I am writing this in haste, so I apologize if you are underwhelmed. After losing volumes of literary work to a hard drive crash, numerous technical difficulties, followed by weeks of crying while clicking the hammer of my replica Civil War pistol, which doesn’t fire, I am finally back online, expounding my opinions of film. I am doing so based on the assumption that you care what I think. While we’re at it, assume that I care what you think, too.
This movie opens with an apocryphal warning about teen violence: “Last year there were over 280,000 incidents of violence by students against their teachers and classmates in our High Schools.”
I don’t know what classified as ‘violence’ in the 80’s, but being familiar with the popular music of the era, I have a suspicion that the bulk of it was keyboard-based. The popularity of the Casiotone line of keyboard instruments for kids provided an inexpensive, highly portable tool that made it possible for battered children to bring their abusive domestic situations to school with them. Tortured souls, by the hundreds of thousands, defensively clustered together in what were once called ‘garage bands’(now called ‘gangs’), armed with weapons that spat out primitive consonant sounds to plant the seeds of the shockingly violent culture that begat The Crips, The Bloods and MS-13(also called the Miami Sound Machine).
Released in 1982, Class of 1984 created a startlingly accurate, dystopian picture of what the future would be like. A world where an entire generation of poor, inner city ethnic minorities(later known as Wayans Brothers)were pushed around by white, permed, 25 year-old teenagers in multi-pocketed leather pants. It was a time when the very whiff of hairspray, or the low, thumping beat of a Human League album, would send terrifying waves of paranoia through the ghettos. Public Enemy’s little known first single, entitled
White Boyz, said it best:
“Prisoner in my own house,
I feel safer in jail.
Cuz there ain’t no Timothy Van Patten pickin’ up on my trail.”
Picture this: It’s your typical all-white, Canadian, inner city, war-torn hell hole. It’s run by arch-criminal, and former haircut model, Peter Stegman(Timothy Van Patten), who controls the campus’ drug and prostitution rackets. Enter a new teacher, Mr. Norris(not THE Mr. Norris), into this 10th circle of hades. Aside from looking like Prince Valiant, Mr. Norris is quite unprepared for the trials he’ll face at…shit, I forget what the school’s called.
I could look it up on imdb.com, I guess, but I’ve been boycotting it ever since my screenwriting credit got taken down. Those were hard times, I tell ya: the film production collapsed under a massive failure of management and budget underestimations(fucking computer animation!). It was a lot like the fall of communism , really. It was slow, inevitable, and Ronald Reagan took all the credit(even though he had little more than a peripheral involvement). Actually, I’ll probably just never bring it up again. That’s for the best. Let’s do that.
Class of 1984 paints the morbid picture of youth gone irrevocably out of control, which is what youth does when you overlook the telltale signs of hardened criminal influences, such as
– teen boys wearing blush
– hair that doesn’t move, even in high winds
– well-accessorized outfits with an abnormally high zipper-to-buckle ratio
– extremely angular facial features that hover somewhere between normal-
looking and Scott-Caan-looking
– being caught, on more than two occasions, physically abusing veteran ‘Planet of the Apes’ actor Roddy McDowall.
No doubt, you’ve seen examples of this sort of abhorrent behavior in your own world travels, and know what to look for. These are all signs of an obvious moral downward trend that, if ignored, could end up spawning Class of Nuke’em High movies, just like this movie did, and possibly even encourage the casting of more Van Pattens in future productions. Sound impossible? Check the statistics – 1 out of every 12 failed actors tests positive for Van Patten DNA(have you even been tested?) Luckily, I live in Pittsburgh, where hilly terrain and ancient glacial formations once prevented the migration of Van Patten tribes further eastward.
Peter Stegman, the movie’s villain, is a snotty rich kid, in his mid-to-late 20’s, who’s supposedly some kind of genius, although, the movie doesn’t exactly go out of its way to back that up. In fact, neither does the Van Patten who plays him. I suppose that taking the time to prepare for a role like this by brushing up on his enunciation, reading a book to sharpen his mind or, at the very least, just learning to mimic the facial expressions smart people make, might’ve helped a little. But that is more from the ‘method’ school of acting, rather than the ‘daddy had a t.v. show’ school, he belongs to. This kid has got it coming from the very beginning. We know this from the over-confident way he walks, where each proud step displays the kind of self-assurance usually reserved for the likes of a Rocky Balboa approaching the boxing ring, where a black fighter twice as good, and three times as big, is waiting. He’s a boy blessed with the natural certitude of a retard recognizing a balloon animal as a dog, though, it clearly has horns. Mostly, we know he’s gonna bite it in the end because someone HAS to.
His gang is the typified gaggle of goons one expects from 80’s teen criminals. All sporting a punk-derived style, blank, vacuous expressions, a total disregard for human life, plus a tendency to deliver snarky lines followed by tongue-wagging. They are deviants, and they are AWESOME. Awesome in a way not even these actors can fuck up. When 14 year old ne’er-do-wells come seeking criminal employment, or late-teenage girl junkies want to hook for them, they conduct interviews just the way any well-established business would, and are extremely polite, patient, and professional. They tell them right away whether or not they are qualified for the position, which is a courtesy very few of the larger criminal corporations(I’m lookin’ at you U.S.P.S.)have the decency to bother providing.
