The Nylon Curtain by Billy Joel (Columbia, 1982) No sooner had Joel embraced the 1980s than he abandoned them. Side A is a top-notch 70s-era EP. Side B reaches for the same (mostly failed) experimental indulgence as The Beatles’ White Album. The imbalance now serves as an elegy for vinyl.
The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin, 2020); audiobook read by Marisa Calin (Bolinda, 2020) The fantasy setting is instantly appealing—London in 1983, home to a hidden world of old gods and lesser creatures of legend, policed by an extended family of booksellers. The characters are well drawn but Nix’s storytelling is nothing more than workmanlike.…
One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence (47North, 2019) audiobook read by Matthew Frow (Brilliance, 2019) Lawrence makes good use of the 1980s setting and constructs a well-paced, not-too-unbelievable plot around the speculative element (time travel). The book’s main appeal, though, is its quintet of idiosyncratic but down-to-earth characters. These are particularly well-served by Matthew Frow’s audiobook reading.
Ladyhawke dir. Richard Donner (1985) An improbably successful embodiment of the 1980s filmmaking zeitgeist. Beautiful cinematography is given a progressive rock score. Michelle Pfeiffer and Rutger Hauer enact a tragic love fairy tale while Matthew Broderick witters amiably and the action turns to consciously b-grade physical comedy.
Transformers: The Movie dir. Nelson Shin (1986) A truly execrable piece of stream-of-consciousness filmmaking, taking the very worst aspects of television cartoons, action movies, Japanese SF, the 1980s (in general) and synth-metal fusion soundtracks (in gruelling particular) and throwing them together with disastrous effect. No wonder Orson Welles died.
Billy Idol live @ Riverstage (Brisbane, 31 January 2020) Rocking out afront an 80s-reminiscent ever-changing neon cityscape backdrop, Billy Idol showed that he still has the voice, physique and strut of a man half his age (though perhaps not the stamina). Highlights included ‘Flesh for Fantasy’, ‘Rebel Yell’ and ‘Mony Mony’.
Ghost dir. Jerry Zucker (1990) From the fading afterglow of 1980s filmmaking comes this endearing and enduring romantic fantasy (with dark undercurrents, plus virtuoso comedy from Whoopi Goldberg in her multi-award-winning support role). Patrick Swayze makes for a competent ghost; Demi Moore stars as his bereaved lover.
A 1980s Childhood: From He-Man to Shell Suits by Michael A. Johnson (The History Press, 2012) It seems unlikely this book will have any great appeal to those who didn’t grow up in the 1980s. Even those who did may question the virtue of slipping back through someone else’s (rather Anglocentric) memories. Then again, the 80s were beguiling…
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off dir. John Hughes (1986) Thirty years on, the coming of age story of Cameron Frye, a downtrodden Chicago teen trailing in the wake of his best friend’s extraordinary chutzpah — remains timeless. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is relentlessly funny, eminently quotable, and perfectly cast: a true classic.
Running Scared dir. Peter Hyams (1986) An underrated 1980s film that grows better with each rescreening. Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal form one of the all-time great partnerships as two bantering police officers looking to set the record straight before early retirement. SF fans will recognise Joe Pantoliano.