' ' Cinema Romantico: Scream (15 Years Burning Down The Road)

Friday, April 08, 2011

Scream (15 Years Burning Down The Road)

"You couldn't figure out the 'World's Theory' for yourself? It's just common sense. Anybody knows, ya gotta keep your worlds apart." - George Costanza

It's difficult, of course, if not downright impossible, to pinpoint the figurative ending of one decade and the beginning of another. You could say the 70's died on Disco Demolition Night and you could say the 80's died when Cobain first figured out the riff for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" but this is all just speculation and hearsay. There are any number of events that help to signal beginnings and endings. That said, I think the 90's might have died at the moment in "Scream 3" (2000) when Jay and Silent Bob appear.

Saying goodbye to The 90's.
As the legend goes, the amateur auteur Kevin Smith shot "Clerks" (1994) for spare change (i.e. $27,000) after hours at the Quick Stop where he worked. It went to Sundance and was bought my Miramax and became, as they say, a Cult Classic. It featured, amongst others, the comedic duo of extravagantly foul mouthed Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith himself.) Like most any movie, it could be read any number of ways but one important note in regard to "Clerks" is how its characters discuss other films as if these films had a real pulse, as if they existed in the real world. "My friend here's trying to convince me that any independent contractors who were working on the uncompleted Death Star were innocent victims when it was destroyed by the Rebels."

The 90's, of course, were awash in postmodern irony. Melodrama, to paraphrase "Clerks'" Randal Graves, coming from most 90's slackers was about as natural as an oral bowel movement. Melodrama. Earnestness. Sincerity. These things were out. So out. (See: Immense Decline In Popularity Of Bruce Springsteen.) Thus, movies could no longer simply be movies. And on December 20, 1996, like Skynet, they became self aware.

-"But this is not a movie."
-"Yes it is, Sidney. It's ALL one big movie."

The 80's were rife with an endless string of horror films with endless sequels - some of them possessing moments as funny as anything that happens in "Scream" (the chopped off head rolling down an embankment and into the garbage dumpster which then helpfully closes by itself in "Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan") - but as atrocious as most of them were they were done straight. Guy in a hockey mask, guy with a razored glove, whoever, whatever, no one treated any of this self seriously. Even The Fresh Prince believed whole heartedly in the nightmare on his street.

But then Drew Barrymore, home alone, got that phone call and they're talking and then guy with the uber-creepy voice on the other end asks - actually asks - "Do you like scary movies?" And then the two of them proceed to have a whole conversation about scary movies and then have a trivia contest about scary movies even though, as we, the audience members, know from the advertisements, this is a scary movie that these two characters are in. Oh boy. Toto, I don't think we're at MGM in 1939 anymore.

We catch up with our high school protagonist, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), of the cozy hamlet of Woodsboro, and her ne'er-do-well boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich) and Billy describes their relationship thusly: "We started off kind of hot and heavy, a nice solid "R" rating on our way to an NC17. And how things have changed and, lately, we're just sort of edited for television." When the murder and killer are discussed Rose McGowan's, uh, let's say, moderately well-endowed Tatum references Sharon Stone from "Basic Instinct." And then Sidney gets a call from the creepy voiced killer who, again, brings up horror movies and Sidney says this: "It's always some stupid killer stalking some big breasted girl-who can't act-who always runs up the stairs when she should be going out the front door. They're ridiculous." Of course, about 24 seconds later, when the killer comes after Sidney, she runs up the stairs.

This was a movie commenting on itself as it happened. As the esteemed Roger Ebert noted in his original review: "'Scream' is not about the plot. It is about itself. In other words, it is about characters who *know* they are in a plot." Naturally, everyone ate this movie up. Even if you died in "Scream" you were still, like, you know, above it all because you, like, knew you were going to die anyway because those were the "rules". Gloria Gaynor knew she'd survive because, well, she knew she'd survive. Cake might have said they'd survive but hey, dude, they didn't care either way.

