The Dream of the Nineties In Film

Nope. Not talking about Portlandia.

I’ve been chewing on a lot of stuff in the back of my mind about who and what I am. Like everyone else on the planet, a large part of my personality and my mindset come from both environment and experience. As an American, this means a lot of things, but one thing really sticks out to me. And that thing is film.

I suppose other countries can be fixated on film, but when it comes down to it, have a look at some numbers. When Americans have some money in their pockets, they go to the movies. Even taking other factors into account from the data that’s out there (we are far from the biggest producers – Bollywood, China, and Nollywood beat us), but look at those numbers linked above from Wikipedia. At how much America feeds the industry through the box office. Out of the total budget spent on going to the cinema in the world, it looks like America outspends any other nation. (admittedly we put more production value in, inflating ticket costs, but I digress). We put up a third of the money at the box office that goes into the overall global film industry as of 2016. And that’s not even taking into account retail sales of home media, streamed or physical.

I can’t think of a single person I know here in America who doesn’t enjoy movies of one sort or another, and it seems we are born as film critics. We indoctrinate our young with Disney films and other kid focused flicks. The American film industry rakes in a huge amount of money from the kid movie market that always seem to pay dividends (if for no other reason than Mom and Dad want some time to keep their kids occupied). Then there’s the insane amount of money the industry pulls in on adolescents with PG-13 films, which outranked even the R-rated fare meant for people who get to typically spend their own money to see films. By the time the average American hits the R-rated scene (which most American parents seem to introduce their kids to early with moderate-to-low supervision by my experience) they have seen many, many films, and have probably watched their favorites dozens of times before going on to watch an even broader array of films. With the rise of streaming media and on-demand viewing, I can’t help but think the intake has grown to Spadowski levels of intensity.

spadowski almost the nineties
God bless you if this film was a part of your childhood.

I don’t necessarily think it’s even bad. Expression changes with the eras and their technologies and stories get told through the media that any given generation prizes. I imagine that folks in past times took their families to see minstrels, troubadours, and plays before we got out magic picture shows. TV and Film happen to be our expressive lingua franca now, and it is what it is.

Given all of that, I’ve put some thought into my own experiences in this American tradition of consumption.

While I have an incredible soft spot for the eighties, the films I watched then weren’t taken in full context. At seven years old, I did not understand the full nature of why Nazis were bad apart from their acting like villains (the full political and historical contexts would come with time and repeat viewings with my mom and dad). I didn’t get the underpinnings of societal and political realities while watching Iron Eagle (not that it had a lot of reality to begin with). Wargames was cool because there was a talking computer (I didn’t understand a lot of the rest of it at the time). The Blues Brothers was great because of the over-the-top hijinks and the swearing (swearing is super cool when you’re a kid). My brain didn’t really start picking up all of what films were laying down until I had at least a decade under my belt to start interpreting things like a well-adjusted human being.

And that meant it was the nineties when film really got in with a little more context to my brain. When I look back at a lot of my favorite films, I’m looking at the era of Bush the First and Bill Clinton. I’m talking about computer effects getting good enough that lawyer-eating dinosaurs looked wholly convincing. Where I was finally, legally, old enough to start going to R-rated films on my own without my parents to guide my interpretations. When I could start putting things together and seeing deeper meanings and layers of nuance (when I watched films with nuance).

Even more importantly, when I look back at the things that guide my hand creatively, so much of the influence on my work comes from some of my favorite films of the nineties. The Crow, Pulp Fiction, Sneakers, Clerks… the list goes on. It didn’t strike me until recently how much the films of the nineties influenced my emotional and creative palate. There’s tons of stuff I’ve drawn from without even consciously thinking about it.

So I want to go back, and I’d like to take you with me. You don’t have to wear any JNCO pants. No Fear need not apply. And for the love of god, you don’t have to have a chain wallet.

You can wear those if you want (if for some bizarre reason it makes you feel better), I won’t judge (much). If you have an unopened bottle of Jolt Cola or Zima… drink at your own risk.

And know that I will totally judge you for the Zima thing.

I only have a couple things to note:

durden nineties
You may TOTALLY talk about nineties film.
  1. Any film in question had to come out of the nineties. As much as I love Blade Runner, and as much as I only eventually saw it for my first time in 1991 (a kind of fucked up thing to watch when you’re a tweenager), it was filmed in the eighties. This isn’t always about me seeing a film in the nineties, though it generally will be. Some nineties films I viewed after the nineties (Fight Club didn’t come to me until almost 2001 because, you know, college years are busy).
  2. Any film in question had to leave it’s mark on me. You aren’t going to see a comprehensive history here – just the films that made me sit up and take note for one reason or another.
  3. The films do not have to be, strictly speaking, good. Holy cow you’re gonna see some schlock come up here. I’m not saying I had, or even have developed since, great taste. These are films I watched that left an impression for good or ill. Teenagers and early-twenty somethings rarely have a refined palate and I am no exception.
  4. I will not be representing all genres and cultures because nineties Maurice was kinda limited. My film picks weren’t exactly groundbreaking or necessarily broad. I was a white kid from the ‘burbs. For half of these years my viewing habits were dependent on cash from my parents who decided what they felt was appropriate.  I wasn’t all that high-brow and I hadn’t discovered a lot of films that were outside of my parents’ guidelines; broadening into international or minority film came later. College and experience started me down a broader pathin the late nineties, but that in some part came after the mid-nineties.

So come along with me if you like, to 1990 sometime in the next coming days. We’ll watch some movies and take a stroll down memory lane.

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