Life Moves Pretty Fast by Hadley Freeman, book review

Why our guilty love of trashy Eighties movies dies hard

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The Independent Culture

The notion that films from the 1980s are inherently tacky and/or bad owes much to the fact that the first generation of people to get really pretentious about movie scholarship tended to be dismissive of the popular cinema of their own time.

For those mired in the language of film theory, versed in the political undercurrents of mainstream culture and alive to the potential of movies as subtle pieces of art, the likes of Die Hard, Back to the Future and When Harry Met Sally were the compromised pap that kept moviegoers away from more testing fare – even though they're arguably no less perfect examples of their genres than any revered Forties Western or screwball comedy.

Hadley Freeman seeks to redress this balance with a light-hearted but thoughtful appraisal of all that was treasurable in Eighties film culture. Her focus is not the small, agreed canon of "Good Eighties Movies" – Alien, Blade Runner, Full Metal Jacket – but the trashier titles, the ones adored as "guilty pleasures" but rarely granted kudos as great art.

Freeman, a columnist for The Guardian, writes in that flip, effusive, sarcastic style so beloved of a current generation of journalists – funny footnotes! Self-effacing personal anecdotes! Dry asides in brackets! It can be exhausting. This whole project could come across as knowing and self-satisfied, and some of it ("Top five Eighties Steve Guttenberg moments!") is throwaway.

But most of the book – not unlike the movies it praises – offers far more than its presentation promises. Freeman's unironic love of her subject is evident, but that has not stopped her making a serious analysis of these films to see what they say about their times, their audiences and the industry that produced them.

She has backed up her own thoughts using interviews with critics, academics, directors, producers and actors – and has been shrewd and insightful in her deployment of what must have been a vast quantity of source material.

The result is a volume that combines silly, bite-sized observations, tailored for clickbait tastes, with a careful and enlightening examination of what has changed between the heyday of the Eighties blockbuster and the cinema culture of the present day.

Freeman's approach is by turns cynical and wisecracking, nerdy, and warmly affectionate and modest – a combination that is effective not only in forming a ghostbusting team but in producing a recipe for a readable, informative film book.

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