Throughout the 1980s the film business was just as sensitive to the trends and topics of the day as the next industry. Cinema had delivered all the entertainment that hindsight dictated, from science fiction to adventure, producing hits for children, teenagers and adults alike. In 1987 a violent stock crash in America started the beginning of a worldwide downturn. Perhaps 1988 was too early for links to be drawn between the films released in that year and the previous Autumn’s crash but it is interesting to look at the smattering of fantastical, escapist flicks that were popular in that subsequent year.
Moonwalker is, inevitably, a feature-length pop video, a grand folly of its extraordinary star, not to mention the natural extension of the ambition of the Thriller and Bad videos. A mannered and bizarre vehicle for Michael Jackson, most of the film is dated. However, the originality and panache of the dancing singer-songwriter and his company makes for thrilling set pieces, including this, the most famous, Smooth Criminal.
For those more independently-minded cinema goers, the big off-beat hit of 1988 was Beetlejuice. Michael Keaton brought an energy and shtick to the eponymous… well, It’s not really possible to explain the resurrected Pierrot-exorcist Beetlejuice in this single sentence. Whatever Keaton and his director Tim Burton intended, the film is great fun. It also gave us this fine, eclectic score from Danny Elfman, which Andrew Hewitt, composer of Submarine and The Double, mentioned as an influence on his own work when speaking to this show in January
Escapism doesn’t necessarily demand fantasy. Arguably the best film of 1988 was a feature-length nostalgia trip charting one man’s life in movies. Cinema Paradiso is a fictional account of a young boy who grows up in a sleepy Italian town with the local projectionist as a de facto father. All the technological and social developments in the talkies are covered with great fun and love. The final scene is one of the great dam-busting coups of cinema as the wonders of the past rush forward to ambush the grey-haired film executive that the boy has become. Ennio Morricone wrote a striking, BAFTA-winning score that is the equal of the film’s tremendous heart. I wonder how much of himself Kevin sees in little Salvatore ‘Toto’ di Vita… Goodbye.