Tag Archives: 1986

Rocks In The Attic #721: Tom Bähler, Chris Boardman & Albhy Galuten – ‘Raw Deal (O.S.T.)’ (1986)

RITA#721What a run of films Arnold Schwarzenegger had in the 1980s: Conan The Barbarian, Conan The Destroyer, The Terminator, Red Sonja, Commando, Raw Deal, Predator, The Running Man, Red Heat and Twins.

Of those nine, there’s really only a couple I wouldn’t recommend. The two Conans and Red Sonja don’t really interest me as I’m not that into the fantasy genre – although I remember them being decent enough. Even Twins, despite being the odd-one-out and the start of his softer, family friendly direction throughout the ‘90s, is a bloody good film.

The only other duffer in the list is this film, 1986’s Raw Deal. Schwarzenegger’s ‘80s run is perfect fodder for a pubescent youth, but Raw Deal is the only one of the lot which feels cheap and exploitative. It has nothing else going for it aside from a couple of half-decent action scenes, and with a terrible script and wooden performances (Arnold aside) it doesn’t reward repeat viewings.

Essentially it offers nothing except the chance for Arnold to look cool in a leather jacket while smoking a cigar; and he goes on to do that far more effectively in 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

The soundtrack however, is great – all brooding ‘80s synths, big drums smothered in reverb, and wailing electric guitars (courtesy of Steve Lukather on one track). I found it at a record fair recently – a German pressing which names the film Der City Hai. Google translates this as The City Of Hai, which can’t be right, can it?* It sounds like something starring Tommy Wiseau.

Hit: Brains And Trains

Hidden Gem: Kaminski Stomps

*My German consultant Herr Gibson has pointed out that hai means shark in deutsche, which I believe makes the film, and Herr Schwarzenegger’s character, the City Shark.

Rocks In The Attic #707: John Carpenter & Alan Howarth – ‘Big Trouble In Little China (O.S.T.)’ (1986)

RITA#707.jpgAcross the space of four years in the late ‘70s / early ‘80s, John Carpenter directed three of the strongest genre films ever to hit cinema screens. The mainstream success of low-budget horror Halloween (1978) awarded him with bigger budgets, which he used to depict dystopian cityscapes in Escape From New York (1981) and sci-fi paranoia in The Thing (1982). Over the same period he also directed 1980’s The Fog and produced the first two Halloween sequels. This was very much Carpenter’s golden period.

Success always attracts attention, and Carpenter was courted by the major studios. As a result, his films of the mid-1980s – Christine (1983), Starman (1984) and Big Trouble In Little China (1986) – all feel like they’re missing something. All of the ingredients are there, but the end results just aren’t as satisfying as his earlier work.

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I’ve written about Christine before, and I’ve always been a big fan of Starman (despite it feeling like the least Carpenteresque of Carpenter’s films). But the real disappointment was Big Touble In Little China. After its commercial failure, Carpenter continually struggled to get films financed, and the rest of his work is patchy. Only 1988’s They Live could be considered as strong as his breakthrough successes.

Big Trouble In Little China should be great. It has a tried and tested Carpenter leading man in Kurt Russell, awesome optical effects, and a terrifically grimy underworld feel. But the plotting is loose, the script is poor, and the performances of the principal actors leave a lot to be desired. Only the soundtrack music – always one of the stronger elements of Carpenter’s work – is up to standard, even if it’s nowhere near his best.

RITA#707cI first saw the film far too young (which is becoming a common theme of this blog). I can vividly recall the first showdown in the alley between Kurt Russell’s character and the Three Storms. This was scary enough, but the appearance of James Hong’s villain – and particularly the light emitted from his mouth and eyes – proved too much and the film was swiftly turned off.

In retrospect, it’s the best part of the film, and one of the great cinematic showdowns of the 1980s. It’s just a shame the rest of the film couldn’t live up to its promise.

Hit: Pork Chop Express (Main Title)

Hidden Gem: Tenement / White Tiger

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Rocks In The Attic #669: Various Artists – ‘Stand By Me (O.S.T.)’ (1986)

RITA#669There were a number of films released through the 1980s which went some way in redefining the seminal singles of the 1950s and 1960s. Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill kicked off the nostalgia in 1983, before Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me and Oliver Stone’s Platoon landed in 1986. By the time of 1988’s Good Morning Vietnam, it was almost commonplace for a Hollywood film to feature a ‘golden oldies’ soundtrack.

Along the more obvious hits on this soundtrack – Buddy Holly’s Everyday, Jerry Lee Lewis’ Great Balls Of Fire, and of course, Ben E. King’s Stand By Me – there’s one very interesting addition. The Del-Viking’s Come Go With Me might sound like any other late-‘50s R&B, but it was actually the song that a teenage Paul McCartney first saw (a teenage) John Lennon playing with the Quarrymen on the fateful day that they met (July 6th 1957) in Liverpool.