Honestly, what is worse than waiting weeks, even months, just to find out you are STILL unemployed, unoccupied and unfuckable? I can’t get over how great this is. And if you have to toss a salad or two to get the job, they tell you right up front. You simply strip down to high heels and bush, right there, and they lead you to a creepy back room where a thin mattress set atop a creaky spring frame awaits you. I just can’t believe this sort of thing is outlawed, when it is so fair! What is with this new entrepreneur-hating economy!
And tongue-wagging(a.k.a. blowing the raspberry), by the way, is punk-classic to the core. Throughout this iffy music’s history, showing your tongue to any nearby camera was essential for conveying your society-bucking, rebellious intentions. It was an act of supreme individuality that absolutely everybody did, back then. I know it seems lame, but you had to be there. Which, I wasn’t.
Like a lot of 80’s films…well, like ALL 80’s film, C-84 shows us that diplomacy and reason NEVER work. Don’t bother telling the principal, or calling the police, not when you’re dealing with punks. Punks have to be killed. End of story. Although, our hero doesn’t wise up to this age old axiom until the last act of the film, we see hints of his brutal vigilante style early on. How would I classify his particular form of ‘they pushed him too far’ vengeance? Well, it’s kind of a cross between 1950’s-style whitebread basketball, where you pass the ball 70-80 times a minute, and Junior High School shop class, where you saw off kids’ arms if they spill woodchips on the floor.
Now, was Mr. Norris actually pushed too far? Definitely. From the second he arrives at, uh, ‘____’ High School, Stegman and his cohorts are rude to him, they disrupt class, they make snarky remarks(followed with classic tongue-wagging), they shout ‘Not Here’ during roll call and they pound out entire Chopin impromptus, flawlessly, yet can’t remember what an amphibian is. Were they asking to be brutally cut down in the prime of their lives? No. They were begging to be. You simply DO NOT tempt a married man, who has to wear a Sears’ sport coat to work every single day of his life, into a blood feud. Such a man has already peeked into the abyss, and is ready to vent some spleen by booting a jar of Vlasic pickles up your ass, then breaking the glass.
Okay, so it starts out small like that, but the situation escalates when Mr. Norris finds them pushing drugs in the bathroom, but can’t prove it, which sets his blood aboil. After that, when a tripping student gets himself waxed pulling a numb-skullish stunt on a flagpole, something right out of a cautionary episode of ABC’s After School Playhouse starring Scott Baio and Maureen McCormick, the teacher appeals to the dead kid’s friend, Arthur, to testify against Stegman and his baddies for selling him the drugs . Unfortunately, Arthur(played by Michael Fox, now known as Michael J. Fox, a.k.a. the Canadian Quaker)is immediately slipped the shank in the cafeteria for being a rat. Let’s not forget Stegman’s beating himself up in the bathroom right in front of Mr. Norris and framing him for the assault(Yes, Fight Club did, in fact, rip this off. You can deny it all you want, I know you will, because you live in a dreamworld with gingerbread houses and pussy-flavored pancakes).
On the very last night of many a student’s life, Stegman and his crew taunt Norris, relentlessly, while he is on his way to a High School band recital. Now, if you’re a grown man who has to spend his Friday nights doing things like watching Michael(J.)Fox playing the recorder, you have, most likely, already spent many hours plotting the savage murder of at least half a dozen people. Maybe you even have a couple under your belt, and have developed into an experienced killer with a matured, distinct Modus Operandi of your own. Even if you haven’t, just BEING an inner city music teacher makes you as ready to pop and gush as a frothy can of Milwaukee’s Best all over the tits of an Ohio State Cheerleader. Stegman gets right in his face and says “I AM THE FUTURE”. Okay, that’s hardly a death threat, but it is pretty gay.
Before Mr. Norris can actually be ‘pushed too far’, something has to be done to someone he loves. The act that, finally, pushes Mr. Norris just far enough to be ‘pushed too far’, is when they break into his home and spring some surprise sex on his pregnant wife. It’s hard to believe he doesn’t see this coming. He apparently has not seen even ONE Charles Bronson film, in his entire life. Can that really be called living? Not too long after that, Stegman’s senior class starts getting seriously reduced in headcount.
Maybe the title, Class of 1984, is supposed to be ironic, since he downright murders half the graduating class and assures that very few, in fact, will be left. The only students remaining after his bloody rampage are the ones that have never shot smack, teased their hair, hit their 30th birthday, or publicly admitted to having any blood connection to the cast of Eight is Enough. I SERIOUSLY recommend this film. It is just ridiculous enough, obtuse enough, and immature enough, for most adult audiences of today. It hammers home the still relevant message that all teenagers should, no MUST, be senselessly slaughtered. Furthermore, it shows us that if there is a future, that future is going to be good for the manufacturers of sleeveless shirts.