a comedy that luxuriates in the fashions, the music and the apparent hedonism of the Eighties, and one that seems to represent explicit wish-fulfilment on the part of both its makers and its fortysomething target audience.
Of course, there have been Eighties remakes before. Titles such as Miami Vice and The Dukes of Hazzard have regularly popped up on summer schedules. But nothing previously can compare to the quantity, the scale and the endemic nature of this summer’s Eighties reboot. The blogosphere is, typically, alive with fervent debates from proprietorial groups about the nature of the remakes, while Hollywood studios are gingerly attempting a double seduction of old franchise devotees and prospective fans. And still nobody has really asked why.
The most obvious answer, though not the whole truth, says the screenwriter Wesley Strick (Cape Fear, The Saint and the forthcoming Nightmare on Elm Street remake), is that the average age of a Hollywood studio executive is 40. “The movies that rock your world generally come around when you are about 15,” he explains. At 56, Strick claims to be decidedly unmoved by the Eighties obsession. “That means the movies that rocked the average studio executive’s world were made in 1985. To him, Nightmare on Elm Street is a formative part of his youth and his identity and has seared itself on to his brain in a way that it absolutely didn’t affect me. So, for the executive it’s almost like a religious experience to have the opportunity to revive this movie.”
Certainly, the “average age” theory holds water and was recently validated by Doug Belgrad, 44, the president of Columbia Pictures (he’s in charge of Eighties reboots such as Ghostbusters, 21 Jump Street and The Karate Kid), who announced: “There’s a fondness for that culture for those of us who came of age with it, and now we want to share it.” And yet, it’s one thing to green-light an Eighties remake, but there has to be an equally receptive culture out there that will consume Eighties product, transforming films such as the recent turgid Clash of the Titans remake into a $300 million smash.
Here we are talking about deeply felt cultural patterns, says Richard Evans, the author of Remember the 80s: Now That’s What I Call Nostalgia. The fortysomething Evans describes a virtuous circle in which current trends in music, movies and fashion that feed off the Eighties drive people back to that decade and ultimately reinforce their appetite for that culture. “You listen to the Kaiser Chiefs and they have a bit of Talking Heads in them,” he says. “And that drives you back to Talking Heads. Modern culture drives the whole Eighties nostalgia wave, where you see nine-year-old kids on the high street wearing ra-ra skirts, and you see Eighties typography creeping back into magazines, and so on. It’s almost impossible to release yourself from the pull of this nostalgia.”
Nostalgia for the Eighties, in other words, is practically hard-wired into our contemporary culture. But it’s more than that, says Peter York, the author, broadcaster and doyen of all things Eighties (see the six-part TV series Peter York’s Eighties). “The allure of the Eighties is partially because they are like a more innocent version of now,” he says, noting in passing that he can’t wait to see the new Wall Street movie. “The Eighties have got some of the characteristics of the age we’ve just emerged from, which we now know was wicked, and all crumbled to dust. But also, in the Eighties we didn’t fear imminent destruction, we didn’t have a full-on clash of civilisation, and nobody fretted about the environment. So things could only get better.” He adds, tellingly, and almost wistfully: “The Eighties were the last time when the recognisable world was all in place. After the Eighties you looked at something and thought: ‘Is it real, or is it virtual?’ ”
But even if this is true, and if our entire Western culture is one giant Eighties receptacle, waiting eagerly for the latest remake to be dropped down the spout, it doesn’t quite explain the choice of movies that are being remade. Why not Back to the Future, for instance? Or Raging Bull? Why not Witness or Apocalypse Now? The answer is apparently straightforward, namely, that the unifying factor among all the remakes is that the originals were all a bit rubbish. “I think Apocalypse Now worked really nicely the first time round,” says a deadpan Samuel Bayer, the director of the Nightmare on Elm Street remake, “whereas there’s a dated and slightly camp quality to the original Nightmare that doesn’t hold up too well.”
Similarly, Harald Zwart, the director of the new Karate Kid, suggests that time too has been unkind to his high-kicking original. “I think datedness does come into play here,” he says, after politely noting how much he respects the “heart” of the first film. “There is a different film language these days, and I think the kids who go to this version are going to have a much stronger emotional and much more exciting experience.” He explains too that “The Karate Kid is me telling the story of a young man who is bullied and who has to stand up for himself, rather than me simply retelling the original movie. It’s not a remake. It’s just capitalising on the franchise.”
