History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Movie "Eddie and the Cruisers" (1983) boffo, endearing

Our family got HBO free for a time in the mid-1980s. So I remember "Not Necessarily the News" with the character "Bob Charles" who was the TV anchorman, presenting that parody of TV news. I began noticing some promos for an interesting movie that I had not heard of. What happened to Eddie? The movie asked this question about Eddie Wilson, the leader of a fictional rock 'n' roll band.
Remember when we wondered if Paul McCartney died?
Pop music stars had true idol status in the mid-20th Century. Radio gave us a background of sound. We flipped through vinyl record jackets at the music store. Our stereo record players had "woofers" and "tweeters," remember? They were expensive.
We would have loved "Eddie and the Cruisers" in the early 1960s. The fictional band had its rise and fall just before the Beatles. Pop music was restless and looking for new frontiers. Eddie Wilson could feel what was afoot. Michael Pare was the actor giving us this endearing character.
The movie's quality is underscored by how people my age are thrilled to remember it. The soundtrack is one reason. I rate the movie highly according to any and all criteria. It's probably my second favorite movie, with No. 1 going to "My Favorite Year."
I dusted off my DVD copy recently and played it again. It stands the test of time. Yes, you feel like choking on cigarette smoke halfway through. We hear the ring of rotary telephones. The movie is set in the early '80s with flashbacks to the early '60s. That earlier time gave us the restless, brooding rock 'n' roll emergence. A couple decades later, Eddie's old bandmates are having their past thrust at them. There is a revival in "Eddie and the Cruisers" music. There is also knowledge that the group's last recording, known to be edgy and a precursor, is missing.
A window into music industry
"Eddie and the Cruisers" is very instructive in how the music business works. I smiled as I heard the very raw language of a music business person as he rejected the final recording at the time it was made. These people are so brass tacks and artistically clueless at times. He says "a bunch of jerk-offs making weird sounds." I could have applauded, just knowing how realistic this behavior was.
I also applaud the movie for showing so realistically the germination of a song. We see the poet/keyboardist "Frank Ridgeway" pitching his song "On the Dark Side," which becomes the signature song of the group's first and only album. Actor Tom Berenger has only his feeble singing voice to share this material with Eddie. Berenger sings in a halting sort of way, no sense of beat, making this ditty sound rather pathetic. I could have applauded the authenticity of the moment: I myself dabble in songwriting and realize that my limited talents fail to share any real potential of a song. The pros take over for that. They must be astute enough to judge the raw material with its rough edges.
While Eddie's bandmates literally laugh at Ridgeway's modest presentation, Eddie unhesitatingly sees the potential. The session continues as Eddie teaches Frank the rock 'n' roll beat with its continual accented beats. Frank struggles to internalize this. He is a gifted keyboardist. Rock 'n' roll was highly controversial in the late 1950s if you can believe that. Eddie dresses up "On the Dark Side" with the proper beat and a sharp vocal. Now it sounds like a terrific song.
Eddie's discovery of Frank Ridgeway is a turning point for him. He has found the artist to help bring out latent artistic development. But would the world be ready for it? "No," according to the record company executives, those soulless fools. Eddie is unable to recover from this roadblock at the end. He wants to be "great," not just a well-known pop singer. He reasons that if he cannot be great, there's no point in making music anymore.
The movie climbs beyond its script to give us a sense of real people experiencing real drama.
Criteria for judging a movie
You remember movies like "Gandhi" and "Tootsie," right? But you don't want to remember them. You don't go out of your way to remember them. They are like trivia, whereas any reference to "Eddie" brings a smile and emotions for people my age. I'm 61!
"Eddie" has the bursting world of cable TV to thank for its emergence from obscurity. How could it be obscure? For one thing, this youth-oriented movie had its big screen release in September. Kids were back in school. The movie never found its legs on the big screen. Upon its first release, it was a box office flop. It also got many negative to mixed reviews. I can't believe it. Entertainment has its vagaries. The film was released into theaters on September 23, 1983, and grossed $1.4 million on its opening weekend. It went on to make a paltry $4.7 million in North America. The film was pulled from theaters after three weeks. All the promo ads were pulled after one week.
