Vintage Cable Box: Class, 1983

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“The dog died.”

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Class, 1983 (Rob Lowe), Orion Pictures

Poor kid Andrew McCarthy (not exactly wrong-side-of-the-tracks, mind you) from a steel town (on a Saturday night looking for the fight of his life!) hugs his parents and says goodbye as he advances to prep school.  This is a kid who has obviously had to study hard, and work his way through life to reach the upper stratus of the rich kid’s world.  Upon meeting his new roommate, Skip (Rob Lowe) sizes him up as a complete rube and a naïve mensch who will fall for his practical jokes and ridiculous stories.  On the surface, Lowe’s pranks could be seen as exceedingly cruel (even driving McCarthy to tears), but they are necessary in order to forge the bond between the two young men as they cope with the rigors of encroaching adulthood.

McCarthy manages to bestow revenge upon Lowe (in the form of a fake suicide – not terribly funny, I guess you had to be there) and they become fast friends.  After a couple of episodes, usually involving young women and embarrassing hi-jinks, Lowe (in Christ regalia carrying a crucifix, no less) gives McCarthy a hundred bucks and a ticket to Chicago so he can get laid, or else he won’t be allowed back into the dorm.  McCarthy decides to take him up on the offer.  He goes to a singles club, and ultimately hooks up with a beautiful older woman (delicious Jacqueline Bisset).  While initially chaste, it’s obvious she’s very lonely and prefers to populate her surroundings with young people.  She finds McCarthy’s naïveté charming, and seems to be immediately attracted to him.  They have sex, and it is implied this is McCarthy’s first time.

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Returning to school, he presents a pair of panties as proof of his dalliances, and regales classmates with stories of passion with an older woman, and earns the respect of his peers.  He has further interludes with Bisset.  They have a remarkably easy sexual chemistry (no difficult feat with Bisset), which demonstrates not only the success of the movie’s characterizations (the story takes it’s time in unfolding) but also places an important emphasis on sexuality in general as depicted in the eighties.  McCarthy shows wonderful maturity in his scenes with her (he’s a joy to watch, which is strange for me) even when he lets it slip that he loves her.  Her face goes blank for a moment, because she’s contemplating the ramifications of the statement (as an older women would).  This is a strangely thoughtful screenplay for an eighties sex comedy.

She takes him to New York and shops for him. While he changes his slacks, she spies his wallet, opens it up, revealing that he is, in fact, a high school student. She runs off. What I wonder is – how could she not know? She knows he is rather inexperienced as a lover. His youthful demeanor should’ve triggered something in her, so we approach somewhat controversial territory in that even if we bond with people on an intimate level, how hard would it be to accept that the years are wrong between us? McCarthy is depressed, and his grades are slipping. Lowe invites him up to his parents’ country estate for Christmas break. This is where the fun begins!

They get to the palatial spread, and Skip introduces his parents, Cliff Robertson, and one Jacqueline Bisset!  Turns out she’s a very bad girl.  What follows is stilted, awkward dinner conversation.  Bisset is in an unhappy marriage to a humorless, straight-shooting Robertson, which makes sense given her proclivity for casual sex with strangers.  Robertson chalks up her peculiar behavior to neuroses or a mid-life breakdown.  The movie then turns into a comedy of errors, where McCarthy has to shield Lowe from his relationship with Bisset, and then to provide a sounding board to Lowe’s disillusionment and dissatisfaction with his parents and adult life.

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Even though they tended to irritate me in later movies, McCarthy and Lowe are just about perfect in this film, playing off each other like a younger variant of The Odd Couple; McCarthy is a straight-laced realist, and Lowe is a bad boy.  The terrific cast is a mix of old (Robertson, Stuart Margolin), new (John Cusack, Alan Ruck, Virginia Madsen), and the still-hot (Bisset).  Class plays as a reverse Blame It On Rio, from the perspective of the young male as protagonist, and also a pre-Brat Pack opus, but given the cast and subject matter (more sexualized) produced by a slightly-older generation of filmmakers than John Hughes, it’s more hard-hitting and less contextualized.  When Lowe’s character discovers the truth, he is mortified.  McCarthy tries to reason with him, but instead, they wind up fighting it out in mud-covered fields, which spills over into their dorm.  After beating the holy hell out of each other, they collapse in a heap and laugh.  This is one of the greatest endings of any movie I’ve ever seen.

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: “The Lonely Lady, 1983”

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“I don’t suppose I’m the only one who’s had to fuck her way to the top.”

