Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fast Times at Ridgemont High at 30

Via Althouse, Throwing Things highlights the 30th anniversary of the release of Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

When I think of the movie now it is as a cultural barometer. There is a dream sequence in which Stu Nahan interviews Jeff Spicoli about a surfing competition, and when Nahan names a pair of rivals, Spicoli dismissively exclaims, "Those guys are fags!"

In 1982 that was a punch line, but a year or two back I saw that scene on a cable network and the epithet was bleeped out. Bleeping out epithets strikes me as prissy, and for a number of reasons I would prefer a world in which we don't censor them. Particularly when we're dealing with art; if we removed everything now viewed as offensive from Gone With The Wind it would be about 30 minutes long.

Yet we live in a world where epithets against selected groups are in fact censored, and given that reality, it struck me as an encouraging marker of progress that "fag" had been excised from acceptable discourse - suggesting that ridicule of homosexuality is, at least, no longer considered broadly acceptable.

Beyond that, I think Fast Times stands out as the Citizen Kane of the teen sex comedy genre. Jeff Spicoli begat Joel Goodsen, who begat Walter Gibson, who begat Ferris Bueller. The cast was remarkable; Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Forest Whitaker, plus Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, with tiny roles for Anthony Edwards and young Nicholas Coppola as he was credited.

And while Orson Welles peaked with Citizen Kane, Amy Heckerling went on to capture equally well the zeitgeist of a later generation of teens in Clueless.

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