And so we bid farewell to another year, movie pals. We at the Fourth Wall have sat through an astonishing number of films, and ruminated on countless more, for your enjoyment and the occasional provocation of thought. Now is the time to welcome a new season, as the Academy prepares to make its final pronouncement on the old. Let us hope the Oscars will remember the high points and neglect the various disappointments that marked Cinema Year 2010.
In the spirit of celebration, we take a moment to remember some of our favorite movie parties. While the mind might leap immediately to the Animal House toga party or the drunken chaos that ends La Dolce Vita, plenty of other great (severely unsung) movie moments have taken place in the midst of festive celebration. In some cases the party itself is one the audience might very much like to attend. In others it is a complete catastrophe, as was the case with many of our favorite dinner scenes, but still very entertaining to watch. So strap on your party hat and join me (Dan Fields) and William Bibbiani around the punch bowl.
Whatever your scene, enjoy a safe and happy New Year, from all of us at CLR.
The Godfather, Part II (dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
There are lots of good parties in the Godfather chronicles… but only one this bad. Late in the film, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) has been through a rough patch. His families (domestic and criminal) are falling apart. His life and those of his loved ones have been endangered numerous times. The law wants him bad, as do several dangerous rivals. There may not be one single person he can trust for certain. Add to this a growing certainty that his jealous and cowardly brother, Fredo (John Cazale) had a hand in betraying him to his enemies. The reluctant godfather is staring down the barrel of a very bleak new year.
All a man can do is all he can do. Michael has previously admonished Fredo about taking sides against the family, and it did not seem to take. Now, marshaling his forces to take out all his problems at once, Michael approaches his brother at the dramatic stroke of midnight, right in the middle of a high-society New Year’s Eve party, to deliver his message of doom. As the other revelers drink and dance the night away, Michael grabs Fredo and plants the now-infamous “kiss of death” on him, adding “You broke my heart!” Happy Damn New Year, indeed.
The wedding sequence that opens the original Godfather was also a tempting choice for this list. It is a beautiful and lavish affair, working at odds with all the shady plotting behind closed doors in the Corleone home, and also a low-key bookend to the film’s cold-blooded climax. The New Year’s Eve party in Part II gets the edge this week because… well, it’s a New Year’s Eve party, complete with a great big smooch.
Ghostbusters (dir. Ivan Reitman, 1984)
Like the Godfather II party, this very brief scene makes the most of its time. Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) is a wonderfully memorable supporting characters from the comic masterpiece that is Ghostbusters. A painfully nerdy neighbor from down the hall, he provides a number of very funny interludes that eventually draw him into the larger plot.
Louis is an accountant, who for tax purposes invites his clients to parties, instead of any actual friends he might hypothetically have. The key points of amusement at his little soirée seem to be Parcheesi, runny brie, and “Disco Inferno.” Oh, and there’s the little matter of Rick Moranis dancing, which might actually be worth the price of admission.
Still, nothing breaks up a lame party like the arrival of a demonic overlord. When the stone gargoyles on the apartment building come to hideous snarling life and begin terrorizing the place, Louis finds himself in some pretty deep ectoplasm. This scene is also the source of one of the film’s best lines. As the beast announces itself with a horrible otherworldly growl, Louis looks reproachfully at his petrified guests and asks, “Okay, who brought the dog?”
Blade (dir. Steve Norrington, 1998)
Look away, squeamers. This party may not look like fun to you, but it sure is a clever idea for a scene. We are invited to a super-secret dance club… in a meat locker? Oh dear, perhaps we are being drawn into unsafe depths.
Suddenly, the fire sprinklers go off, showering the dancers with blood. Lots and lots of blood. And at the sight and taste of it, they begin showing a different side of themselves. For they are vampires, you see. The world of Blade suffers from a dreadfully high vampire population, which treats the human race like an all-you-can-eat special. Meanwhile, a half-vampire “day walker” named Blade (Wesley Snipes) is hacking and staking his way through these vicious undead with alarming intensity.
The party scene sets the stage for this bloodthirsty tale with expert economy. In a few minutes, with no words, we see that humans have no idea of the degree to which dark things walk among them, waiting to make them prey. The poor guy who gets drawn in off the street to this club gets a nasty surprise indeed.
Notorious (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1946)
This stylish entry by Mr. Hitchcock is one of the all-time classic studies in suspense. Tremendous amounts of plot unfold with virtually no important dialogue. Everything comes down to clever photography and the very communicative faces of Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, and Claude Rains.
Briefly, the film involves a plan to expose a group of dangerous high-society spies. Alicia Huberman (Bergman) is in the precarious position of infiltrator, since she once stole the heart of Alex Sebastian (Rains), believed to be one of the important bad guys. Trivia heads take note: this is the movie from which they borrowed the plot of Mission: Impossible 2. Meanwhile, Alicia’s government handler, is in love with her too. What could go wrong?
