Saturday, August 15, 2015

80's Watch: Tapeheads (1988) - Let's get into trouble, baby

Tapeheads (1988) is most certainly a cult movie, but it's a sort of under-the-radar cult movie that feels like it should be one of those movies people talk about a LOT more than they do.  If people have seen it, it's one of the movies they saw 20 years ago, but probably not a lot since, and maybe not that many times.

The movie stars John Cusack, a well-known quantity at the time of the movie's release, and Tim Robbins, who was also fairly broadly known.  He'd done Howard the Duck by this point, at least.  But Bull Durham was still to be released later that same year and we'd see a lot more of Robbins afterward.

It's a comedy that was maybe ahead of its time, and it doesn't do a lot to lead the audience from Scene A to Scene B to Scene C so you can entirely follow every beat, and whether that's an artifact of script or editing or even intention, I'm not sure, but the story is pretty simple.  Josh and Ivan have been friends since they were kids, bonding over their mutual admiration of the soul/ R&B duo, The Swanky Modes, a Sam & Dave-like pair (and, indeed, features Sam Moore as more or less himself), who haven't been relevant since Reagan took office.  Josh (Robbins) is an artistic savant (maybe) in the medium of 1980's video art.  Ivan (Cusack) is...  his short of shady, angling pal who has the vision and isn't afraid to drive his friend, if they can both profit.

What's weird is that, while I think the comedy still works incredibly well, it feels reflective of a very 1980's mentality that presaged the stamping of Generation X as Gen X, and certainly not the broad-strokes of 1980's-ism.  There's that schism of art and "authenticity" and the necessary tension with the goodness of greed, a sort of hapless swimming in the absurdity of the world and being carried with the current that led to a lot or what people called ironic detachment, but, really, what other choice do you have when your politicians are telling you the jury's still out on cigarettes and you're one bad day away from nuclear annihilation?

Not surprisingly, the movie was produced by the same person who produced Repo Man and Sid & Nancy, Peter McCarthy.

The movie has a lot of weird bits, including small parts for Don Cornelius, 1980's and 90's college rock favorites, Fishbone, the bassist for the Circle Jerks as a devoted metal fan, The Higgins Boys in mute cameos, and the astounding commercial for Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles that seemed crazy in 1989, but would be par for the course for a local commercial now.

There's a plot about a presidential sex tape, satellites landing on metal bands mid-concert, a Menudo live satellite broadcast and the return of The Swanky Modes.  There's a lot going on here.  Not to mention a pretty solid look at the state of the video and music industry circa 1988.*

Aside from that, all I want to do is recommend the movie.  Give it a shot.  It's better than you think.  And make sure you're listening to everything people are saying under their breath and off camera.  Oh, and it IS on Netflix at the moment, so you got that going for you.

*it was with wide eyes that I saw the video for The Escape Club's "Wild, Wild West" which exactly emulates a video Josh and Ivan are making fun of in the movie, and debuted after the movie's release


J.S. said...

Probably the most important movie ever made.

JAL said...

J.S. is right on this.