Tag Archives: drama

RetView #46 – Threads (1984)

Title: Threads

Year of Release: 1984

Director: Mick Jackson

Length: 112 mins

Starring: Karen Meaghr, Reece Dinsdale

If you grew up in the 1980’s, you inevitably grew up in the looming shadow of the Cold War and all the associated bullshit. The prospect of nuclear Armageddon was never far from anyone’s thoughts, the tragedy being that none of us even knew it at the time. That highly-strung, stressed-out climate, the antithesis (or the antidote) to eighties excess and extravagance, was just normal to us. We didn’t know anything different. When Frankie Goes to Hollywood hit the charts with Two Tribes and the news was full of Thatcher and Reagan having crisis meetings, not many of us could put the pieces together and grasp the true implications. Only in retrospect are we able to put things into context, and see that we were born into a world of fear and oppression. This acclaimed BBC film does a pretty good job of depicting your worst nightmare in that it shows, “The full horror of nuclear war and its aftermath.” In many ways it served as a British version of The Day After, which had been released the year before and was nominated for no less than seven BAFTA awards, winning four of them.

Jimmy (Dinsdale, perhaps best known for his role in the Brit comedy classic Home to Roost, which debuted the following year) is a working class lad living with his parents and trying to scrape a living in Sheffield. Nothing glamorous about that. All he wants is to build a life for him and his pregnant girlfriend, Ruth (Meaghr). But rising tensions in the Middle East trigger the apocalypse, and soon World War Three between the US and the Soviet Union erupts. Britain is caught in the crossfire, with places like Sheffield in particular being targets because of their industrial heritage.

After an unremarkable opening sequence, despite its heavy use of stock footage the middle section of the film is gritty, fast-moving and harrowing, mirroring what (I imagine) it would be like if anything like this ever befell us in real life. On seeing a mushroom cloud in the distance, one of Jimmy’s colleagues looks up says, and in a tone filled with equal parts wonder and resignation, “They’ve done it.” Amidst the ensuing carnage, East and West trade blows in a seismic race to destroy each other and we are witness to widespread devastation, confusion, and blind panic, all summed up in a scene where we see a woman pissing herself in the street, which nicely demonstrates her newfound “who cares now?” attitude.

The scale of the carnage means that simply waiting for the emergency services to restore order is out of the question, chaos ensues, and it is up to those left in the wreckage to find ways to survive. For me, this is where the movie really comes into its own. Most of the population is dying slowly as a result of radiation poisoning, the power grid is down, and dwindling food stocks are controlled by a decimated central government typified by one official who says, “What’s the point of wasting food on people who are going to die anyway?”

The hangry masses are soon deposited in detention camps, Jimmy goes looking for Ruth and promptly disappears, while Ruth herself teams up with one of Jimmy’s old workmates and chows down on a dead sheep they find in the rubble. We never see Jimmy again. Instead, for the rest of the film we are left wondering what might have happened to him, this crude but effective plot device giving the viewer some insight into the uncertainty Ruth must be feeling. Months pass, Ruth has her baby, and the country struggles to achieve some sense of normality amid the misery and destruction. There is something to be said about the strength and resilience of the human spirit, yet there can be no escaping the futility to it all. The prize for survival is another day of hardship and despair.

Raw, powerful, and thought-provoking, Threads is a snapshot both of how things used to be and how things could have been, illustrating the latent fear that permeated society and, by extension, popular culture, in the heady eighties. This is grim in the extreme, but war is never glamorous or pretty and Threads does an excellent job of conveying that harsh reality. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw hailed it as a “masterpiece,” going on to say that, “It wasn’t until I saw Threads that I found something on screen that could make me break out in a cold, shivering sweat,” while Sam Troy of Empire gave the film a perfect score, stating that it, “Teaches an unforgettable lesson in true horror.”

Trivia Corner

As part of their preparation, writer Barry Hines and director Mick Jackson travelled extensively throughout the UK and US consulting leading doctors, scientists and psychologists gathering intel to help them recreate the most realistic depiction of nuclear war possible. At one point Hines visited a Home Office training centre for ‘official survivors’ which, he said, showed just, “how disorganised [post-war reconstruction] would be.”