And that , Strick says, is the real key to the Eighties boom. For a remake to work, the original has to be just bland enough, and just simplistic enough, to be reproduced without much damage to its central framework. In short, it has to be defiantly average. And, boy, did the Eighties produce a lot of defiantly average movies. “The Eighties were the beginning of a period in which movies became products,” Strick says. “The movies that Hollywood was making in the Seventies tended to be personal, idiosyncratic projects that don’t lend themselves to remakes. You’re not going to remake Five Easy Pieces or Rosemary’s Baby. The thing people always say in Hollywood is: ‘We’re making movies here, not widgets!’ But I think in the Eighties Hollywood actually started making widgets — these bright shiny products that they’re still making today. It’s the Bruckheimer-isation and the Spielberg-isation of Hollywood that became an epidemic that we’re still living through. And so the Eighties are the first period that can be easily updated to 2010 without any serious rethinking.”
This penchant for sourcing simple-minded trash is no bad thing, say the proponents of the Eighties remake boom. Besides setting a helpfully low creative bar for the film-makers (Go back and watch the original Clash of the Titans, I dare you. It’s just as awful, if not worse, than the remake), it is also, in its pure essence, very Eighties. It’s fun, it’s distracting and it’s entertaining. “These are simple stories,” Bayer says. “They’re not deep intellectual properties; they’re rollercoaster movies, and I think that’s what people want in these dark times.”
Zwart adds: “The idea of bringing my son to see this movie [his Karate Kid remake] and to see him relive those moments that I did when I was a kid is just like the first time you celebrate Christmas with your kids. It will be like being a kid again!”
But how long can we keep returning to our inner Eighties kids? Bayer suggests: “We’ve just got to wait a couple of years and the Nineties will be really hot. Then suddenly we’ll be looking back at some godawful films from the early Nineties and considering them classics and remaking them.” But Evans is not so sure. The Eighties have been built to last, he says. “The decade won’t always be quite as influential as it is now. But as long as my generation is around it will be looking backwards to those times. I suppose every generation says that. But my generation will say that until it is no more.”
Hot Tub Time Machine and A Nightmare on Elm Street open on May 7
FromApril 5, 2010
Sylvester Stallone versus Arnold Schwarzenegger versus Bruce Willis: it is the screen showdown that action nerds of a certain age have waited three decades to see.
Now the dominant screen musclemen of the 1980s have featured in a trailer for Stallone’s new film The Expendables, released to a breathless online reception this week.
The world has been spared any unseemly grappling between actors who are aged 63, 62 and 55 respectively. Instead the trailer offers something more like a glimpse of an angry strategy meeting for Planet Hollywood, the burger chain that the trio fronted in the 1990s, all brooding looks and mumbled one-liners.
Stallone wrote and directed the film and plays Barney “The Schizo” Ross, the tattooed leader of “the world’s greatest mercenaries”. The two others have cameo roles. The cast includes Mickey Rourke, Jet Li, Eric Roberts, Dolph Lundgren, Jason Statham and the wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
Before the film reaches British screens on August 20, another project aimed at the same audience arrives on July 30. Joe Carnahan’s version of The A-Team, the 1980s television series about a wrongly jailed commando unit turned “soldiers of fortune”. It stars Liam Neeson as Hannibal, the team leader and the martial arts champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson as BA Baracus.
These are merely the most testosterone-loaded examples of a multiplex schedule steeped in 1980s nostalgia. Clash of the Titans (a remake of the 1981 reworking of the Greek myths) opened at the weekend. A new Nightmare on Elm Street, starring Jackie Earle Haley, is out on May 7.
A Footloose update has hit the buffers, but a modern Karate Kid, starring Jackie Chan as the wise tutor and Will Smith’s son Jaden as his apprentice, is due in British cinemas on July 30.
Ghostbusters III is in the works with a new Gremlins film in 3-D strongly rumoured. On September 29, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, in which Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) writes a book called Is Greed Good?, is released.
The phenomenon is part of a general risk-averse trend towards seeking out existing brands as film subjects (including old television shows, books, board games, even Barbie dolls) rather than original material.
Nick de Semlyen, the reviews editor of Empire magazine, said: “Studio execs are getting younger. They grew up with Ghostbusters and Gremlins so anything in the Eighties is fair game now. They are even talking about bringing MacGyver back. If they do it right though and there’s some creativity about it, it can work.”