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The Lonely Lady, 1983 (Pia Zadora), Universal Pictures

Let’s get this out of the way first.  Pia Zadora is fucking hot!  She’s such a soft, sensual creature – goddess and demon.  She makes me nuts just thinking about her.  A diminutive yet voluptuous combination of nymph and vixen struggling tooth and nail against the evil masculine forces which circle her in tribal formation and threaten to destroy her delicate creative genius.  You can damn me, but I understand her frustration.  Not that I’m some babe out there with talent that’s always being ignored in favor of my gorgeous breasts and well-toned ass, but I get that when you’re out there, trying to take a swim, you’re going to run across a lot of leeches in the pool.

The movie opens with Pia’s character, Jerilee, on her way to a big award ceremony in Hollywood. From there, we go into a flashback. In high school, she wins her first creative writing award. Later, after a party, a young Ray Liotta rapes her with a garden hose. This movie pulls no punches when it comes to naming man as woman’s ultimate aggressor. The rape is filmed in such a way that a female acquaintance is laughing at her, and taunting her while Liotta does the deed. I can’t imagine any woman ever behaving in such a way when another woman is being raped, but this story is the brain-child of Harold Robbins, famous for a particular form of exploitation disguised as the trashy “romance” novel.

After an untold period of time chronicling her recovery, Jerilee gets back on the horse and continues writing. She ultimately marries her boyfriend’s dad (against mother Bibi Besch’s wishes), because he is a successful screenwriter. They try to consummate, but the old man has a heart condition. Her marriage gets her critical meetings with the power-brokers of Hollywood, but everybody seems to be interested only in her body. Tensions between her and her husband escalate when she rewrites one his scripts. They divorce, and she proceeds to screw every actor and producer in Hollywood to get her screenplay sold. She dates a manipulative actor (Jared Martin), who knocks her up, forcing her to get an abortion because he won’t support the child.

Sleazy Introduction
A sleazy introduction.

I don’t believe I understand the message of this movie, other than that men will rape you, take advantage of you, manipulate you, abuse you emotionally, or try to destroy you should you dare to live your dreams.  The meaning is lost in the details because Jerilee, while obviously telegraphed as being “talented”, is also extremely naive, and more often than not, idiotic in her ambitions.  Moreover, Zadora, in her performance, doesn’t strike me as a writer.  More like a curious observer in a world of snakes masquerading as men.  The other women in the movie aren’t much help, either.  They are either strict, judgmental authoritarians (like her mother), or slutty gold-diggers.  So, The Lonely Lady deceptively labels itself a product of feminine empowerment, but instead it skewers the fairer sex by creating a culture of victimization in it’s central character; an interesting female archetype who must be punished for being beautiful and sexually attractive.

A naive young man myself when first watching the film, I assumed this what movies for adults were; products laced with sex and nudity, violence, and profanity, but done up in a dismal melodramatic watercolor painting with unusual outbursts of primary color.  Unfortunately, the music, and the editing, and the many montages of The Lonely Lady make it seem like nothing more than a made-for-television drama with tits.  Not that I mind.  The movie is never boring.  I have to give Pia props for her bravery in being made the fool of this peculiar morality fable; she is remarkably easy on the eyes, even as her dialogue hurts our ears.

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.

NEW PODCAST: “Ain’t That A Man” or “Skanked While You Sleep”

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Andrew and I talk about men and women. We discuss the phenomenon of “man-shaming” – the idea being that men feel bad that they are men. They will go to great lengths to apologize for being men, for their enjoyment of grilling, for their willingness to allow their wives to pursue open marriages.

We talk about a woman’s inability to pass judgement on other women who engage in dangerous sexual activities, while, most tellingly, disconnecting from the same practices. We talk about Moria Greyland, and really the less said about that, the better. Enjoy!

It should go without saying (at this point) that Andrew and I have fairly loose tongues and we tend to pepper our speech with obscenity and profanity. This is because we record a podcast in an atmosphere where we like to be comfortable. If you are easily offended by harsh or foul language and terse pronouncements, don’t listen.

I hate the concept of “trigger warnings” – REALLY hate them, but you might not want to read these articles on a full stomach, and you also might want to take a long shower and gargle with Lysol!  Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

Grillax, Bro By Jacob Brogan

What Open Marriage Taught One Man About Feminism By Michael Sonmore

The orgy prude: How I finally admitted I don’t like meaningless, porn-star sex By Tracy Chabala

Dear Straight Men, Come Out Already By Mason Hsieh

The Story of Moira Greyland