A major discovery takes place during a lavish party thrown by Sebastian in Alicia’s honor. A now-famous camera shot begins by surveying the whole affair from above, then gradually descending to a tight perspective on Ingrid Bergman’s hand, which holds a key. It is – no really – the key to the scene. She must pass it off to Devlin so he can break into the cellar, all without being discovered by her attentive and jealous lover Sebastian. Meanwhile, she must keep up the appearance of a good hostess, despite the wrenching anxiety of the situation. Ever been to a great party where something on your mind distracted and upset you the entire time? Imagine having the Cold War and your own skin in the balance. More champagne all around!
The Masque Of The Red Death (dir. Roger Corman, 1964)
Roger Corman’s “Poe” films by American International Pictures can be a delightful way to spend an evening in. Some are better than others, and The Masque Of The Red Death is one of the very best. Loosely spun from Edgar Allan Poe’s original tale (and also from his lesser-known “Hop-Frog”), the movie features Vincent Price as the blissfully wicked Prince Prospero. The whole countryside trembles in fear of Prospero, a man given to wanton cruelty and unholy rituals.
Early in the film he captures a stunning red-haired peasant girl named Francesca (Jane Asher), hoping to instruct her in the ways of the devil. About this time, Jane Asher was probably dating Paul McCartney, who was somewhere between A Hard Day’s Night and Help! We follow Francesca through the halls of Prospero’s castle, where he has herded up the rich and depraved for his own amusement, on the pretext of saving them from a ravaging plague known as the Red Death.
Things proceed in the expected way until the orgy really begins getting out of hand. The fun becomes violent, and Prospero’s main concern is summoning Satan himself to the festivities by creating a private hell on earth. When a red-cloaked stranger does arrive, the prince pays it proper homage, until he discovers it to be no demon, but a deathly manifestation of the sickness he hoped to guard against. As the Red Death brings down the whole party at once, Prospero watches his party guests writhe their last in a grotesque, 60s-vintage dance of death. I know, I know… again with the blood… but just look at those fabulous costumes and that kah-razy castle! Happy New Year, Mr. Corman, wherever you are.
Rope (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1948)
Not everyone likes wild, crazy parties overflowing with booze and naked chicks. Oh no. Some of us prefer intimate gatherings of friends and respected associates, sharing witty barbs and pointed anecdotes over snifters of dry sherry. And if there’s a dead body hidden somewhere in the room, all the better! Who doesn’t like scavenger hunts?
Rope is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s many “gimmick” movies, in which the challenge of making the movie seems to outshine – but not necessarily overpower – his interest in making a well-rounded piece of cinema. In the case of Rope, his goal was to make a movie in as few shots as possible, limited predominantly by the amount of film he could fit in his cameras at one time. In a scant 10 shots over the course of 80 minutes, Hitchcock tells the tale of one of the grimmest dinner parties ever thrown, in which two young college students (John Dall and Farley Granger) murder one of their friends just before the guests arrive in a vainglorious attempt to prove they’re smart enough to get away with it. As the tension mounts and the clues pile up, they gradually begin to regret inviting their erstwhile mentor, a profoundly observant man played by James Stewart.
Rope is a trifle of a film: a single-location wonder with only the thinnest veneer of plot, but at least it’s a thick veneer, slipped over the movie like a warm, Hitchcockian Snuggie. If you find yourself bored at a social gathering this New Year’s, just start looking for corpses. You never know what you’ll find.
Society (dir. Brian Yuzna, 1989)
Ah, the “Coming Out” party. Long a staple of polite society, the Coming Out party is a… tradition, in which a… girl… comes out of a… thing… and…
All right, I’ve never been entirely confident what a Coming Out party is for. I guess I’m just not swank enough to be invited. But in Brian Yuzna’s unfortunately obscure teen thriller Society, the secret world of the Coming Out Party is finally revealed in all of its creepy splendor. Billy Warlock plays Bill Whitney, an adopted member of a rich family whose sister Jenny (Patrice Jennings) is eagerly awaiting her big day. The only problem is that Billy keeps running into evidence that the Coming Out party is secretly a gigantic, incestuous orgy.
Oh yes. And then the Shunting begins.
It turns out that, in Society, the rich and powerful quite literally are a different species from the working class, and literally feed off of their social and financial inferiors at these kinds of gatherings. But no mere cannibalism will do. No, these “Society”-types are shapeshifters who congeal their way into the flesh of their victims, absorbing their vital nutrients and even their physical characteristics. And it’s really, really, really gross. I’m not exactly faint of heart, but dear merciful Zeus, the ending of Society is grotesque. And thematically blunt. But mostly just… Ew…
PCU (dir. Hart Bochner, 1994)
I’ve been at my fair share of wild college parties. Well, back in college at any rate. The alcohol was free and the girls were clad in a manner one would generally describe as “scantily” and yet these gatherings held no appeal for me. Why? Because the epic kegger at the end of Hart Bochner’s PCU ruined me for all other social gatherings. Oh, sure, I’m impressed by your wet t-shirt contests and beer… ‘pong,’ is it? Is it really? Good for you. Now bring out George Clinton like I was promised.
