Tuesday, June 4, 2013

On THE BIG CHILL (1983)

When news anchors and weather forecasters refer to dropping temperatures as "the big chill," it's because of this hit movie title from 1983.  The title really referred to the cold hard fact of middle age for a group of friends who attended one friend's funeral.  Directed by Lawrence Kasdan, who also co-wrote the Oscar-nominated original screenplay, The Big Chill was in the Oscar race for Best Picture.
We get tears, love, laughter, a little sex, a little pot and group dancing in the kitchen.  There's witty direction and fine ensemble acting from a talented cast that includes Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, William Hurt, Tom Berenger, Jeff Goldblum and JoBeth Williams.

The movie soundtrack was quite popular too with its babyboomer jukebox collection of hits from such artists and groups as Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations and Three Dog Night.  It was more VH1 than MTV.

For this group of college liberal friends from the 1960s/70s, what great music nostalgia.

The variety on the soundtrack brings up one major flaw I find with this entertaining movie.  I saw it for the first time when I worked and lived in Milwaukee.  I invited a good buddy along with me to a preview screening of it.  A tall, lanky Anglo dude, he brought up a sharp point after the movie that hit like a bulls-eye.  He said that those liberal, politically correct people would have had at least one black friend.  He was so right.  They were dancing in the kitchen to Motown tunes.  They were of the generation that flocked to see Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana at Woodstock.  They agreed with the Civil Rights work of Dr. Martin Luther King and mourned his death.  They helped to make Sidney Poitier a top box office star in films like In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? -- both Oscar nominees for Best Picture of 1967.  (In the Heat of the Night won.)  But there wasn't a major black or Latino character in their company of pals.

My buddy, Jim, was right.  Like many other African-Americans, I've often been "the black friend" for some of my liberal white buddies.  That means they will occasionally bring you to an event like you're a housewarming gift.  You will literally add color to the room.  If The Big Chill was made today, a black friend would probably be half of a same-sex couple.

A few years later, this hit movie influenced the 1980s hit ABC series, Thirtysomething.
Just like The Big Chill, this had fine ensemble acting from a talented cast playing politically correct liberals -- and the babyboomer casting looked like it was inspired by the Procol Harum song title, "A Whiter Shade of Pale."  I'd seen more black people in an Ingmar Bergman movie.

Kasdan did a better job with 1991's Grand Canyon.  Those characters reflected my world.

I especially loved what he did with Danny Glover and Alfre Woodard characters.  It was so real, so right and so refreshing.

I think Turner Classic Movies has selected The Big Chill for its Saturday night series, "The Essentials." As I wrote, I was entertained by the movie but I didn't really feel that the story went anyplace -- not like Arthur Penn's overlooked and under-appreciated 1969 film, Alice's Restaurant.  That movie was an earlier movie about the same generation.  I don't think Kasdan's film would've been as popular as it was without that expert and charismatic cast.  The Big Chill got an Oscar nomination for Best Picture of 1983.  I'd put that year's winner in the line-up for "The Essentials" instead -- Terms of Endearment starring Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger and Jack Nicholson.

2 comments:

  1. GRAND CANYON was a great film. I remember seeing it in theaters and I was like the only person in the theater. It should have gotten a bigger audience. I especially remember the movie's opening sequence when the Kline character was being harassed by a group of young muggers. I remember being on the edge of my seat during that scene because I was waiting for those youngsters to do something terrible to Kline's character, until Danny Glover's character comes to the rescue. It was a magical, powerful, and quite poignant moment. Steve Martin was memorable, too, as a producer of violent, exploitative movies. There was a lot going on in the film, with what it had to say about the angsts involved with suburbian life in a big U.S. city like L.A.. Sad to say, I don't think GRAND CANYON received a single Oscar nomination, did it?

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  2. Remember how Steve Martin's movie producer said that he wanted to stop making junk and make a good movie like SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS by Preston Sturges?

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