You Must Be Talking to Me, Since I'm The Only One Here.
Friday, May 21, 2010
Great Movies That Made Going to the Movies Suck #8- Animal House
Every comedy that has ever taken place on campus; every comedy that involves teens or twenty-something’s discovering the glories of beer and babes; every comedy with the National Lampoon’s moniker; every comedy with an overweight, under-shaven slacker who you just love; ever comedy made about losing your purity, your innocence, your virginity, your mind; and just about every comedy made in the respective career of Ivan Reitman, John Landis and Harold Raimis; hell just about every American comedy since 1978 owes something to Animal House.
Animal House shook the foundations. Better yet, it shook them up, turned them around upside down and gave them a wet willy. Animal House is the American comedy that just about defines American comedy. You can see the remnants of its trail of influence even to this very day. It’s funny then that the movie would have no real story, no real stars and no real motive other than to look honestly upon the low down, unproductive lives of the people it depicts. It may not have much of a story but it makes up for it in heart, spirit and charisma and it gave birth to one of the greatest comedic stars of his generation: John Belushi.
Supposedly based on the real life college experience of writer Chris Miller (who went on to write the book The Real Animal House, telling that what we saw in the film was actually the tame version), the film is about a rundown frat house full of beer guzzlers, party animals and people who care so little about anything else than not caring that they can barely be bothered to go to class. Of course the school dean wants an excuse to get rid of the frat and cooks up a little something by the name of Double Secret Probation, a term that has by now become iconic.
That’s about it. The rest of the film is all comic gusto as it lives among these animals, who really, only want to have a good time. Who can blame them? Twas of the time. And although the film succeeds in its broad anarchistic spirit it also has gentle touches of hilarity as well as in how every time someone walks into the Delta House someone off screen throws a beer. Sometimes they collide with the wall, unless they are going in Bluto's (Belushi) direction in which case they are caught with a movement so swift that it’s like a natural reflex from the center of his being.
Of course with such staggering originality and such box office success came the imitators and there have been, and continue to be, countless. The failed TV show, which lasted upwards of 13 episodes, Caddyshack, Van Wilder, Sorority Boys, Dorm Daze, Super Troopers, College, American Pie, even The Hangover and a slew of others not even worth remembering. But what most of these films lacked was the spirit. In a way, Animal House wasn’t even a comedy, it just so happened to be really funny. That’s how the best comedies operate, as if humour is just a pleasant byproduct of the story. The imitators tried too hard. They stuck so rigidly to the formula, dreaming up new ways to make it seem fresh and original that they forget the spirit, and in their desperate attempt at any sort of laugh, no matter how pathetic, they overshot their mark and ended with none. In that sense, Animal House didn’t work because of how funny it was, but because of, if you think about it, its maturity and sophistication in the character department.
There’s a famous line in the film from Bluto where he calls for “A stupid, futile gesture on someone’s part.” That was the key to Animal House, always getting a laugh on someone else’s behalf. The imitators get the stupid and futile part down just right, but it’s always on their own part. I guess some people just never learn.