Bring on the fall of 1984. "Eddie and the Cruisers" pulled a trick that was not unprecedented, finding a new life thanks to changes in how entertainment is delivered. HBO discovered this very shining diamond in the rough. I was intrigued as soon as I saw the promos for the movie. It sounded like a can't-miss mystery story, adorned with rock 'n' roll music to boot. I watched it with great interest and was impressed.
All of a sudden, we learned that the single "On the Dark Side" from the soundtrack album was climbing the charts. Home video added to the new life this movie found.
I have heard it described as a cult movie. This doesn't do it justice. My generation got very attached. Michael Pare nails the role of Eddie Wilson. Interestingly it was Berenger and not Pare getting top-billing for the movie. The only defense of this is that the story seems told from "Frank Ridgeway's" perspective. We can see what Berenger really looks like, in case your only familiarity with him is from the movie "Gettysburg" where he plays General James Longstreet. Longstreet's face was covered by a beard.
Grumpy critics: what's up?
It appears some critics simply got out on the wrong side of the bed when reviewing the movie. Roger Ebert was a disappointment. Should I assume these reviews were written before the movie's Lazarus-like resurgence? Thumbs-down on Ebert for writing "the ending is so frustrating, so dumb, so unsatisfactory, that it gives a bad reputation to the whole movie." Good grief. I think the movie was wonderfully crafted and has an unforgettable storyline.
My only criticisms would be nit-picking. If the movie was a box office failure, there must be reasons that involved more than timing of release. So. . . The movie has an innocence, a Disney-esque innocence, that seems a little misplaced. This is a movie about some hard rockers and their raucous audience. The nightclub patrons drank alcohol. There aren't even any scenes where a parent might not want their kid to watch.
Nit-picking point No. 2: The band members begin re-uniting due to the retro popularity of the band. They act so emotionally close to each other. And yet they seem to have had no contact through the years. I suppose their reunion was supposed to come across as real dramatic.
There are times when maybe the actors are a little too dramatic. But maybe this is deliberate in order to accent the nostalgic quality of the movie. A quality that can make us misty. Fascinating: the movie originally made us nostalgic about the early '60s. Now, it makes us more nostalgic about the early '80s!
All hail "Eddie and the Cruisers"
In the end I was moved by the whole thing. "Gandhi" and "Tootsie?" Those were famous movies but I consider them in the dustbin of cinema history now. (I also remember "Gandhi Loves Tootsie," which was a spoof given us by the old "SCTV," remember?)
I would have zero interest in re-watching many of the most well-known movies of the 1980s. But "Eddie?" People my age pay more than passing attention to the "Eddie" movie and music. The music was incredibly sharp.
"Eddie and the Cruisers" had a second chance on the big screen. Embassy Pictures re-released the film for one week based on successful summer cable screenings and the popular radio single. But inexplicably, it failed again to perform at the box office. The principals in the movie shook their head over this.
Bass player Sal Amato, played by Matthew Laurance, gives the most famous line from the movie. Pleading with Eddie at the end, Sal says "We ain't great, we're just some guys from Jersey." Eddie will accept no substitute for greatness. The studio rejects the album "A Season in Hell."
Here we have another fascinating wrinkle in the story: This edgy music is inspired by the fatalistic poetry of Arthur Rimbaud. Rimbaud committed "artistic suicide" at age 19, putting aside poetry and living in obscurity for the next 20 years.
I'm in league with Brad Furman who directed "the Lincoln Lawyer" and "Runner Runner." Furman says "Eddie" literally changed his life as a kid. "One of the greatest movies ever," he said.