FromMay 16, 2009
There was a time when pop stars were content to fade to grey in paunchy middle age. Not any more. On the Here And Now tour, Eighties artists from ABC to Bananarama are dusting down the Lurex suits, bouffing up their hair, and not taking themselves too seriously
Something’s wrong with Carol Decker’s microphone stand. “Has Nik Kershaw been sound checking?” she asks. She lets rip a filthy laugh. “It’s really low!” It’s been 22 years since Decker spent five weeks at number one with her band T’Pau, their soft-rock ballad China in Your Hand hitting pop’s jackpot across Europe, with worldwide stadium tours to follow. Those days might not be returning any time soon – their hit was last heard helping Johnny Vegas and Monkey sell PG Tips – but tonight the 51-year-old will once again perform to a packed, cheering arena. As will several of her Eighties colleagues.[Page 2]
First, the sound check. “Right,” Decker instructs, “Fart and Hole.” She means Heart and Soul, a T’Pau Top Ten in 1987. The backing band play a couple of verses. “Coolio, Julio,” she says, satisfied. Next up: Kid Creole and the Coconuts. They rattle off Annie, I’m Not Your Daddy. Then Nik Kershaw appears. “I’m just going for a wee,” he announces. After Heaven 17 perform Crushed by the Wheels of Industry, their keyboardist runs through Roll out the Barrel.
“Who’s next?” he asks. “Is it Cutting Crew?”
“Aye,” confirms the guitarist. “I Just Fell on My Arse Last Night.”
On the Here And Now tour, it’s fair to say no one could be accused of taking themselves too seriously.
Anyone seeking the whereabouts of the “This Is Spinal Tap – Where Are They Now?” file can call off the search: it’s on Tony Denton’s desk. Denton has been a music agent and promoter for almost 30 years. He’s masterminded various nostalgia tours with names such as The Best Disco in Town and Once in a Lifetime, ever since realising that while Seventies acts Rose Royce, the Real Thing and Odyssey could sell 400 tickets on their own, they could sell out the Hammersmith Palais if packaged together. Lately, he’s been heralded a music industry phenomenon thanks to his collaboration with the stars of the Eighties. Everyone who was anyone from the era is now on Denton’s books: ABC, Altered Images, Bucks Fizz, Belinda Carlisle, Bananarama, Curiosity Killed the Cat, China Crisis, Doctor and the Medics… on and on the list goes, an A-Z of acts that can be hired out for a variety of occasions, for a variety of wallets. Blondie might set you back £100,000; Johnny Hates Jazz not so much. Private parties do well and the corporate work is rolling in: clients include Debenhams, Thomas Cook and Cadbury. “It’s like a sweet shop,” the enormously likeable Denton, 48, says, not inappropriately. “A Danish promoter wanting an Eighties section for his festival came to see me the other day. He got the roster and said, ‘How does it work? Can I go, “That one, that one, that one…?” ’ I’m like, ‘Yep! It’s exactly like that.’ ” easyJet launched its Gatwick-Berlin route by hiring one-hit wonders Berlin to sing Take My Breath Away on the plane’s wing, just as they did in their Top Gun-indebted video.
For the full three-hour Eighties experience, however, you’re advised to head for the Here And Now tour, which features a revolving line-up of Denton’s faded stars. “We all get to pretend we’re 25 again, then do some serious damage in the bar,” says Decker. “I view the whole thing as an enormous jolly.” Fun it might be, but Denton has his rules. Each act is restricted to their three or four hits; no album tracks or – heaven forbid – new material. When one singer finishes, the next is wheeled on.
To Westfalenhallen, Dortmund, where tonight’s date features Howard Jones, Nik Kershaw, T’Pau, Paul Young, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Cutting Crew, Heaven 17 and Rick Astley. Actually, Astley’s been parachuted in. The headliner was supposed to be Boy George, but he’s currently serving 15 months at Her Majesty’s pleasure in Edmunds Hill for handcuffing a male escort to a wall of his flat. “I’ve been George’s friend for a long time,” nods Denton, sadly. “He knows he’s done wrong. I’m going to see him next week. He’s fine, he’s keeping his head down.”