RITA#669aIt’s hard not to like Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me. Adapted from a Stephen King short-story, it has an impressive young cast (Wil Wheaton, River Pheonix, Corey Feldman and Kiefer Sutherland) and a lovely, wry narration by Richard Dreyfuss. Reiner’s film almost perfectly balances nostalgia with the thrill of youth. The script’s perspective might be of an older man looking backwards, but instead the film is driven by the optimism of the young leads looking forward to the future.

Hit: Stand By Me – Ben E. King

Hidden Gem: Come Go With Me – The Del-Vikings

Rocks In The Attic #664: Various Artists – ‘White Nights (O.S.T.)’ (1985)

RITA#664In the Spring of 1986, my grandmother took me on holiday. I was seven years old. The trip to North Wales was cemented in my memory by two events – the first was a visit to an arcade, where I played Spy Hunter endlessly; the second was a trip to the cinema.

The last time I had holidayed with my grandmother was in 1983 in Torquay – the jewel of the English Riviera! On that trip, we had seen Octopussy at the cinema – my first experience watching James Bond on the big screen.

Three years later, I remember standing in front of the cinema, begging my grandmother to let me watch a film I vaguely recognised by the poster outside in the lobby. “Are you sure?” I remember her asking. She wanted to take me into a children’s film instead, as the one I was pointing at looking at little too mature for my age, even though it was only a PG certificate. But I held firm. “No, I want to see that one.” The man at the box office smiled at my grandmother. She paid, and we were in the darkness of the cinema.

The film was a little too mature for me after all. My grandmother had been right. Still I enjoyed it, even though a lot of it went over my head. I raved about some of the sequences when we left the cinema, and she seemed relieved that I wasn’t mentally scarred by any of it.

And herein lies one of the most frustrating little mysteries of my life. For many years afterwards, I didn’t know what the film was that we had seen on that trip. I remembered a couple of key moments, and the tone of the film, but I didn’t know what it was called, or who any of the actors and actresses were.

Life before the internet was hard. You couldn’t just look shit up all the time. So every now and again, when I thought about the film, I would ask friends if they remembered a film about a male Russian ballet dancer, who escapes from somewhere with a black fella. That’s all I could remember. As you can imagine, this didn’t ring any bells with anybody.

If pushed, I could probably describe the film’s first eventful moment. The Russian ballet dancer was on a plane, which was crashing, and in a moment of panic, he fell backwards against the front of the cabin and the drinks trolley rolled into him at force, smashing into his face.

For year and years, I drew blanks whenever I described it to people, but it was always so clear in my mind. Of course, as soon as the internet made such things possible, I looked it up. The whole process took about three minutes. What a time to be alive!

The film, as you have probably guessed it by now, was Taylor Hackford’s White Nights, originally released in 1985 in the USA, but which didn’t see cinemas in the UK until the following March.

I’ve just watched it for the second time, some thirty-two years later. Due to a technical issue, I had to watch the film without any of the Russian dialogue being subtitled. This probably gave me the same level of understanding as I had when I was seven years old.

RITA#664aThe film opens with a world-famous ballet-dancer, Nikolai Rodchenko (Mikhail Baryshnikov), who has defected from the USSR, flying to Japan in a commercial jet. The jet runs into problems over Siberia and is forced to perform an emergency landing. Rodchenko suffers injuries during the crash – which I had remembered surprisingly well – and is picked up by the KGB who brand him a traitor. Unable to escape, he is installed in a Leningrad apartment with a black American tap-dancer, Raymond Greenwood (Gregory Hines) and his wife, Darya (a young Isabella Rossellini in her first credited screen role). Anxious to present the return of their famous son to the rest of the word, the authorities arrange for him to return to the stage with his former dancing partner (Helen Mirren). Rodchenko escapes to the American Embassy, with Darya – in a very tense sequence – while Raymond stays behind to delay the authorities. The film’s finale finds Raymond about to be executed by firing squad, an event which is then revealed to be a prisoner exchange between East and West. He is traded for a political prisoner and walks over the border, to freedom and into the arms of his wife.

The film’s key selling point is the culture clash between East and West, between black and white, and between ballet and tap, as Baryshnikov and Hines’ characters bond over dancing to American pop music. The soundtrack is a typical slice of ‘80s pop and rock, with Phil Collins taking prime position with Separate Lives, a duet with Marilyn Martin (and written by Stephen Bishop of Tootsie fame).

Sadly absent from the soundtrack album is the film’s biggest song – Lionel Richie’s Say You, Say Me. This won the Oscar for Best Song at the 1986 Academy Awards, beating Separate Lives from the same film, as well as competition from Huey Lewis & The News’ The Power Of Love.

