Wednesday 5 July 2017

#CBR9 Book 60: "Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies" by Hadley Freeman

Page count: 352 pages
Rating: 3 stars

It's been about a month since I finished this, and I've long since had to return my copy to the library, so Goodreads is going to have to help me here:

From Vogue contributor and Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman, a personalized guide to eighties movies that describes why they changed movie-making forever - featuring exclusive interviews with the producers, directors, writers and stars of the best cult classics.

In Life Moves Pretty Fast, Hadley puts her obsessive movie geekery to good use, detailing the decade's key players, genres, and tropes. She looks back on a cinematic world in which bankers are invariably evil, where children are always wiser than adults, where science is embraced with an intense enthusiasm, and the future viewed with giddy excitement. And, she considers how the changes between movies then and movies today say so much about society's changing expectations of women, young people, and art - and explains why Pretty in Pink should be put on school syllabuses immediately.

From how John Hughes described Molly Ringwald, to how the friendship between Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi influenced the evolution of comedy, and how Eddie Murphy made America believe that race could be transcended, this is a "highly personal, witty love letter to eighties movies, but also an intellectually vigorous, well-researched take on the changing times of the film industry." (The Guardian)

This was the most recent book club entry in the Cannonball Book Club, where the theme was movie related non-fiction. It wasn't the book I voted for, but book clubs are all about expanding ones horizons and reading things you wouldn't necessarily pick yourself, so I downloaded it from the library and started reading. Sadly, on the day of the actual book club discussion, I was feeling unwell, and not really able to take part as much as I would have liked. Of course, now it's been over a month since I finished the book, and while I kept thinking I should take notes to remember my opinions, that didn't really happen. So this review is going to be rather rambling, as I try to articulate what I thought and felt while reading it.

The first essay, about Dirty Dancing and sexuality on film, especially that of women, was really fascinating to me. While I straight up disagree with Freeman on a lot of points she makes in the book, it was really interesting to read about this movie (a film I only saw when I was closer to twenty than in my teens, and therefore never really saw the swoon-worthiness of the film, unlike many of my contemporaries). Having read Freeman's essay, I'd like to rewatch the movie, looking at its portrayal of female agency and the like. Freeman makes several points in the book in various essays about how "women's movies" don't really get made anymore, and I sadly think she's right. Unless movies can appeal to a wide range of demographics, they are unlikely to be greenlit now.

Like Freeman, I grew up in the eighties and nineties, but I didn't consume movies the way she clearly did. While I love watching movies and agree with her on the greatness of so many films, I was almost first and foremost a reader, and would therefore rarely obsessively watch the same movies again and again. As I mentioned above, she makes a lot of good points, but I never really felt that "Lessons we learned from eighties movies" was really what this book was about. If the book had been called "one film geek's opinions on eighties movies", it would have been a much more accurate title, but I suspect she'd have had a harder time getting the book published.

Because I didn't take notes, I can't really remember which bits of the book annoyed me the most. This isn't the best of reviews, so many other, more eloquent Cannonballers have reviewed the book already over on the group blog. I'm not regretting that I read the book, and it made me very eager to go seek out some of the eighties classics I've never seen, but unlike some pop culture non-fiction I've read, I'm unlikely to ever revisit this one.

Judging a book by its cover: My main gripe with the cover is the subtitle: The lessons we learned from eighties movies, because I really don't think Freeman manages to fully commit to her "thesis statement" so to speak. In so many cases, she just talks, very subjectively, about what she thinks of these movies, without there being any obvious "lessons learned" at all. The cover design, evoking old VHS tapes and their many colourful covers is a nice touch, though. Having grown up in the 1980s, just like Freeman, the cover was a good little piece of nostalgia.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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