A case can be made – and this epic-length documentary certainly does it – for 1982 as a peak year for several strands of mainstream American cinema. It was the year of hits like Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan, Poltergeist, ET The Extra-Terrestrial, Conan the Barbarian, First Blood, Rocky III, Porky’s and 48 Hrs, and misses which stuck around in the culture like The Thing, Blade Runner, TRON and (maybe not so much) Megaforce.
Director Roger Lay Jr and writer Mark Altman corral an enormous number of interviewees from the creatives and the audience to go over the schedule, almost week by week. At the end, after running a gamut from The Slumber Party Massacre to Diner, interviewees are asked what won the Best Picture Academy Award that year – and folk who’ve been able to tap into wells of movie history and trivia scratch their heads. It was Gandhi, which – like so many Best Picture choices – was resented by fans who wanted official recognition for, say, ET or Blade Runner – Gandhi is also the only British film to get a mention (a couple of Australian films – The Road Warrior – ie: not Mad Max 2 – and The Year of Living Dangerously slip in), though there is an acknowledgement that Reagan’s morning in America of wealth and optimism wasn’t entirely the experience of the rest of the world in clips of the Falklands War.
1982 was an important year for me – I began my career as a professional writer, and the first big gig I landed was reviewing The Evil Dead (mentioned in passim here). I’m about a decade older than many of the enthusiasts for films I liked but didn’t love the way I do films from maybe 1972 – which I suspect is a self-selecting phenomenon. Of the films covered here, the one I personally relate to the most – and this is shared by a lot of interviewees on the geek spectrum – is Barry Levinson’s Diner, which – along with Richard Benjamin’s My Favourite Year – is about the mindset of the people who made these movies and the experiences that shaped them. The film is dedicated to Frederick S. Clarke, publisher of Cinefantastique magazine – a memory I have of 1982 is that I subscribed to this US publication through a UK firm that had trouble getting issues on time, so a wedge of double-issues covering the headline films here arrived in one slightly soggy package (it was raining) and that run of mags (which had to come out with variant covers because there were too many important films to select just one).
There’s an inevitable sheen of things were better then, though this was at the beginning of a break with the cinema ecosystem of the 1970s as much as it was a realignment towards the world of franchises (the only Marvel character we see is Spider-Man, as Richard Pryor wears Spidey pajamas in the disastrous The Toy, though DC had Swamp Thing out that year).