Gary Holton, RIP

Gary Holton  22 September 1952 -25 October 1985

Gary Holton
22 September 1952 -25 October 1985

His name might be unfamiliar, but today marks the 30th anniversary of Gary Holton’s death. The English entertainer’s list of achievements is considerable. He lived life to the fullest and did things most of us can only dream about. For starters, he once toured as lead singer with the Damned in place of Dave Vanian, he had a number one single in Norway where he was a massive star, appeared on Top of the Pops and the Tube, was the subject of articles in NME and Melody Maker, and fronted the glam rock band Heavy Metal Kids and later Casino Steel, who were signed to Polydor records. A year to the day after Bon Scott’s death, Holton auditioned to join AC/DC, turning up at the venue with a crate of whisky. Rumour has it that the sole reason he didn’t get the job was that the band didn’t want another alcoholic singer.

Despite his love of rock n’ roll, it was Holton’s acting endeavours that really made his name. He had minor roles in Quadrophenia, Minder and Shoestring, before finding fame as flash cockney carpenter Wayne in the classic comedy drama Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, about a group of British builders working abroad. His character displayed a penchant for wine, women and song, something which by all accounts mirrored his off-screen persona. At the peak of his career he was offered the part of ‘Nasty’ Nick Cotton in the long-running soap Eastenders, but declined for reasons unknown. By some weird twist of fate, the part eventually went to one of Holton’s best mates, John Altman. By some even weirder twist of fate, in 2010 Altman took Holton’s place in a revamped version of Heavy Metal kids.

Gary Holton died from an overdose of alcohol and morphine in his flat in London before finishing the second series of the show that made him famous, his parts being completed by clever use of body doubles and sound editing. The cast all went to his funeral, and resisted attempts to make a third season for 15 years despite increasingly-lucrative offers. A recovering heroin addict, the inquest into Holton’s death revealed his blood contained almost twice the lethal level of morphine (o.8 mg per litre). Poignantly, the last single he released shortly before he died was a song called ‘Catch a Falling Star,’ and when the grim reaper came knocking he had been declared bankrupt twice. A tragic, sad end to a life that promised so much. Still, he probably packed more into his 33 years than most of us could in several lifetimes. His ashes were laid to rest next to his grandparent’s grave in Welshpool, Powys.

Since his death, Holton has achieved cult status. A hard-living, hard-loving rocker with a prodigious talent who loved the pub, when he wasn’t off being famous, he could often be found pulling pints at the establishments his parents ran, or playing dominoes with the regulars. Apparently, his records still outsell the Beatles in Norway. What a legend. RIP, Gary Holton. I hope you caught that falling star.


Top 10 Greatest 80’s Movies

 

They were cheesy and full of bright colours, big hair and even bigger shoulder pads, but the 80’s were a seminal decade for movies. I know there are some notables that haven’t made the cut, but I can’t include everything. That is the nature of lists. They start and they end. Kinda like films.

If you want to nominate your own, you can do so in the comments. And if feel that strongly about it, make your own list. So, in no particular order, here is my list of the Greatest 80s Movies EVER!

10. Rambo: First Blood part 2 (1985)

Our hero John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) gets sprung from jail and sent back to ‘Nam, where he falls in love, takes on a Vietcong army on his own (and wins), but not before getting captured, escaping, releasing a bunch of American POWs, nicking a gunship, and flying it back to a US camp in Thailand to take revenge on the evil pen-pushers that betrayed him. All in a day’s work.

Fun fact: the entire film was actually shot in Mexico.

9. Rocky IV (1985)

Rocky IV Poster

Rocky IV Poster

Only with the benefit of hindsight can you see Rocky IV as the blatant cold war propaganda it was with the callous, cheating Ruskie versus the honest, down-to-earth, all-American hero. Even for an 80’s actioner, Apollo Creed’s death scene is one of the most brutal and harrowing ever committed to celluloid, made even more powerful by all that glitter.

Fun fact: For added effect, Stallone decided he and Dolph Ludgren, who played Ivan Drago, should exchange punches for real when filming the films climactic fight scenes. He changed his mind after Lundgren hit him so hard in the chest his heart swelled up and he had a stint in intensive care. Oops.

