The National Review Online just finished counting down their collection of the 25 “Best Conservative Movies”, and since they started the countdown people have been kicking around the picks. And there’s some pretty strange stuff on there. Their #1 favorite film is The Lives of Others, which is, incidentally, one of my favorite films too – but isn’t everyone pretty much against the Stasi by now?
I was going to just leave this alone, and indeed people soon started swooping to the rescue of films like Brazil or The Dark Knight, saving them from the indignity of having their ideologies perverted. But then I saw this.
9. Blast from the Past (1999): Revolutionary Road is only the latest big-screen portrayal of 1950s America as boring, conformist, repressive, and soul-destroying. A decade ago, Hugh Wilson’s Blast from the Past defied the party line, seeing the values, customs, manners, and even music of the period with nostalgic longing. Brendan Fraser plays an innocent who has grown up in a fallout shelter and doesn’t know the era of Sputnik and Perry Como is over. Alicia Silverstone is a post-feminist woman who learns from him that pre-feminist women had some things going for them. Christopher Walken and Sissy Spacek as Fraser’s parents are comic gems.
If you’ve never seen Blast From the Past, let me tell you something: it is a great fucking film. And this review manages, in five short sentences, to misinterpret almost every aspect of it. So I was moved to set the record straight.
First of all, Adam (the Brendan Fraser character) is innocent not because he grew up in 1950s America but because he didn’t. He grew up in a bomb shelter, an entirely artificial world that had the lovable aspects of the 1950s (the Perry Como, the Honeymooners) and none of the many things that blighted the era (McCarthyism, racism and segregation, or the Korean War). The film plays off our nostalgia for the 50s, sure, but it also satirizes those same feelings of nostalgia by showing how they have little to no basis in reality. Adam isn’t just unprepared for life in the 1990s – he’s unprepared for life. He’s been raised like Beaver Cleaver, and as a consequence he has profound trouble interacting with society.
James Bowman, who wrote the blurb, also seems to have labeled Eve a post-feminist for no reason other than she is bitter toward men. (Bonus fact: her dick-of-an-ex-boyfriend is played by a very young Nathan Fillion!) In any case, Eve doesn’t learn much over the course of the film except that all men aren’t dirtbags, which is hardly an epiphany exclusive to the “pre-feminists”. Incidentally, the film’s one example of a “pre-feminist” is Helen Webber, Adam’s mother (played by Sissy Spacek), and she has very few things going on for her. She spends the film trapped, psychologically and physically, by her well-meaning but wildly eccentric husband, with whom she has no real communication. She takes to drinking to dull her misery, and her husband is so perpetually clueless that in the thirty-five years that they’re locked in the bomb shelter he never realizes she has become a chronic alcoholic. Call me crazy, but I think that Helen’s life could have been improved at least a little if she wasn’t such a pre-feminist.
But what is worst about this blurb is that it attributes to the film a simplistic, 90s-bad-50s-good viewpoint that simply does not exist in the source material. Adam is damaged because of his upbringing and Eve because of hers, but the two fall in love not because of their backgrounds but despite them. Adam learns that there are things about present-day America that are good. (For example, the Dave Foley character can be open about his homosexuality, and isn’t forced to, you know, marry to a woman and be miserable.) Eve learns that there are things about Adam that are good. Very little is learned about the fifties. (Not the least because the film’s timeline starts in 1962.) And though its aim is more comedy than drama, Blast From the Past hews closer to Revolutionary Road than it does to the film described by Bowman.