After a hiatus of 10 months or so, the Jersey City Film Forum was revived. It was technically called the Sunday Night Film Forum, but for a special, Friday night, open air showing of Little Shop of Horrors, it was given the name, JCAS Garden Presents: Movies on the Embankment. Projecting film actually on our famed embankment was not possible, but in the backyard area of the 5th street, flagship location of the art school was close enough. A warm night, citronella candles kept the mosquitos to manageable infestation (for New Jersey). The outdoor area, with its sunken patio, flower garden, and a small table made of industrial gears, is a pleasant, seasonal space (see an earlier post on this JCAS Garden here), a perfect venue for seeing this confection and cultural artifact of the 1980s.
It was like seeing a drive in. I’ve read about them, somebody said, but I never been to one. Drive-ins were more or less gone by the 80s. I remember them fondly and they were a lot of fun and I think about them when I see a movie outdoors. The film was projected on a small screen, giving the enterprise a daddy’s showing home movies tonight feel. I did not see this film in the theater – I have a moral and intellectual bias against any and all musicals – but the other attendees, two decades or so younger than I, grew up with the film. One woman played one of the Chorus singers – Ronette – in her Middle School production of the play. The Chorus is the reason why when you first read “Little Shop of Horrors” is this blog that the theme song began echoing in your head. But she knew all the other parts to, as did many of the others in the audience. She still knew all the lyrics, sang them under the stars too and she was not the only one. They saw the movie as kids, not in the theater, but dozens of times on video. The video player was the most important baby sitting invention of the 80s and early 90s. Watching the film through their eyes – for them this film inspired the warmth and happiness of childhood – was infectious, quite frankly more entertaining that the film itself. It was like the fan participation experience of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, whose success the film obviously was trying to replicate.
Well, I hate both films, but Little Shop was better. I laughed out many times. Steve Martin channels Elvis – he actually met the King a few times – in his surreal, over the top incarnation of a 50s greaser and skid row dentist. His performance was his last as the Wild & Crazy guy that first brought him a fame then heretofore unknown for a comedian. He’s had a remarkable as a comic film actor – he’s always good, even when the movie is not – but here the Jerk is still young enough to take his “Lets Get Small” persona out for what would be its last romp. What a romp too, sheer unbounded lunacy. He was never this antic on film, before or since.
I liked their film more than I thought I would. Some of the Gen Y love for this movie can be attributed to 80s nostalgia, but the irony is that the 80s was nostalgia itself. It’s nostalgia for nostalgia. Ronald Reagan’s (appalling, in my historical opinion) reign was always steeped in nostalgia about the 50s – morning in America – and this film played on that wish, probably not just in the WWII generation who saw in the Gipper the best reflection of their perceived identity and values but also the Baby Boomers, who still inexplicably to me voted in droves for Reagan, having settled down to family raising and bill paying after their reckless youth, were thinking warm thoughts about the repressiveness (yet secure) of the 50s. In Little Shop, Audrey and Seymour dream of leaving the inner city for an idealized, two dimensional blurb vision complete with a lawn and children playing with Howdy Doody puppets.
Regardless of my usual cultural criticism of this period American history, you can’t deny the appeal of the film genuine spirit of fun. This was a movie the whole family watched together. You just can’t stop singing those songs. That mood dominated the latest incarnation of the local Film Forum – JCAS Garden Presents: Movies on the Embankment.
The big news is that Jersey City’s Film Forum is back, although it is still undergoing evolution. The current plan it to make the program bi-weekly. A mini Rick Moranis film festival – the second installment will be Space Ball – kicks off the open air edition of the program then, the plan is to have the Film Forum in the Jersey City Museum’s theater. More news about this exciting development will soon be forthcoming.