Vintage Cable Box: My Bodyguard, 1980

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“It’s not the gum that’s the worst.  It’s the boogers that scare me.”

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My Bodyguard, 1980 (Chris Makepeace), 20th Century Fox

Chris Makepeace is the epitome of what is now being called, the “beta” male; sinewy, bony, full of emotional mush, eternally trapped in the wonder years, and always praying for thicker muscle tone. He’s a small young man with soft features, expressive eyebrows and an unruly mass of hair on the top of his head. Besieged by his eccentric relatives, he (perhaps) involuntarily takes a back-seat to his hotel manager Dad, Martin Mull and libidinous grandmother, Ruth Gordon. They all live in the hotel Mull manages. It’s possible one could look at Makepeace and decide he is privileged, but Mull’s job indicates the upper-tier of a desperate working class.

First day of school at Lake View High in Chicago, Makepeace can’t find a seat in his classroom.  Enter Moody (slicked-back sleaze Matt Dillon) who presents the teacher with an apple while young Joan Cusack makes eyes at him.  Makepeace runs afoul of Dillon by first taking his seat, and second by joking about his name, Big Moody or “B.M.” for short.  This is rather brave for a sensitive soul like Makepeace’s Clifford Peache, whose mouth-breathing fast friend informs him Moody takes “protection money” from the students in exchange for, I would guess, his service in keeping the smaller kids safe from hulking school outcast, Ricky (Adam Baldwin).  It isn’t long before Dillon and his toadies harass Makepeace and shake him down for lunch money.  They figure because Clifford transferred from a private academy, he must be rich.  He swears he isn’t.  What’s the big deal here?  I went to a “private academy” a long time ago on a scholarship.  I also had a number of bullies.

Even after Moody is busted for extortion, the befuddled Dean lets him off with a week’s detention.  This spells trouble for Clifford because it compels Moody to make it his mission in life to terrorize the young man.  Bullies don’t understand or care for logic, and if they feel they are not sufficiently feared, they step up their respective games.  If there’s anybody the kids fear more than Moody, it’s got to be Ricky.  What confuses me is the physical characteristics of these sophomores.  A lot of them look like they’re 10 years old, and some of them look like they’re pushing 30, Baldwin included.  Moody’s campaign of harassment continues unabated, and Clifford is forced to consider other options.  He reaches out to Ricky for protection, but Ricky isn’t initially interested.  What, obstensibly, starts as a teenage nightmare becomes an interesting character study.  Clifford decides to make Ricky his project, and the two bond.

Baldwin strikes an imposing figure compared to Makepeace (and even Dillon), but he has a soft-spoken and gruff way about him, and he saves this coming-of-age tome of self-discovery from mediocrity.  Makepeace helps him find the correct cylinders for a motorcycle he has been rebuilding and then they take to the road in triumph.  The narrative beats are very similar to a love story, but this is about the beginnings of a true friendship.  Unfortunately the story gets bogged down under the weight of ancillary characters Mull, Gordon, and a surprise turn by John Houseman.  We understand that Makepeace’s family is composed of unusual and often, batty people, but it feels out of place here, as if director Tony Bill had envisioned a more epic and episodic story about a few weeks in the life of a kid he obviously adores but felt didn’t have the strength to completely carry the story.

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Despite my issues, I still enjoy this movie, and I feel the sting (a personal feeling) of all my bullies of younger years.  I was a bony, skinny young man, and then I had a growth spurt at 18.  After that, the kids stopped messing with me, but I’ll always remember a beloved Timex wristwatch stolen right off my arm, by a kid half my size.  When I confronted him, I could tell he smelled my fear.  He got right up in my shit while his friends stood behind me, probably waiting for me to make the first move.  I didn’t make a move.  I was frightened.  I was crippled with my fear, and I was ashamed.  Bullies aren’t always about superior height or muscle power.  It’s an attitude.  An attitude I could never successfully emulate.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

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Vintage Cable Box: Little Darlings, 1980

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“Do you realize that I am almost the only virgin in camp? Every girl knows this secret life except me. Look at it this way. It’d be a learning experience.”

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Little Darlings, 1980 (Kristy McNichol), Paramount Pictures

On a strange hot summer night, I pop in the old Paramount tape of Little Darlings. I remember the juxtaposition of Kristy McNichol kicking a guy right in the nuts before hopping into a convertible on her way to the summer camp bus, and Tatum O’ Neal going to the same bus in a Rolls Royce. Angel is a kid from the wrong side of the tracks. She’s a jean-jacket-wearing little hottie with a chip on her shoulder. Ferris (Ferris?) is a spoiled little rich girl predisposed to shit-eating grins and compulsive lying, but more on that later.

The two girls hate each other, so you know they’re going to wind up best friends by the end of the movie. They even fight on the bus ride. It’s unusual watching girls display this kind of behavior. They push each other, they mix it up, compare the size of their burgeoning boobies, and talk openly about sex and birth control. Both girls find themselves harrassed (for different reasons) at the camp. Ferris and Angel are very quickly revealed (in ways I can’t quite explain) to be virgins, and one particular brat offers up $100 to the first girl who can lose her virginity before camp ends.

The girls engage in the usual summer camp antics; softball, boating (with dreamy counselor/stud Armand Assante – I keep using that word a lot lately), and hiking. Tatum hits it off with Assante (who seems to be flirting with her) as they discuss France and astrological signs. It’s times like this that I wonder if I have what it takes to be a counselor at an all-girls camp. Yes! Yes, I do! The girls choose their intended targets. Tatum, of course, chooses dreamy Armand, and Kristy has her eyes on young Matt Dillon. Dillon is very much her speed and the kind of guy she would date anyway. While he seems tough with street-born good looks, he is revealed to be sensitive and vulnerable, and the way she sizes him up is fantastic.

This is an unusual film for 1980, coming out (pun!) at the peak of summer camp movies; at least comedies that didn’t involve super-human killers who wear hockey masks.  It’s an interesting reversal of gender motivations, where we have the girls acting as predators in the tribal ritual of lust, and the men are depicted as the prey; essentially clueless as to the intentions of Angel and Ferris.  The filmmakers are careful to not exploit the girls, and the clever scripting (by Kimi Peck and Dalene Young) plays to the strengths of McNichol and O’ Neal (I can understand why girls flocked to this movie when it was released), both utterly adorable in this film.  A very young Cynthia Nixon is hilarious as some kind of a crazy hippie flower girl.  McNichol, in particular, is a brilliant actress.

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“Can two teenage girls go to summer camp together without driving each other crazy?”

In an interesting twist, Tatum, her face glowing, lies that she had sex with Assante (who politely brushes her off in a sweet scene), and Kristy lies that she did not have sex with Dillon.  In reality, Kristy understands all of the consequences of a sexual relationship, while Tatum romanticizes it to the point of losing all touch with her specific actuality.  I think what I learned from the movie is not that girls are objects to be lusted after (they most definitely are, in my view), but that girls are capable of the same kind of behaviors we normally attribute to the male of the species.  The men in this movie are photographed as objects of beauty and game to be conquered, and I find that to be refreshing.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.