Hit: Separate Lives (Love Theme From White Nights)­ – Phil Collins & Marilyn Martin

Hidden Gem: My Love Is Chemical – Lou Reed

Rocks In The Attic #635: Various Artists – ‘Hannah And Her Sisters (O.S.T.)’ (1986)

RITA#635A group of wealthy, intellectual Manhattanites fall in and out of love with other as they discuss their neuroses and insecurities.

So goes the synopsis for a good many Woody Allen films. The trouble is, once you’ve seen Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979), all of the others in this realm tend to pale in significance. Hannah And Her Sisters may be endlessly watchable, but it fits into the same bracket as the light-hearted half of Crimes And Misdemeanors (1989) and the very similar-in-tone Husbands And Wives (1992). They’re enjoyable films, relatively inoffensive, yet feel like they’re cut from the same cloth. You could probably intercut scenes from all three films and not tell the difference.

One small flaw of Hannah And Her Sisters comes from Allen’s intent on showing quick, naturalist dialogue between the principle characters. While I like the approach, there are a couple of moments where it doesn’t really work, when a character starts responding to a line of dialogue from another character before they’ve finished saying it. These moments ultimately turn into actors churning through their lines, with little thought given to how a conversation actually works.

Allen’s at his most interesting when he’s not doing the bittersweet New York romantic comedies. The brilliant mock-documentary Zelig (1983) never fails to provoke a wry smile for all of its madcap ideas, and the seemingly throwaway Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) is one of his consistently funniest films. Recent clangers like Match Point (2005) show that not everything he touches turns to gold, yet mainstream hits like the time-travelling Midnight In Paris (2011) prove that there’s life in the old dog yet, particularly in commercially appealing genre films. I’m still holding out that he’ll direct a Star Wars film one day.

I’m currently reading John Baxter’s Woody Allen: A Biography, a book I bought – and started – back in the late ‘90s, but abandoned for some reason. It’s always stuck in my craw that I didn’t finish it at the time, but it’s good to finally get back to it, despite it now only covering half of his career.

Hit: I’ve Heard That Song Before – Harry James

Hidden Gem: Back To The Apple – The Count Basie Orchestra

Rocks In The Attic #576: Howard Shore – ‘The Fly (O.S.T.)’ (1986)

RITA#576I’ve got to admit, I love a good soundtrack, and I love a good coloured vinyl release. So when I saw that Howard Shore’s score to David Cronenberg’s 1986 reimagining of The Fly was being released, I jumped at the chance.

These boutique vinyl releases seem to be getting more and more popular, and it’s with soundtracks that labels tend to be focusing on. That’s good news for me, but very bad news for my bank balance.

This particular release has a less than impressive 3D lenticular cover, but the best thing is that the vinyl itself is a lovely green / black “haze”. They really could have done something a little better with the lenticular cover. The eventual vinyl release of the White Stripes’ Get Behind Me Satan for 2015’s Record Store Day showed how well a lenticular cover can work. Here, the artwork flips between a smoky shot of the infamous teleporter, and a similarly smoky shot of the same teleporter with a human arm and a giant fly’s leg reaching out. The two images are not different enough – or clear enough – to give a sense of a moving image.

Still, it’s a lovely package and the record looks and sounds awesome – Brundlefly would approve!

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: Plasma Pool
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Rocks In The Attic #573: Aerosmith – ‘Brand New Song And Dance’ (1986)

RITA#573I love a good Aerosmith bootleg, and this one’s a peach. Recorded on March 12th 1986 whilst touring the Done With Mirrors album, this captures the band in an energetic form. The show was recorded in Worcester, Massachusetts which makes it a homecoming gig for the band, and this probably explains why the show was professionally recorded and transmitted on radio.

I really love Done With Mirrors – it’s a lovely little album with a lot of charm, just mightily underproduced – and so it’s a real treat to hear them playing the songs from the record while they’re still fresh. Alongside five songs from that record, we also get treated to a rendition of No Surprize, a song that has long since slipped from Aerosmith setlists in the intervening years. As at the time of writing (March 2017) they haven’t played it live since 2002. Sweet Emotion is noticeably absent, but the full set-list for the performance lists them playing it that night. Also not captured on record was a rendition of Bone To Bone (Coney Island White Fish Boy); another gem they don’t play live too often.

Looking at my Aerosmith collection, alongside all of the official studio records, live albums and many, many compilations, I now seem to have a burgeoning pile of Aero-bootlegs. I have recordings from the tours to promote 1973’s self-titled debut, 1975’s Toys In The Attic, 1979’s Night In The Ruts, 1987’s Permanent Vacation and now 1985’s Done With Mirrors. I might try to fill in some of those blanks, especially as I know that bootleg recordings exist on vinyl for most of their tours up until the 1990s. A new goal is born!

Hit: Walk This Way

Hidden Gem: Let The Music Do The Talking