The best part about living on The Drive is having the The Rio Theatre at my disposal. One of my favourite past-times is watching films from my youth on the big screen even though I could probably see them for free on Netflix.
If I had to describe my movie aesthetic, it would be “Wes Anderson in Space.” I love cheesy sci-fi movies from the 70’s like Phantom of the Paradise, obscure art films from the 80’s like Letters to Brezhnev, with a smattering of Russia-baiting action movies from the 80’s like Red Dawn.
To my delight, The Rio has been showing classic blockbusters from the 70’s and 80’s over the summer. The series reminds me of afternoon movies I used to watch on the local ABC affiliate out of Buffalo, NY—week-long Planet of the Apes and Elvis Presley marathons that interfered with my homework.
Last Saturday I went to see John Carpenter’s Escape From New York. No one speaks of Escape From New York anymore and that saddens me. For all it’s flaws, it’s still a fucking awesome movie.
Escape From New York has always held a special place in my heart for a variety of reasons, chief among them being Kurt Russell when he was transitioning out of live-action Disney flicks into raunchier adult roles.
I first developed a crush on Kurt Russell when I saw him in The Strongest Man in the World, which in retrospect, was just a movie about steroids. But I was merely a child then, my attraction to him was innocent, the kind of crush you have on your best-friend’s older sister—passionate but never meant to be.
Escape From New York marked a transition point in my emotional maturity. I was 14. I knew what sex was, and I was beginning grasp the fact that I was gay.
When Kurt Russell appeared on the screen in Escape From New York, he was no longer a cherubic teen, but a whiskered man. It would take me a few years to realize it, but he was dressed like one of any number of men I would come to see in gay bars.
I had always been a timid kid that avoided horror movies and violent action films. When my best friend from kindergarten, Brad, called to ask if I wanted to see Escape From New York, I had to prepare myself emotionally. Brad still hadn’t forgotten that I freaked out when Darth Vader made his entrance in Star Wars.
The movie was playing at the brand new multiplex on Kennedy Road—Brampton’s first. It was Two-Dollar-Tuesday, back when you could pay for your ticket with a $2 bill. We both loved the movie so much that we went back and saw it again the next Tuesday. A few years later Brad and I came out to each other in the parking lot of the McDonald’s where I worked. Something tells me we both just wanted to see Kurt Russell without his shirt.
It’s been 35 years since I saw Escape From New York for the first time and I was amazed that a movie that played such an important part of youth had completely slipped from my memory.
I forgot how much of the movie revolved around the World Trade Center. The audience at The Rio that night was pretty rowdy, but the scene where Snake is flying a glider towards the Twin Towers managed to silence the crowd. The visuals took on a whole new meaning (for me at least); I wasn’t seeing the glider’s approach from Snake’s perspective but from Mohamad Atta’s.
Despite that, the 20 minutes where Kurt Russell isn’t wearing a shirt, was as pleasing today as it was back then. Truth be told, with the exception of Snake fighting Ox Baker in the ring, and the president’s plane going down, the movie was completely new to me.
There was some great horrible acting in the film especially by Harry Dean Stanton. I completely forgot that Adrienne Barbeau and her big boobs were in it. When I saw the movie when I was 14, I never questioned where she got her high heels. And the scene where one of The Duke’s thugs gets a knife in the forehead was hilarious instead cringeworthy.
I took the Eighties for granted when I was growing up. At the time I thought it was a bullshit decade that would never have a lasting impact on the culture the way the Sixties did, but thanks to shows like Stranger Things and movies at The Rio I have greater appreciation for them.
The Eighties was a great time to be a teenager going to the movies and watching TV. We didn’t scrutinize the special effects and production design; plot holes were almost like a badge of honour. I don’t know if it’s a sign of age or if I have better taste in films, but I wish I wasn’t so cynical going to movies these days. Sometimes you need to see a piece of crap from your youth to remind yourself how to sit back and enjoy the ride, continuity flaws and all.