But then in 1998 and 1999, respectively, two crucial events occurred at the cinema. 1.) In John Waters' "Pecker" the characters, at the end, toast to the death of irony. This, in itself, was, I think, meant to be ironic but even so it led directly to... 2.) In Kevin Smith's "Dogma", Jay and Silent Bob return and journey from their home in New Jersey to the American Midwest in search of Shermer, Illinois, the setting of so many John Hughes' Films of the 80's, only to discover that - gasp! - it doesn't exist. Which begs the question, can you still be self aware as a movie character when you learn the movies are faked?

"You have no idea of the magnitude of this thing. If she is allowed to infiltrate this world, then George Costanza as you know him ceases to exist. If Relationship George walks through that door, he will kill Independent George. A George divided itself cannot stand!" - George Costanza

Then, a year later, in "Scream 3", on a Hollywood backlot, for the briefest of moments, we glimpse Jay and Silent Bob. The two characters who had determined the movies weren't real were now suddenly in a movie that was completely aware of its own existence. Worlds had collided and, as George Costanza knew, if your worlds collide, they blow up. 

Soon, Bruce Springsteen was cool again. U2 returned to their wildly (and awesomely) overearnest anthemic sound. The Arcade Fire showed up on the scene and took cues from them both. "Almost Famous" may have been set in the 70's but Faizura Balk spoke for a certain sect of us at the present when she spoke of loving "some silly little piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts." I don't mean to suggest that irony, or snark, were or are dead because they are most assuredly not. They will always exist in one form or another. It's still there, all around us. What I mean to suggest is that finally sincerity was re-allowed back into the mainstream and no longer did we melodramatic morons have to hide in the corner and pretend to brood and act like everything was overrated and keep our hearts off our sleeves. To quote Bono, "After the flood all the colors came out." I could sit there in public in the theater after "Atonement" and weep like I was from Alderaan and it had just blown up and tell you that if you didn't like it you could bite my ass cuz I don't live by your dispassionate propaganda anymore. I saw Ra Ra Riot live and realized, by God, a band had finally made music that sounded just like I feel inside all the time, a sound (feeling) some critics dismiss as "painfully earnest", words I want emblazoned on my tombstone.

This is what leaves me profoundly worried about the release of "Scream 4" next Friday. Are the ironic machines attempting to send someone back in time to kill all the people who toasted the death or irony? I can't be sure. All I can be sure of is that my heart's on my sleeve now, where it should have been all along, and it ain't comin' off. Do you hear me, Craven?! IT AIN'T COMIN' OFF!!! Can I guess the killer of "Scream 4?" I don't know and, frankly, I don't care. The only ending I want to see is the entire town of Woodsboro getting burned to the f---ing ground.


Wretched Genius said...

Fun Fact: Scream was the first movie I ever used a Carmike Cinema's employee pass to see. I saw it at The Forum 4 in an almost empty 400-seat auditorium, which is now a Hobby Lobby.

Nick Prigge said...

That's where I saw "Scream"! I was going to see it at the Westwood but Chris Hodges insisted that I see it at the Forum instead because it was his old theater.

I saw it with a girl who spent 95% of the time I knew her sending me utterly mixed signals. Or it could have been that I was just an idiot and misread them. In other words, while some things have changed since then, some haven't.

simoncolumb said...

You were recommended by Final Cut and, mygod. That was a good read. I think you lost me a little at the end but the self-awareness ending in jay and bob I'd so true. I think everything then got inversed and inverted as the references go bigger and grander - grindhouse - or, by flipping it back on the viewer, as the whole self-reference thing was so we could pat ourselves on the back and say "yeah, I get that joke"... now we have YouTube and make the films ourselves... I think social media is all about us constantly referencing our own lives - tag this, tweet that - and you'll be happy to know that Scream 4 is very much about social media and a sense of self ...

Nick Prigge said...

Thank you for the kind words. Sorry about the end. I think I lost myself, too. I get a little too caught up in the moment sometimes. I could see that being "Scream 4's" angle. It makes so much sense that it would go there.