I know exactly what he means. Adding to the mystery of what happened to Eddie, we have the mystery of why the movie couldn't cut it on the big screen. I would like to know Furman's thoughts on that. As a songwriter I definitely understand rejection and humility in the arts! But I stick with it.
Art can rise unexpectedly
"Eddie and the Cruisers" is certainly a reminder of how certain artistic works, e.g. "It's a Wonderful Life," can catch an unexpected break. "It's a Wonderful Life" is not a classic movie and wasn't received particularly well when it was current. I can see why: the storyline is dreary and breaks down where the bad guy just gets too bad: "Potter" doesn't even return someone's money when he knows it got accidentally misplaced. We have all misplaced something valuable in our lives. We needn't be reminded of it. But "It's a Wonderful Life" absolutely catapulted back to the forefront due to being in the "public domain." This was at a time when the number of TV channels was rapidly expanding, and some networks were reaching to simply fill time. We were misled into thinking this movie was a certifiable classic. It was not.
We can also be reminded of the Three Stooges and how they had a whole new chapter of fame due to 1950s "kiddy TV." "Eddie and the Cruisers" found new life as a movie that just didn't catch on via the initial format, but exploded with the right nurturing on cable TV. Wow!
To heck with "the Golden Age of Hollywood." That's a myth, that the Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney era was never to be repeated in terms of film vitality. Look at your typical DVD dispenser at the local grocery store or McDonald's: We're in the Golden Age of film right now!
Berenger gushes when asked about "Eddie and the Cruisers." He says the script was "superb." He continued: "It was haunting and it was about two things: New Jersey and music and rock 'n' roll and bands and that life. Very haunting and super nostalgic." (I guess that's two things.) Laurance says "I've now had these amazing experiences of people talking about that movie even now."
And that speaks volumes. It's more than you can say for "Gandhi" and "Tootsie."
Director Martin Davidson was very nervous about whether Pare would come across as authentic and moving as "Eddie." Quite logically the movie hinged on this. Pare was reportedly discovered as a chef at a New York City restaurant. I have to believe there was more to his discovery than this. Anyway, Davidson did not coddle Pare. A rumor grew that Pare might be jettisoned. Here, David Wilson, the actor playing the drummer, came through a la "Jimmy Chitwood," the basketball star character from "Hoosiers." Wilson went to Davidson and said "if you bag Pare, we're all going."
Davidson admitted he put Pare through hell. Pare's lip-syncing was judged perfect. If the movie was like boot camp to Pare, he emerged with flying colors.
Ebert did not like the ending of the movie. Maybe he's referring to how Ridgeway and "Joann Carlino" seem to easily give up the most-sought old tapes to "Doc," the band's seedy manager. My goodness, these tapes were worth a fortune. However, the very end of the movie was spectacular in how it moved us. We see townspeople in a main street type of scene, in the cliché pose of watching TVs from demos in a store window. A news piece on the group "Eddie and the Cruisers" is wrapping up. We see close-ups on the screens of an intense "Eddie" from his heyday of stardom. Then suddenly: the climax. We see the bearded Eddie of the present time, alone and shrouded in the blackness of night. I consider this one of the most moving scenes of all-time cinema.
They say that art should be judged based on the emotional reaction of the viewer. Based on that criterion, the movie "Eddie and the Cruisers" is a total classic. I got goose bumps when "Sal" was in his dressing room (early '80s scene), talking with Frank, getting emotional and seeming to suggest there was no real closure about Eddie's death. Few movies put me through feelings like this. I'm sure my baby boomer brethren shared my reaction.
The actors made us care about the characters.
Movies come and go but "Eddie" stays lodged in our mind.
Another angle not to be overlooked: There is within us all a longing or a curiosity about what it would be like to just withdraw, to assume a new identity around different people and "start over," unencumbered by any past baggage. This movie touches that part of us.
This is the longest blog post I have ever written. That says something. Let's raise a toast to "Eddie and the Cruisers."
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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