1982 was a great year to go to the movies, especially if you were an eleven-year-old boy as I was. ‘82 was the year I began my life-long affair with cinema. It was the first year I have concrete memories of seeing films in the theatre and seeing them multiple times--with family, with friends, and by myself. It is only natural that I would have nostalgia for this period, but thirty years later the folks at The Alamo Drafthouse corroborated my belief that, cinematically speaking, I grew up at the best of all possible times when they dubbed the summer of ’82, “The greatest summer of movies. . . ever!”
Most everyone has a sentimental attachment to the popular culture of their past and we often look back through rose-colored glasses to a time when things seemed better. However, if you take a detailed look at the cinematic output of the late ‘70s to early ‘80s, you have a hard time arguing that the “summer movies” of this era weren’t just better than those produced at any other time in film history. Blockbuster cinema was essentially invented during these years, and the business of releasing such films was young and relatively naive; it was still a period where the actual movies were more important than their marketing. Of course, I would have loved to have grown up in the 1940s, during the age of serials, cartoons, newsreels, and 10-cent, double-feature matinees. I’m certainly not arguing that spending carefree days at a badly designed multiplex in a suburban mall, sneaking into 2 to 5 movies a day and playing arcade video games in between, compares favorably to the fantasy of growing up in New York City in the mid-1940s, walking to a gigantic, glamorous Art-Deco movie palace, and spending a whole day immersed in celluloid. I’m just pointing out that when you actually go back and re-watch many of those late ‘30s to mid ‘40s serials, two-reelers and kiddie-pictures, they don’t hold up very well. Such is not the case with an abundance of films from my youth.
In 2012, the programmers at Alamo Drafthouse celebrated the summer of ’82 with a series of screenings they dubbed, “the greatest summer of movies . . . ever!” 1982 earned this youthfully hyperbolic moniker because of the amazing selection of sci-fi and fantasy films that were released within that short period of months. Several of these picturesare now considered modern classics, like ET: The Extra Terrestrial, Blade Runner, The Thing, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Road Warrior, Poltergeist, Conan The Barbarian, The Dark Crystal, and Tron. Less well-known movies are also extremely enjoyable, like Creepshow, The Beastmaster, Time Rider, Megaforce, Basket Case, The Sword and the Sorcerer, Firefox, and Q: The Winged Serpent.
I followed the Alamo’s lead by holding my own ‘82 film festival, where I screened as many movies from that summer as I could on, or close to, the 30 year anniversary of their American release dates. It was one of the most popular and lauded screening series I’ve ever hosted, but not strickly for nostaligic or campy reasons. The summer of '82 was not just about great sci-fi and fantasy. That stretch of time also saw the release of Diner, The World According to Garp, An Officer and a Gentleman, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, First Blood, Missing, Vice Squad, Tex, The Jigsaw Man, The Grey Fox, and Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.
When you look at the totality of 1982, you discover some terrific little comedy gems like My Favorite Year, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, and Eating Raoul, and serious studio attempts at breaking taboos like Personal Best and Making Love. We got Things are Tough All Over from Cheech and Chong, Night Shift from Ron Howard, Deathtrap from Sidney Lumet, Lookin’ to Get Out from Hal Ashby, Tempest from Paul Mazursky, and Paul Schrader's wacky remake of Cat People. There were the classic comedy concert films: Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip, and Monty Python: Live at the Hollywood Bowl. Don Bluth released The Secret of NHIM, in an attempt to change the sorry state mainstream animation had fallen into by the ‘70s. Woody Allen released A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, launching his celebrated collaboration with Mia Farrow and his most prolific and golden decade as a filmmaker--he would make ten films in eight years without a single dud in the bunch (and no, I don’t think September is a bad film).
Of course there were summer sequels--like Trail of the Pink Panther, Death Wish II, Airplane II, Rocky III, Halloween III, and Friday The 13th Part 3 in 3D--but you could hardly call 1982 a summer that rehashed and recycled what had worked before. Looking at the line-up of sequels in comparison to the lists of original, experimental, and groundbreaking pictures demonstrates how small a fraction of cinematic output was devoted to preexisting properties.
There were five major musicals released in '82, ranging from the sublime (Blake Edward's greatest film, Victor/Victoria) to the ridiculous (the disco-pop remake of The Pirates of Penzance called The Pirate Movie with Kristy McNichol and Christopher Atkins) and the campy (the Burt Reynolds / Dolly Parton vehicle The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas). We got a Broadway classic, John Houston's A-list production of Annie; a rock-opera, Allan Parker's cult-favorite Pink Floyd: The Wall; and a notorious disaster, Francis Ford Coppola's epic of excess, One From The Heart.
All these films came out before the Oscar season even got started, so we haven't even gotten to Tootsie, The Verdict, The Year of Living Dangerously, 48 Hours, The Man from Snowy River, Fitzcarraldo, The Return of Martin Guerre, and Fanny and Alexander. Book-ending the astonishingly memorable year were the box office titans: Gandhi and Porky's!
The principle reason we got all these amazing, diverse, enduring films is because everybody went to the movies in 1982: men, women, kids, families, teens, young couples, married couples, senior citizens, city folk, suburban dwellers, intelectuals, idiots--everyone! There were many wonderful pictures yet to come, but from my eleven-year-old perspective and my present one, I thank the Movie Gods for sending me these films when they did and opening my eyes to the greatest medium of all time.