film is not a great one, it probably is more suitable than any
other I know of for a demonstration of the modern/post-modern
debate. In the middle of the previous century, actors and
authors were trying to dig deeper and deeper into reality, to
create an illusion that the audience wasn't watching a
manufactured drama, but actual life. Pauline Kael wrote about a
play she saw in March of 1946, in which a young, unknown actor
had an epileptic fit on the stage of the Belasco Theater in
Maxwell Anderson's "Truckline Cafe". She was embarrassed for the
poor kid, thinking it a shame that he got his first break in a
big role, and then had to have something like that happen on
stage during the play. She was not the only one deceived by this
illusion. Except for those who had seen the play before, the
entire audience was convinced that it was not the character who
was convulsing, but the actor. On more than one occasion, an
employee of the theater had to stop people from calling doctors,
or to stop doctors from rushing to his assistance.
Now THAT'S acting. As a former stage actor
with the love for theater but not the talent, I could die
happily if I could do that.
The unknown actor did not remain unknown for
very long. Very soon thereafter, he would dazzle the world with
his stage and screen performances in a Streetcar Named Desire.
Brando's acting coach was Stella Adler. Ms
Adler and Lee Strasberg were the two most famous advocates of
the Stanislavsky "method" of acting, a style that would
gradually replace the old oratorical style of acting exemplified
by such stars as John Barrymore and Burt Lancaster. Brando moved
to Hollywood in 1950, and "the method" moved with him. Hollywood
gradually, slowly started replacing the old larger-than-life,
speechified style of Lancastrian acting with the new modern
method in which guys tried to be exactly the same size as life.
Movie conventions followed suit. It was an unwritten
understanding in the most serious "modern" movies that the
characters in those movies didn't see other movies, and didn't
copy characters in other movies. Movies existed in one world,
reality in another. A movie was allowed to copy reality, but not
to copy other movies. Characters in "worthwhile", "modern"
movies were supposed to behave like people, not like movie
characters or speechmakers.
Parallel to that development was a completely
contrary one, as is so often the case. As movies gained a
greater and greater influence on our consciousness, they became
part of cultural reality, not separate from it, and became fully
integrated into culture itself. Movies started to base
themselves on the worlds created in previous movies rather than
on the real world. Characters started to speak dialogue which
referred to other movies. Characters sometimes even knew they
were in a movie. Most important, characters behaved by the
conventions of movie character behavior, not by the rules of
life. In any given situation, if you could imagine the character
asking himself "what would a real person do in this case?" and
"what would a movie character do in this case?", you'd realize
that they always chose the latter. These movies are not really
like the "modern" ones, and they are not really any form of
nostalgia, or recidivism. They are something new, post-modern
movies, a neologism necessary to acknowledge that the gap
between the "real" world and the "movie" words is disappearing,
because movies shape popular culture.
The debate between the supporters of these
styles raged for decades, and continues to do so. The reality
school will always produce great films like To Kill a
Mockingbird, The Pianist and Raging Bull, but the post-modernist
school is grabbing more and more of the public's imagination.
More and more existing movies seem to live in the world of
previous movies, not in the real world. (Scream would be the
perfect illustration.) Tarantino's films push the limit of the
post-modernist theory. Although they include characters who seem
to be human, they are not. They come from an alien culture, just
as surely as the oddest characters from the oddest world on Star
Trek, except that the culture they come from exists in a world
of infinite width and height, and infinitesimal depth: the world
John Landis's Into the Night was very much a
harbinger of Tarantino's films. It exists in a world which seems
sorta like earth except nothing in it ever has happened, or ever
will. The plot developments are not only illogical, they simply
could not be. They are deliberately as silly as possible, in
order to let the audience in on the joke. At the very end, when
all seems blackest for our heroes, as they appear to be headed
for a few years of serious prison sodomy, a "federal agent"
brings them three quarters of a million dollars and sanctuary.
Defying the entire concept of an "agent", he doesn't have an
agency - he just identifies himself by saying "I'm a federal
agent". He's just doing what all federal agents do - delivering
vast quantities of money from one civilian to another. On his
way out, he pockets about a hundred grand of the windfall for
himself because - "who are you gonna tell?"
The film begins with a slice from the Sad Sack
life of an aerospace engineer (Jeff Goldblum). I reckon they
don't pay those aerospace lads a lot, because even though he has
an engineering job and a working wife, Goldblum lives in a 50s
tract house, next to an auto paint/body shop, under a noisy
double freeway overpass. Ah, California Dreamin'! That only
scratches the surface of how deep his life sucks. He can't
sleep, for one thing. We're not talkin' a mild sleeping disorder
here, where he tosses and turns and sleeps fitfully, then falls
asleep on the job the next day. Nosireebob. He doesn't sleep at
all. Nada. He just stares ahead in a daze, night and day. This
gradually erodes his alertness until one day he screws up on the
job, gets sent home, and finds his wife in bed with an ugly bald
Ouch. This is gonna be one really bad day.
Even worse than the norm for his life.
The bad day becomes a worse night when he
drives around aimlessly and gets in the middle of a situation
with a damsel in distress, ruthless Iranian smugglers (who act
like the Keystone Kops with live ammo, and blow up most of Los
Angeles that night), French thieves, English hit men, Elvis
impersonators, and God knows what else. No matter where Goldblum
takes the distressed damsel (Michelle Pfeiffer) trouble follows,
although never logically.
To stress the point that this is not a film
about people, but a film about films, the script is filled with
dozens of completely inessential characters, and Landis filled
many of those roles with his fellow directors, including David
Cronenberg, Jonathan Demme, Jim Henson, Colin Higgins, Lawrence
Kasdan, Jonathan Lynn, Paul Mazursky, Daniel Petrie, Don Siegel,
and Roger Vadim. Oh, yes, and Landis himself plays one of the
Iranian Keystone Kops. We can be thankful that most of these
people had no more than a line or two, but of the four that had
larger roles, some did fairly well, while others bombed. Landis
did fine in a fairly big role with no lines. David Cronenberg
did well as an aerospace geek. Paul Mazursky performed at the
level of a local used car salesman reading cue cards. Roger
Vadim got the maximum mileage out of his limited ability in a
pretty funny turn, acting in a role obviously written just for
him, and one completely inessential to the film.
If the presence of a dozen directors isn't
enough evidence that we live in a post-modern world, this film
also allows us to watch a long stretch of the movie "Abbott and
Costello Meet Frankenstein", in a Landis homage to one of the
first films which not only acknowledged the existence of earlier
films, but actually entered their world.
Let's face it, this movie is dumb. Is this a
bad thing? I don't see why. I really like it. I just accepted
the fact that it was a fantasy, kicked back, and went along for
the ride. Not every day is an Ingmar Bergman day. Some days you
just want to go to Six Flags and ride the roller coaster.
Into the Night has humor, sympathetic characters, hilariously
bad acting from great directors who should have known better,
improbable and excessive violence, and gratuitous nudity. Among
the gratuities, it has Michelle Pfeiffer stark naked for no
reason other than to have Michelle Pfeiffer stark naked. I don't
know what more one needs in this imperfect world.
Great junk film!
Just for fun, here's the complete filmography
of Sue Bowser, who's in this film to provide some nudity.:
Into the Night (1985)
.... Girl on Boat
The Wild Life (1984)
.... Girl at Party
Doctor Detroit (1983)
.... Dream Girl
Stripes (1981) ....
What a career it was, never knowing if she
would lose some key roles to Kate Hepburn.