Friday, July 3, 2009

Eddie and the Cruisers (Martin Davidson, 1983)

He doesn't believe shirts should have sleeves, and she thinks the entirety of one's legs should be unadorned by pesky fabrics such as denim and corduroy, yet somehow they manage to make sweet music together in the wonderfully melodious Eddie and the Cruisers, a raucous look-see into the brief existence of an early 1960s rock and roll band that starts to gel after their charismatic leader and a Rimbaud reading, piano playing songwriter see eye-to-eye in a New Jersey bar. Jumping back and forth between the past and the present, the film chronicles the lives of the surviving members of the short-lived group. Well, actually, its main focus is the post-Cruiser life of Frank "Wordman" Ridgeway (Tom Berenger). Now an English teacher, the one-time rock star finds his musical past making a come back in a big way, as the Eddie and the Cruisers get caught up in the '60s nostalgia wave. Interest in their lost second album "A Season in Hell" and the mystery surrounding death of Eddie (his body was never found) has grabbed the attention of Maggie (the gorgeous Ellen Barkin), a reporter for a music magazine of note. Now, I've never seen an episode of Behind the Music (parodies not included), but the structure of this film by Martin Davidson has all the elements of your classic rise and fall music story: artistic differences (Roxy Music), dead saxophone players (Einstürzende Neubauten), conspiracy theories (Nirvana), the troubled, yet highly innovative follow up record (The Beastie Boys), and inter-band ass fucking (Frankie Goes to Hollywood). However, since the film lacks many of the key ingredients that usually go into making your average rock and roll motion picture (drug abuse and drunken violence being the two big ones), the tuneful enterprise comes across as strangely original.

I also liked how Eddie (Michael Paré) and his band were treated when they perform at a seemingly squarer than square college. This campus sequence is setup as your typical: let's mock a bunch of buttoned-down, unhip cardigan wearers. But it turned out to be the complete opposite in terms of tone and tempo, and of course, proved once and for all that the power of rock, and not to mention, Paré's dreaminess, is incendiary.

The sight of Tom Berenger belting out a rough version of "On the Dark Side" and clutching a book by fancy pants word writer Arthur Rimbaud may have been a bizarre one, but the tough guy definitely shines as the reluctant songwriter. He's got a quiet, restrained quality about him that worked well with the magnetic Paré. It's the kind of non-showy performance that doesn't garner much attention, but it's sort that keeps the film grounded in reality. Though, I must say, I was genuinely surprised by how he was able thwart the leggy assault thrown at him by Ellen Barkin's reporter character. I mean, what kind of man ignores that kind of gam-based onslaught? Truth be told, the fact that Berenger's character wasn't coerced by this shameless display was on the cusp of being impressive.

A crotch moistener if I ever saw one, Michael Paré is freaking hot as Eddie Wilson, the energetic front-man of the film's titular group. Yeah, so what he doesn't do any of his own singing, the amount of sheer manliness Mr. Paré puts forth in Eddie and the Cruisers is off the charts. Again, like Berenger, he doesn't overdo in the histrionics department. This control adds to his overall coolness, and justifies the legend status of character.

Oh, and by not delving too deeply into Eddie's personality, the filmmakers elevate his mystique; a rare case where the less we know, the better.

On the surface, the many scenes that featured the gorgeous Helen Schneider wearing short-shorts seemed like a blatant attempt to curry favour with the smattering of perverts in the audience. Deep down, however, this material-challenged situation turned out to be one of the more brilliant ways to convey on-screen aging that I gave ever seen. You see, most films seem to go overboard when comes to aging characters. This particular film, on the other hand, simply used age appropriate clothing to signify the passage of time: the short-shorts equaling youthfulness and slaphappy whimsicality, while a modest lavender dress and with matching heels signifies practicality mixed with dignity.

Anyway, Helen Schneider reminded me of a cross between Annabella Sciorra and Juliet Landau. In other words, a tantalizing screen presence. Her scene with Michael Paré at the Palace of Depression (a junkyard fortress made out of outmoded automobiles) and the subsequent embrace in front of his turquoise Chevy convertible was my favourite non-musical sequence in the film.

Overly nostalgic for a period of time I'm not really that interested in, and sporting synthesizer-free music from start to finish, Eddie and the Cruisers manages to pull off a minor miracle by making the trials and tribulations of a lame bar band seem compelling, and, dare I say, mildly inspirational.



  1. I'm out of town and have had a few beers tonight, so I'll just say...
    "HELLLLLL YEAHHHHHH EDDIE EDDIE EDDIE!" and respond more later, mmmmkay.

    Hope your garbage strike is over.

