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Issue 18,  August 17, 2009     —      Wider Screenings, Beyond the Boomers

In this issue:   FEATURE: Elinor Stutz, The Sales Personality     Michael Michalko, Carpe Diem     Linda Sapadin, Can Men and Women Be Friends?     Guy Finley, Enter Into The Untroubled Now   Sharon Elaine, Love Yor Body... One Day at a Time   Gabriella Kortsch, Cellular Responsibility   Wider Screenings, Beyond the Boomers   Events   Reviews   Earlier issues   Submit Article

                                                        with Robert Cettl

Beyond the Boomers
Gen-X Revisionism of Baby Boomer Values

The so-called “Baby Boomer” generation was influenced, if not defined, by the 1960s-70s counter-culture explosion known collectively as “the sexual revolution”.  Free love, drug experimentation and anti-authoritarianism were rife in this period of social upheaval.  But as the generation matured and settled into the rhythms of Americana, many of them began to be concerned by problems of wealth-generation, career-success, family values and property development.  As the counter-culture gave way to the 1980s, anti-authoritarian values were replaced by fiscal conservatism – a gulf first examined in the hit film The Big Chill, which featured a number of the decade’s most influential performers; including Kevin Kline, JoBeth Williams, Jeff Goldblum, Glenn Close and William Hurt.

The Big Chill touched a popular nerve with the Baby Boomers – for the first time they were confronted with an ensemble profile reflecting their changing values and priorities as they aged.  With a hit soundtrack of 1960s greats, a loose narrative more concerned with character than plot and delicate editing rhythms, The Big Chill defined contemporary Boomer cinema.  However, it would also be one of the last films to examine the split between boomer idealism and contemporary practicality: subsequent films concentrated on what was vast pre-occupying the 1980s – the quest for financial “success” and stability.  The ideal boomer was now no longer the former radical facing compromise but the stern executive and father – epitomized by Michael Douglas in two seminal boomer morality plays, Oliver Stone’s Wall Street and Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction

These films defined “success” for the boomers – wealth, prosperity and family.  There were, nonetheless, ethical issues facing the successful: ruthlessness and greed in finance being foremost and the sexual temptation away from marital fidelity being the most scrutinized (and exploited) subject.  On the first issue, Douglas’ ruthless “greed is good” businessman in Wall Street was adopted by a younger generation (the emerging Gen-X) but transformed into the “yuppie” – hence the likes of Michael J. Fox in The Secret of My Success – eventually leading to the satirical denouncement of the “success” in corporate American business ethics in American Psycho.  Similarly, women were offered role models for success in business and relationships when Melanie Griffith and Sigourney Weaver were teamed for the populist hit Working Girl.  Success, leadership, strength and determination were admirable qualities and by the 1990s had come to represent establishment America to the emerging Gen-Xers. 

The sexual morality of the successful suddenly became big business when British director Adrian Lyne made first Fatal Attraction with Douglas, Anne Archer and Glenn Close.  About the ramifications of an adulterous one-night stand, the hit thriller examined family values in Reagan’s America and their affect on sexual mores.  Fatal Attraction was followed up by Lyne with Indecent Proposal, with a younger generation of Gen-X actors – Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore – faced with the legacy of the successful businessman (now represented, ironically enough, by Robert Redford).  The premise of Indecent Proposal hinged on a simple hypothetical – “one million dollars, for one night with your wife” – which posited a lifetime of financial security vs. the moral ramifications of a single sexual indiscretion: this was Gen X’s impression of both Boomer success and the contemporaneous sexually ambiguous morality that ran through the surface conservatism like a propulsive, thrilling and invigorating undercurrent.

Gen X was lost in the overflow.  Without role models they sought to emulate, they identified with such as Kurt Cobain and the Seattle grunge movement, and with young actors like Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke, who starred opposite each other in Hollywood’s first attempt to address Gen X ethics in Ben Stiller’s Reality Bites.  Gone was the emphasis on success, family and stability; replaced by the study of human inter-personal bonding and the need for individuality against compromised corporate conformity (the satiric look at business in American Psycho completing the scathing re-assessment of the ethics of fiscal “success” and the American Dream).  But Gen-X had to face the directionless angst of what amounted to the inheritance of moral relativism – unable to clearly differentiate “right and wrong” the Gen X characters were ambiguous, confused and often hid extremes beneath their veneers, as was the case in Love and Human Remains.

Gen X latched onto sociological looks at society’s losers and outcasts more so than its most successful models – directors such as Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith began making cheap, edgy, often crude portraits of social groupings.  Smith in particular found enormous success after selling his comic book collection to finance his first movie, Clerks.  Increasingly ambitious, Smith moved through comic-book homage to religious satire before attempting to re-assess contemporary post-boomer Gen-X sexual morality and “success” ethics in Zack & Miri Make a Porno.  Here, getting rich quick means making an adult film: but, the ethics of monogamy were still pronounced as a standard – fidelity between couples was the hallmark of a relationship even in a world where pornography is legitimized.  In that, Smith carefully re-packaged the theme of one of the most successful of boomer romances, When Harry Met Sally, for the YouPorn generation, the new Gen-Y. 

The ethical questions that faced the boomers remained, but the Gen-X value system interpreting them had evolved into inter-personal dramas.  Success was now less a matter of financial and career achievement – which were background issues – than a matter of meaningful inter-personal bonding.  Human communication and interaction became more important than wealth and property: the two of them increasingly either symbiotic as in the popular adaptation of the self-help bestseller He’s Just Not That Into You or parasitic as in the look at the consequences of ambition eroding humanity in the recent Drag Me to Hell.   As the boomers aged thus, a generation of filmmakers began examining their influence on American definitions of success and sexual morality: the twin themes underlying reactive Gen X cinema.

* * * * *

The Attraction that was Fatally Re-Done

(an extract from Film Tales by Robert Cettl)

Fatal Attraction was based on a 45 minute English short by James Dearden.  The producers Sherry Lansing and Stanley Jaffe were so thrilled by the film that they bought up every copy, intending to transform it into a feature.  Although the studio was worried that the audience may find the character of the adulterous husband too unsympathetic, the film was duly made.  As scripted and originally filmed, the ending of the movie featured the psychotic woman and instigator of an affair, played by Glenn Close, committing suicide by slashing herself with a knife on which are the husband’s fingerprints, thus implicating the unfaithful husband, played by Michael Douglas, in murder.  Although this was set to be the featured ending, the studio faced a dilemma when interpreting the preview audience’s reactions to the film and to the ending.  Specifically, they wanted the Glenn Close character to suffer more directly and for the Douglas character to get some form of revenge.  Indeed at previews there were cries of “Kill the Bitch!” leaving little doubt as to what the audience wanted.  The ending was thus re-shot in accordance with this perceived audience desire.  

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