8. Less Than Zero (1987)

One of the darker entries on this list sees Robert Downey Jr steal the show as Julian in pre-American Psycho Bret Easton-Ellis’ realisation and destruction of the American dream.

Fun fact: Easton-Ellis has written a sequel called Imperial Bedrooms, in which he claims all the characters are alive and well in the present day. That must have taken some doing, as Julian dies in the end of the first one.

7. Pretty in Pink (1986)

Like a lot of other teenaged boys in the 80s, I had a Molly Ringwald fetish. And like a lot of other teenaged boys, now I find it all a bit mystifying. She wasn’t even hot. She was more like that ropey plump ginger girl that went to every class completely unnoticed.

Fun fact: Who else thought Andie should have ended up with Duckie? That would have made total sense. So thought writer John Hughes, and the original ending was filmed that way. But test audiences disapproved, and the ending was re-made.

6. The Breakfast Club (1985)

How could a film about a bunch of kids stuck detention possibly work? Nobody knows, but it does. Helped no end by the classic theme song, Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds, teen angst never looked so cool. This is the archetypal Brat Pack film.

Fun fact: John Hughes made the Breakfast Club on a shoestring budget of $1 million. It went on to gross over fifty times that amount worldwide in cinemas alone.

5. The Karate Kid (1984)

Karate Kid poster

Karate Kid poster

Wax on, wax off. Who knew being treated like a slave could turn you into a double hard bastard? Another classic underdog movie from John G. Avildsen, director of Rocky. Hands up if after watching this film you subsequently tried taking somebody out with a crane kick, only to fall flat on your ass in the middle of the playground.

Fun fact: Noriyuki ‘Pat’ Morita was nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor in his role as Mr Miyagi. He lost out to some dude who was in the Killing Fields.

4. Back to the Future (1985)

The first and by far the best in the BTTF trilogy. Written and directed by Robert Zemeckis, produced by Steven Spielberg and starring Michael J Fox in his pomp, this entry had star quality sprinkled all over it. And so it proved when it raked in over $383 million at the Box Office, becoming the biggest movie of the year in the process.

Fun fact: When filming started Fox was busy making Family Ties, so the makers decided to cast Eric Stolz as Marty McFly instead. Four weeks and $3 million later, all agreed the move was an epic failure, even Stolz. From then on a schedule was devised whereby Fox would work on Family Ties during the day and BTTF at night.

3. The Terminator (1984)

The Terminator

The Terminator

Arnie at his irrepressible best. As wooden and unemotional as its possible to get, just what a machine from the future should be like. The idea for the film came to writer/director James Cameron when he was taken ill in Rome after the release of Piranha II, and he dreamed about a mechanical torso dragging itself from the wreckage of an explosion. His agent hated the idea, and told Cameron to work on something else instead. Cameron fired him.

Fun fact: The studio originally wanted to cast O.J. Simpson as the Terminator, and Schwarzenegger as Reese. This plan fell through because Cameron thought Simpson wasn’t believable enough as a killer. Um, right.

2. Aliens (1986)

This isn’t so much a sequel, as a whole new direction for the Alien franchise. Ridley Scott made the first one, and James Cameron was drafted in for the follow-up, which must surely qualify as one of the best action movies of all time. Watch the Special Edition. It kicks all kinds of extra ass.

Fun fact: Though filmed entirely at Pinewood Studios, England, Cameron wanted only actors who could accurately imitate American accents. As a result, over 3000 auditions by British actors were binned and American actors cast in their places, including three from The Terminator (Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton)

1. The Lost Boys (1987)

Lost Boys poster

Lost Boys poster

Sleep all day, party all night. It’s fun being a vampire. Everything about the Lost Boys is just cool from the loaded soundtrack to the witty one-liners and slick production. As an added bonus, Jami Gertz is smoking hot throughout. One of the few films to actually make you want to be a supernatural entity.

Fun fact: The Frog brothers, Edgar and Allen, were named after the writer Edgar Allen Poe, and the reason Kiefer Sutherland doesn’t explode in the end like the other vamps is that he didn’t really die. This was to be addressed in a sequel called Lost Girls, which never got made.

This post was originally published by Huff Post UK:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/chris-saunders/

 

 


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