In fact, Astley proves to be an inspired sub, currently basking in his own Indian summer courtesy of 2008’s Rickrolling craze, in which web users are tricked into clicking on a link to the video for his hit, Never Gonna Give You Up. “It’s brought him to a whole new generation,” says Cutting Crew’s Nick Van Eede. “My daughter’s 20. She missed him the first time round.” In November, pop’s most famous teaboy performed to 50 million at New York’s Thanksgiving Parade, Rickrolling himself as he burst out of the Cartoon Network float unannounced. “I was behind Buzz Lightyear and in front of SpongeBob SquarePants,” he recalls. “If there’s enough money, I think most people would do almost anything.” It’s alarming to report that, at 43, Astley appears unmarked by time’s passing. Not something every Here And Now act can claim. “It’s a bit strange,” agrees Decker, darkly. “I think he’s cloned.”
Denton has been running Here And Now since 2001, when he finally persuaded Kim Wilde, the You Keep Me Hangin’ On star turned Garden Invaders presenter, to down trowel and up microphone. “He’d been asking for years,” Wilde says. “I thought, ‘Really – who could possibly want to see a sad, middle-aged woman who’d had a couple of kids and was into horticulture singing Kids in America?” In fact, Denton lucked out, happening to call the day after Wilde had been cajoled into singing at a family wedding, and had loved it. “I realised it’s not sad at all. There’s something sweet about going back and saying hello to an audience who will let you be a size 14 instead of a size 10. They’re just glad you’re there.”
Others soon followed. “I had this bizarre notion I still had some credibility to preserve, so I kept saying no,” says Kershaw, who has continued to find success as a songwriter. “But we’ve all had the shit kicked out of us for so long by the media, I thought, ‘F*** it, it’s just ridiculous.’ I ran out of reasons to say no, really.”
Denton assumed Here And Now would run its course after a couple of years. Today it’s bigger than ever. It plays Wembley this month, and has been to Japan and Australia. When it pitched up at Ascot last year it broke the attendance record. A compilation album then entered the charts at No 6. This summer, many of its acts will appear at Retrofest, a two-day festival complete with camping, a “Retro Ritz Cinema” and the “Club Tropicana Beach and Cocktail Bar”.
Backstage in Germany, and there are interviews to be done. “Was it more amazing to perform your songs when they were still in the charts, or is it more fun today to say, ‘Hey, I’m still alive’?” the man from Dortmund Radio 91.2 asks Kershaw. “There’s less at stake today,” Kershaw replies. “It’s not your whole life. It’s more fun. So, yeah, now, I would say, I suppose.”[Page 3]
“Why do you think the Eighties had so much power to survive for such a long time?” the woman from the newspaper Ruhr Nachrichten wonders of Decker. “It was just a fantastic era for pop,” Decker responds. “Well-structured songs: a verse, a bridge and you climb to the chorus. That would be perceived as old-fashioned now. I just think the songs were more memorable.”
Perhaps the recession has made us crave the comfort of nostalgia, maybe the collapsing CD market and resurgent live scene has provided opportunities that weren’t there before, but bands are currently reforming at such a rate, it’s become news if someone announces they’re not getting back together. In March, guitarist-turned-artist John Squire was moved to daub on one of his paintings, “I have no desire whatsoever to desecrate the grave of seminal Manchester pop group the Stone Roses”. And dear old Morrissey stated, “I’d rather eat my own testicles than reform the Smiths – and that’s saying something coming from a vegetarian.” But Blur, the Specials, Orbital, Spandau Ballet and Ultravox, all back this year, have had no such qualms. It was once laughingly regarded as the mortgage-paying circuit, where you could see the Doors without Jim Morrison, Queen without Freddie Mercury and the Jam without Paul Weller. But somewhere between Take That reuniting to their biggest audiences yet and Led Zeppelin rocking the O2 arena, any stigma to burying the hatchet all but evaporated. Arguably, Tony Denton served as pioneer to them all.
“You’d be gobsmacked by how many people call me up and say, ‘I’ve been in a band, can we do something?’ And you go, ‘Who are you?’ ” says Denton. He cites the tale of drummer Peter Gill and dancer Paul Rutherford, who asked to join Here And Now as Frankie Goes to Hollywood. “I thought, ‘I can’t just have two of them,’ ” he huffs. “That takes away the credibility of everything we’re doing here.”
Denton started out as a postboy at Arista Records in 1980. His love of DJing led him to ask the manager of American disco sensation Sylvester if he had any British dates planned. When he said no, Denton phoned round gay clubs and put together a tour. Sylvester paid his plane fare over; Denton drove him around. Chaka Khan followed, and Tony Denton Promotions was off, run from a payphone in Selfridges, opposite Arista’s Oxford Street offices.