  2. Yay! Out of town inebriation!

    I'd to like apologize in advance for the complete lack of pics that feature Helen Schneider in shorts that are short.

    Nope, it still stinks.

  3. Yeah, I really dig this film as well (I also wrote a tribute to it on my site) and how the director manages to juxtapose a nostalgic vibe in the flashbacks with a melancholic tone in the scenes that take place in the present. Tom Berenger is quite good as the sad sack Wordman who gets involved in the mystery over Eddie's death and those missing tapes.

    And poor Michael Pare. This film and STREETS OF FIRE were meant to be breakout roles for him to become part of the A-list elite but instead they bombed and he was relegated to direct-to-video hell. Oh well...

    I really enjoyed your post. It's nice to see others who love this film as well.

  4. I saw this one in the theater at the ripe old age of 11. Eddie was super cool in his leathers and sleeveless ts...

    And Barkin was a total fox to my young eyes...her crooked face definitely wormed its way into my libidinal drives creating conflicts within the conventions of civilized behavior deemed appropriate for preadolescents.

    Somehow I don't remember Helen Schneider...which is strange since I tend to be drawn to the darker haired, short shorts wearing variety of female hotness.

    You didn't mention Matthew Laurance (Mel Silver from 90210)or Joe Pantoliano (Caesar from Bound)..I assume you just didn't want to be accused of spoiling the surprise ending of the film.

  5. J.D.: I notice you have a nice tribute to "Streets of Fire" on your blog as well.

    I'll admit, It was kinda weird seeing Tom Berenger as Wordman. I mean, I'm so used to seeing him as violent tough guys (Platoon, Sniper). The only similar experience I can think of would have to be Ed Harris dancing to disco in Creepshow.

    Mr Canacorn: "...creating conflicts within the conventions of civilized behavior deemed appropriate for preadolescents."

    You go, girl!

    Ellen Barkin tastes great.

    I don't know why I didn't mention Laurence and Pantoliano, but I do like your reasoning (spoiling the endings to Michael Paré flicks is totally uncool). The most likely reason probably had something to do with the fact that I am much more comfortable extolling the virtues of leggy brunettes in short shorts than I am say, praising the talent that is Joey Pants. It's just the way I'm wired.

  6. I love this movie and its music. I watched this countless times when I was growing up. Great post. Hope you had a good weekend. Cheers!

  7. Don't give me too much (or any) credit for my turn of a was a total paraplag from the libido entry on Wikipedia:

    "Freud pointed out that these libidinal drives can conflict with the conventions of civilized behavior, represented in the psyche by the superego."

    Please forgive me...but I can't promise that it won't happen again.

  8. Keith: Thanks, man. I hope your weekend was fine and dandy.

    Mr. Canacorn: No worries, mate.

    The word "Paraplag," especially when accompanied with "total," is cool.

  9. Okay, I'm back in town and sober. :)
    Thanks for the 4th of July wishes. We hung out at a very tall hotel in downtown Hotlanta and watched the fireworks. Woot.

    Great write-up of E&TC. I think the film's prescience of the whole "behind the music" craze was neat, as were the French literature allusions. (Collapsing New Buildings had a dead sax player? :( )

    When I was a young lass, there was one summer when I watched this movie EVERY SINGLE DAY. I may have mentioned that to you already. When I revisited it recently, I could still quote entire scenes! Yesterday, I heard "On the Dark Side" at a local Mexican chain restaurant.

    Interesting to learn that Helen Schneider is working in Deutschland.

    Matthew Laurance was in E&TC AND Streets of Fire. He was also on that Alison LaPlaca early Fox sitcom, Duet. He now lives in our neighbor to the north, North Cackalackey.

    So, in summary, thumbs up to your review.

    Hope Toronto is less stinky.

  10. Hee. You said "woot."

    The character Mary Cherry says "Hotlanta" in an episode of Popular: "I went to Freaknik in Hotlanta and turned the mother out!!!"

    Thanks. I'm not 100% sure if Collapsing New Buildings had a sax player. But if they did, I bet he'd be dead.

    Speaking of not being alive, Martin Streek died the other day. He worked at CFNY in the 80s (as early as '84) and took over for Chris Sheppard in 1992. I mostly remember him as the host of the "Thursday 30" in the mid-90s.

    I used to watch Some Kind of Wonderful everyday one summer, so I totally get where you're coming from.

    Yeah, I noticed that most of my Helen Schneider Google/YouTube searches were German-related.

    Cool, another Alison LaPlaca reference.

    Today is Day 18 of the strike. (Man, this city produces a lot of garbage.)

  11. One of mine and my mom's favorites! Always have to jam to "On the Dark Side", when we go out.