‘The Legend of Billie Jean’ with cinematographer Richard Walden

Legend_of_Billie_JeanFilm: The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)
Rated: PG-13
Directed by:
Matthew Robbins
Written by:    
Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner
Starring:     
Helen Slater as Billie Jean
Christian Slater as Binx
Keith Gordon as Lloyd
Richard Bradford as Pyatt

 By Shelley Stillo

Pre-screening memories: I stayed home from school a lot when I was young. I don’t know if my parents were lazy (throw a big enough fit….), ’80s permissive, or if they were just sympathetic. I suspect it was sympathetic.

You see, from a pretty early age, I was the teased kid. I started watching horror and sci fi in grade school. By third or fourth grade I was identifying as a Dr. Who fan, conventions and all. By fourth grade, I had a best friend geeky enough to play “Lost Boys” with me on weekends (we would write our own elaborate, soap opera-esque plots for the “Lost Boys” characters and act them out. She was Michael’s (Jason Patric) girlfriend, I was David’s (Keifer Sutherland), though I think we both secretly lusted over the more age-appropriate Coreys).

I wouldn’t trade geekdom for the world. But it made for a rough childhood. 90% of the time, when I whined to stay home from school, it was because I was afraid of bullies, and my parents knew it. They had a heart; I had a lot of sick days.

That’s why you’ll hear me say, “I think I was home sick in bed…” so often on this podcast when I’m asked how I first encountered a movie. “Home from school” was where I was when I first encountered The Legend of Billie Jean. Before watching it again, I had very vague memories of this film. I remembered an image, and the themes, and that is it. The image I remembered was of the colossal Billie Jean statue burning near the end of the film.

slaterAs for the themes, I remembered that the movie was about outlaw teenagers in some kind of epic struggle. Despite the famous use of Pat Benetar’s “Invincible,” throughout the film, it took me years to figure out where these flashes of memory had come from (of course, once I did, I couldn’t hear the song without aching to see the film again). Now that I have seen the film again, I am not surprised that my bullied young self had such an affinity for it. Billie Jean might have been the town heart throb, but her family and her friends were outcasts, and I wasn’t at all shocked to find that the whole film is triggered in by an act of bullying.

New Memories: The plot has an element of absurdity to it that gave it an “only in the 80s quality” for me that I loved. But that absurdity is pleasantly mixed with a sense of earnestness—even when what is happening on screen is pushing silly, everything feels real and feels palpable.

yeardlyThe experiences Billie Jean and her friends, especially her little brother Binx (Christian Slater) and her overzealous young neighbor Putter (a pre-Lisa Simpson Yeardley Smith) are often dead serious even when the scenarios are not: Billie has to fight off an attempted rape, Binx is fascinated yet frightened by the possibilities of violence, and the needy Putter is the victim of abuse.

However, these instances are not the “issues” that drive the films, they’re simply the realities these characters contend with day in and day out. And as such, they ground the action without stifling it with “meaning.” There are also elements of Neverland (of the Peter Pan, not the Michael Jackson, variety) in the film that I’m sure appealed to me as a child, and appeal even helen short hairmore to me now, such as the character’s temporary home in an abandoned mini-golf course, or the introduction of the character Lloyd (Keith Gordon), whose home resembles a Universal horror film prop closet. These settings lend an air of Goonies-esque fantasy to this much grittier Texas based film.

But seeing it again has convinced me that it is the “golden rule” theme of how you treat others that appealed to me most when I caught this film during one of my numerous experiences with playing hookie. Now that I have seen the film, I can understand why I identified with its ethic of “fair is fair” treatment, and why such a mantra would have been so resonant that I have felt this film for so many years, more than I have remembered it.

Download Natsukashi’s: ‘The Legend of Billie Jean’ podcast .

or, you listen right here, because fair is fair:

Our featured guest: Richard Walden

truck shotWe here at Natsukashi love us our Richard Walden. How can you not?  The man is warm, gracious and always happy to help us walk through the films from his resume. Richard returns to join us after his Continent Divide podcast earlier this summer, and here dishes on working with the young cast of then-up-and-coming actors, the parallels between Billie Jean and another strong female protagonist who controversially cut her hair, Felicity (on which Richard also worked).

His most recetly worked on Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, from Harry Potterdirector Chris Columbus and starring Uma Thurman, Pierce Brosnan and Rosario Dawson. He’s also recently worked on Ramona and Beezus, a film adaptation from the popular Beverly Cleary “Ramona” book series.

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Natsukashi on ‘The Avod,’ Last Blog on the Left

vampires_vs_zombiesExcuse us while we prepare for the shift in seasons here at Natsukashi. We have some great episodes in the works, it’s just that summer schedules have caused things to go all kinds of crazy here. Meanwhile, might I suggest a wonderful little diversion at Castle Vardulon. We were invited to participate in their “audio only video podcast.” Where we wax a little nostalgic, but also chat with the high priest and priestess of horror, Count Vardulon and The Divemistress.

Join us for our little Algonquin Round Table (well, perhaps more Albuquerque Poker Table) on horror and other miscellaneous filmic fodder.

hobgoblins2And if that were not enough, nostalgia fans, we also have a featured column on The Last Blog on the Left, where our intern Ronnie Dobbs takes a look at the two-decade late sequel to the beloved Mystery Science Theater 3000 chestnut, Hobgoblins, the indomitable Hobgoblins 2. So swing on over to Bo’s site and take a stroll through a film that tries to recreate all the high production values, riveting dialogue and award-worthy acting of the original.

And hey, you wanna watch the whole Mystery Science Theater episode that features the original, and also quite possibly some of the best writing of the entire series? Well, pull up a chair and expand the video to full screen, cuz here it is, kids:
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‘The Good Earth with Rodney Kageyama

movieposterFilm: The Good Earth (1937)
Not Rated
Directed by: 
Sidney Franklin
Written by: 
Talbot Jennings, Tess Slesinger 
(based on the novel by Pearl S. Buck)
Starring: 
Paul Muni as Wang Lung
Luise Rainer as O-Lan
Walter Connelly as Uncle
Tilly Losch as Lotus

By Marilyn Ferdinand of Ferdy on Films

 

Pre-screening memories: Marilyn makes her return to Natsukashi after she recalled a particular scene in this Oscar-winning film with great clarity. Unfortunately, that scene never actually appeared in the film at all.

good earth1Since this film spins the tale of a Chinese family who falls upon hard times — and yet every lead character is of European descent — we thought we would take this opportunity to discuss race issues of early American cinema.

So we invited a favorite guest of the site, Mr. Rodney Kageyama (who previously joined us for his thoughts of co-starring in the 1986 film Gung Ho), to join us. Not only is Mr. Kageyama the founder of one of California’s first Asian-American theaters, he has joined many panel discussions on this issue and, in particular, this very film.

good earth2What followed was a friendly, insightful, funny, and revealing chat about Asian roles in early cinema, and look at what, if any, progress has been made in the half-century since.

New memories: For the rest of the conversation, you will just have to listen to the podcast. But we also wanted to thank both Marilyn and Rodney for returning to our little broadcast, and we cannot wait to have them back for more.

Dowload Natsukashi’s The Good Earth episode right here,

Or use our handly little in-house player thingy:

Our featured guest: Rodney Kageyama

rodney_kageyamaYou can check out Mr. Kageyama’s bio at our previous posting of Gung Ho right here. What we had failed to mention, though, is perhaps one of his most important roles, the one of a survivor of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2008.

As a docent for the Japanese American National Museum, he has a vast knowledge of history from an Asian-American perspective, and we loved the opportunity to speak with him again.

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