Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Tuesday Tuneage
The Clash - "Julie's Been Working for the Drug Squad"

After reading That Was Then, This Is Now recently and finding it even better than I remember from all those decades ago, I unfortunately started thinking about the 1985 movie adaptation. Recalling the movie brought back some bad feelings of being cheated. Of being quite upset over what the filmmakers had done to a great novel. The full movie is on YouTube, but I wasn't going to sit through the whole ninety minutes again and relive the uncomfortable squirming I went through thirty years ago*.

See, my senior year at UND one of my roommates put a hard press on me to watch an HBO airing of That Was Then, This Is Now. He said it was great. I was reluctant, having heard the movie wasn't even close to Francis Ford Coppola's take on The Outsiders and it had gotten some bad reviews. But he talked me into it. This same roommate also once convinced me to skip class to watch Red Dawn. (Come to think of it, I don't think that roomie ever graduated. Maybe he should have majored in film study?)

In the movie, the kids were older than they are in the book (or at least looked a lot older). It took place in the then-present-day eighties, not circa 1970. The setting was the Twin Cities, not Tulsa. Emilio Estevez, who had been so good in The Outsiders, had one of the leading roles and also wrote the screenplay. Telling, this was the only adaptation of an S.E. Hinton book in which Hinton wasn't involved and didn't feature Matt Dillon. I mostly remember being bored through the movie, while my roommate kept identifying Twin Cities landmarks.

That Was Then, This Is Now is a story of two best friends, Bryon and Mark, who are growing apart. Darkness abounds in the novel. Two kids are beat up severely enough to need medical treatment, a third we learn has been hospitalized after a racial conflict. A girl's hair is entirely cut off while she is passed out - revenge maybe, but likely just for kicks. Early in the book there is the shooting death of a friend of the two protagonists. Not to mention the third act features a teenage commune of acid eaters straight out of Joan Didion's shattering "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" essay.

Near the conclusion, Bryon finds out that Mark has been selling drugs. Conflicted and angry as his girlfriend's younger brother has just been hospitalized after a horrible acid trip, Bryon calls the police and informs them of Mark's activities. In the book, Bryon later visits Mark in jail. Mark tells Bryon that he hates him. This hits the reader in the gut, hard. Hinton writes in notes of a later edition that she hoped the ending of the book would result in some readers wanting to toss it against the wall.

In the movie, during the jail visit Mark tells Bryon: "Lighten up, dude. Everything will be okay." Wha? (Thirty years ago during his viewing, Tuomala is now telling his roommate: THEY RUINED THE ENDING, his roommate is saying: But this NEXT scene is so great…) Bryon leaves the jail and just misses his bus. Then in a nod to a move that Mark had pulled early in the movie, he takes a running car for a short joyride. He returns it to its owner, telling him to "lighten up, dude" and walks away to poppy eighties soundtrack music. Roll credits.

According to IMDb.com, Paramount forced this optimistic ending onto Estevez. Damn Hollywood. All I know is that someone needs to be blamed. And hated.

*I'm saving my Brat Pack hate-watching for St. Elmo's Fire, which I hope to catch on TV some night so I can drink Premium and do a solo Mystery Science Theater 3000 on it.