Children of the ’80s, listen up!
Hill Valley, California. Shermer, Illinois. The Goondocks. If these locations evoke happiness in your heart, read on. If you, like me, adored the movies of your youth and can’t get enough of them, there’s a new book you will enjoy.
Brat Pack America: A Love Letter to 80s Teen Movies and the Places They Happened by Kevin Smokler has just come out and, let me tell you, it’s pretty awesome. Overflowing with references of the time and interspersed with interviews of actors, writers, and directors of teen ’80s movies, you’ll feel like you’re actually visiting the “only in the movies” locations where the films were set. You’ll dream of your Trapper Keeper with kittens on it (or is that just me?), parachute pants, and shoulder pads (or would that be a nightmare?).
The author is just my age (43), so we both had the same experience of having seen Back to the Future a gazillion times, among others. Needless to say, the book spoke to me. The ’80s teen movies were almost unique in that the decade was filled with movies portraying teenagers as actual human beings, as Smokler puts it. That made a huge difference when trying to attract a teen audience, and it’s also helped the movies to age well.
While movie sets and studio lots are usually dismantled after movies are made, preventing us from being able to visit them, there are some filming locations that exist permanently. We can still visit these spots, and the reality of the places mix with our memory and imagination of the movies.
In the pre-internet world of the ’80s, place was a much more important feature in our lives than it is now. And this exceptionally well written book takes us on a tour of many of these fictional and actual movie locations. Each chapter covers movies in groups that make sense, such as John Hughes movies and movies set in Los Angeles. But don’t jump around reading only the chapters that contain your favorites; I recommend you read it from front to back. Take the scenic route, and you’ll discover some gems that you missed when you were a kid.
Starting at the pre-Brat Pack era and continuing through plenty of John Hughes, movies set in the ’50s, sports movies, technology-based movies, and ending with a chapter on what has become of the Brat Pack and many of the locations today, this book covers so many more teen movies of the ’80s than just those with the famous Brat Packers. Themes such as parental negligence, inner city life, class, rejection, optimism, cliques, and the effect of the 1984 Olympic Games are analyzed in the context of the movies. You’ll also learn a lot about the film industry by reading this book.
I don’t know about you, but after I read the book, I wanted to go on an ’80s movie marathon. If you enjoy reading about the deep history of specific topics, and ’80s movies in particular, this could be the definitive work on the subject. I give it a “Siskel and Ebert” two thumbs up.
Now it’s your turn. Go check out Brat Pack America for yourself. Now pardon me, while I go add a dozen or so movies to my Netflix queue.
Note: I received an advance copy of the book for review purposes.