PCU came at the tail end of the college comedy craze of the 1980’s, which is a very nice way of saying that it missed the boat by about five years. To PCU’s credit, that was kind of the point. Chris Young stars as Tom Lawrence, a prospective student who goes to school expecting fraternities and pep rallies only to discover that in the politically correct 1990’s all such college staples are banned. The student body is full of self-important, humorless jerks except for his hosts at “The Pit,” a former fraternity now comprised of the only sane – albeit hopelessly irresponsible – human beings left in school.
When “The Pit” is threatened by David Spade and Jessica Walter (of ‘Arrested Development’ fame), it’s up to Jeremy Piven, Jon Favreau and the rest of their pals to throw the biggest party of all time in order to pay their multitudinous fines. But there’s no beer, no chips, and the joyless student body is too busy protesting the overtly sexualized debauchery to loosen up and have a good time. It is at this point that George ‘No Seriously, It’s George Clinton’ Clinton shows up by accident and proceeds to rock the joint. Even the stuck-uppiest stick in the mud ends up having a good time at this mother of all blowouts. Divides are bridged, gaps are filled, and it’s only $2-4 dollars to use the bathroom depending on whether you need to sit down.
Scream (dir. Wes Craven, 1996)
My personal favorite type of party is the horror movie party. There will be none of this foolish socializing at a horror movie party. You sit down, drink alcohol, consume comestibles and watch scary movie after scary movie after scary movie in a group environment. Clichés will be mocked, body types of both sexes will be ogled, kills will be judged based on their relative awesomeness and everyone will have a good – albeit lazy – time. The best depiction of this kind of geeky gathering to date can be found in Wes Craven’s Scream, in which this otherwise wholesome tradition is interrupted by actual horror.
Scream, I have argued before and will continue to argue again, is one of those rare films that defines a generation. Gone are the days of responding to external stimulus based on varied personal experience. Here instead is an era in which our reactions are entirely influenced by what we’ve seen on TV. I’m not saying it’s a good thing, but it is appropriately-illustrated by Scream, which does for irony what A Summer Place did for teenaged sexuality: both condemns and legitimizes this new, arguably unfortunate fact of life while providing instantly iconic entertainment.
By the end of Scream, when the mysterious movie-influenced killer has turned a sleepy town into a ghost one, all the teenagers are forced to stay at home due to an oppressive curfew. The only solution is to watch horror films that mirror these current events and to learn from them, leading to Jamie Kennedy’s classic monologue about “the rules” of how to survive a horror movie. Meanwhile: Sex is had (and almost instantly regretted), beers are chugged, and a psychotic killer has a field day picking off the partygoers one-by-one. You can’t have a great party without regretting something the next day, even if it’s just the death of your loved ones. Am I right? I’m right, aren’t I?
Piranha 3D (dir. Alexandre Aja, 2010)
SPRING BREAK!!! WOOOOOOO!!! SPRING BREAK!!!
Sigh… Spring break. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and immaturity. Rarely has this bizarre cornucopia of juvenile ribaldry been so beautifully recreated on screen, and perhaps never punished so thoroughly, as in Alexandre Aja’s Piranha 3D. This remake of Joe Dante’s classic B-Movie smash came out this past summer and was an unbridled expression of the adolescent id, from the underwater full-frontal nude ballet sequence to wet t-shirt… well, not so much ‘contests’ as Olympic events. Then a school of Paleolithic piranha crash the joint and devour everything in sight, turning the once-peaceful waters into a frothy red mess of human detritus and gore.
I rather like Piranha 3D. It’s delightfully uncomplicated and displays a side of director Alexandre Aja we haven’t seen before: one that isn’t hopelessly depressing. After the distastefully bleak High Tension and The Hills Have Eyes remake, Aja took to Piranha 3D like a fish in water, reducing the already flimsy plot of the original to an orgiastic take on the old Jaws mold. Government conspiracies are abandoned in favor of straightforward moralizing as an unstoppable force of nature slaughters a whole flock of partygoers who were too committed to their own undeserved catharsis to turn their brains back on for a few minutes. The kills are often breathtaking, like a woman whose hair gets caught in a speedboat propeller that is then turned on, completely ripping the flesh off of her face.
Piranha 3D has limited ambitions, but at least it meets every single one: Gore? Check. Naked flesh? Check. Anything else? Not really. Wow. Sounds like a great party. For the piranhas, anyway.