In 1990, Manchester-based manager Nigel Martin-Smith approached him with a video of a new five-piece boyband. “I thought, ‘Oh, for God’s sake, this ain’t gonna work. Bare chests, Lurex pants? I’ve never seen anything so camp in my life,’ ” says Denton. Still, he took Take That from gay clubs to selling out Wembley, before losing them to a higher bidder. When the music scene “went all druggy” and “the melodies stopped” in the Nineties, Denton realised, “If I want to keep being an agent, I’d better get my artists work,” and he packaged up The Best Disco in Town. The Here And Now name came to him in the bath after Paul Young was reluctant to sign up to anything suggesting his best days were behind him. “What I really wanted,” confides Denton, “was great big letters saying EIGHTIES!”
In Westfalenhallen, it’s showtime.
“We are all survivors of the Eighties,” Van Eede tells Dortmund’s galvanised crowd of mums and dads. “You may be holding the hand of someone different, your hair may be a little different – but sing along with me.”
“I know a little German,” says Carol Decker, before China in Your Hand. “He’s over there.”
“This is a song from my new album,” announces Nik Kershaw. There’s a perfectly judged pause. “Only joking.”
For some, Here And Now is the opportunity to play the places they missed in their heyday. When the package last hit Australia, hundreds showed up at Perth Airport with placards. It made the six o’clock news. “Everyone was at baggage reclaim looking around going, ‘Who’s here? Somebody really famous must be arriving,’ ” remembers Denton. “It was hilarious.”
Heaven 17 hadn’t toured at all before Here And Now. “We were an aloof synthesizer band,” says singer Glenn Gregory, whose onstage deportment tonight – skipping about waving his hands above his head – is anything but aloof. “You didn’t do anything as pedestrian as tour.” He sighs. “We missed out on a lot of fun.”
“If I had tried to put this together 20 years ago, it would have been a f***ing nightmare,” says Denton. But time heals all wounds, and as everyone dances around sidestage to Howard Jones banging out Things Can Only Get Better, ego wars seem as distant as a Friday night at the Wag Club. Louis Theroux recently took a camera crew on the road with Here And Now, doubtless hoping for one of his notoriously wry showbiz snapshots – faded pop stars at each other’s throats, etc – but abandoned it, Kershaw says, “’Cos he was bored shitless.”
There are no squabbles over the running order? No “Damn you, Astley, for headlining”? “Actually, we ask to be put on early,” says Gregory. “So we can get to the bar.”
There are other diversions, too. “I’m off to see Kid Creole and the Coconuts,” says Kershaw, hurrying down a backstage corridor. “Well, the Coconuts, mainly.” Yes, I say of the twentysomething backing singers and their tiny camouflage bikinis, they appear to have got younger. Kershaw grins. “That’s showbusiness!”
Only an older and wiser Paul Young looks a bit out of it. That’s because he’s been in a car crash. “My head went into the seat in front, my ear went through that thing you hang coats on,” he groans. “It’s knackered. I can’t hear the crowd at all.”
Of course, there is one other incentive. Denton says he rewards his acts handsomely, and there is a general consensus from managers that each act could reasonably expect £100,000 for between 8 and 10 dates on the UK tour. Not bad for 15 minutes’ work each night. “I’m not going to be paid a lot of money to do anything else these days,” reasons Astley. “I’m a human being. I like to get paid. It makes you feel part of the world.”
Denton lured Astley out of retirement with a Here And Now date in Japan. The singer had made a cider commercial there and, consequently, Lost in Translation, in which Bill Murray plays an actor making a whisky ad in Tokyo, had become his and his daughter’s favourite film. Astley agreed to perform if Denton put them both up in the Park Hyatt, the Tokyo hotel where Murray stays in the film.
“This has nothing to do with my life,” insists Astley, who’s currently developing a musical called New York Cowboy. “I know for a fact that on the drive home I could burst into a petrol station, jump on top of a pump and start singing Never Gonna Give You Up while waving a flag that says, “I’M RICK ASTLEY”, and everyone would ignore me.
“Honestly, there are times when I look at the audience and I’m thinking, ‘What are you doing? What the bloody hell are you doing?’ ”
The Here And Now tour is at Nottingham Trent FM Arena tonight and continues across the country throughout the summer (0844 8471726; www.here-and-now.info)