The Big Chill
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The Big Chill

Some films may start of slowly even not fully recognized by fans and critics at the time of their initial release. For a few of these movies manage to hold on long enough to be reconsidered over time eventually gaining recognition as a cult classic. For a film such as ‘The Big Chill’ achieving the next step in cinematic ranking involves it declaration as representative of its decade. This movie is not a great achievement in the film, but it represents the rare occurrence when the right cast, story, and direction blended achieving a synergistic greatness. In this instance, the catalyst that initiates the elements that propel delete the film to its current status is the soundtrack. The music is truly representative of the eighties; memorable in its right. It reflects the transition from protest songs of the 70s to music that truly embraced life and is fullest. ‘The Big Chill’ was initially released early in the year, 1983, but in the intervening time, the movie retains the positive spirit of that decade, a period of healing after the Vietnam War split the generations. Although the decade would experience financial strife, it began with an unbridled feeling of optimism. Examining this generation provdes a microcosm concerning the relationship of a small group of friends. After some time apart they all reunited to mourn the passing of one of their clique, the movie scrutinizes the transition from the seventies to the eighties. His organically developed by having the friends reminisce about the past, catch up with the present circumstances and look to the future.

For those of us that are part of the Baby Boomer generation, this film is very much the anthem of our entry into full adulthood. This normally would restrict interest in a movie about that group of people personal experiences of the time, but fortunately, its strong emotional connection to my generation is not the only thing the movie has working in its favor. It just happens to be one of the best constructed films of its era. From a cinematic point of view, the movie stands the test of time and will continue to be enjoyable for the foreseeable future. As our generation adopted the film, we will always view it with a certain halo effect giving it forever a special place in our hearts. It only fits that this movie is finally recognized by its induction the much lauded Criterion Collection.

The film was written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan with an assist in the script by Barbara Benedek. After gainimg recogition for writing some teleplays, Kasdan rose to one of the most sought after screenwriters in Hollywood. Kasdan penned such mega hits scripts including ‘Empires Strikes Back,' ‘Return of the Jedi’ and ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark.' Kasdan turns out to be the best film maker to define this decade since he provided some of the decades’ most memorable movies. There is a little circular reinforcement going on since Kasdan was a major contributor to the films that formed the culturally significant aspects of our popular culture. In other words with this movie he is commenting on the generation, he helped to defined. This film is one who success heavily depends on the age of the viewer. Our children may find it trite even pedantic. There are no big explosions, nothing in the way of special effects and much of the dialogue revolves around pop culture references that have lain dormant for almost thirty years. People of this age will feel like they walked into the middle of a story devoid of the benchmark that deciphers the characters. This is a valid feeling as the film is an insider’s wink to the decade at the height of the baby boomer society.

The movie opens with Harold Cooper (Kevin Kline) bathing his young son. The first generational music connection is made as the boy happily slashes while singing the Three Dog Night hit ‘Joy to the world’; well at least the part about the bull frog. The hit songs of our generation have become the silly children’s tune for our kids. As hands dress a body, a montage gives the audience the reaction of the decease’s friends as they gather together for the funeral. Even with this simple yet elegantly shot scene are presented details of the decade begun to infuse back into our consciousness. One of the friends, Meg Jones (Mary Kay Place), was once a highly successful public defender who now works at the far more lucrative real-estate law. She dresses in the style of a successful eighties businesswoman with the masculine suit jacket and pencil skirt. She stands before the huge window of her office having a cigarette. This was long before the smoking bans in the workplace. Meg has sacrificed starting a family to advance her career, and now her biological clock is ticking loudly. This is in exacerbated by the presence of to the trophy girlfriend of the late Alex, Chloe (Meg Tilly). She is young, lithe and beautiful. The first shot of her is while she is exercising, stretching her amazing limber body. She is wearing a skin tight, colorful leotard directly out of the Jane Fonda workout video. She is disappointed that she couldn’t ride in the family limousine, not because of her feeling towards Alex but just because she always wanted to ride in a limo. We see while the undertaker prepares Alex for the viewing that his wrists sewn crudely together making it obvious that he committed suicide. Other members of the once close circle of friends include former radio host and Vietnam vet Nick (William Hurt), who numbs himself with weed, alcohol, fast cars and a large assortment of pills. Karen (JoBeth Williams), is a housewife married to an advertising executive Richard (Don Galloway) but misses the younger days that like Alex are gone forever, Harold’s wife Sarah (Glenn Close) is now a doctor but had also been part of the group back in the day. Michael (Jeff Goldblum) is a prominent journalist obsessed with sex and already eying Chloe. Finally, there is Sam (Tom Berenger) who is a well-known actor with a highly popular television action series.

Their time as a group began in their university days during the sixties. While much of that time was turbulent it was also a period when the youth were able to express themselves through political activism; protesting social issues, exploring new attitudes in music, sex, and drugs. Now they have grown into their thirties, and their lives have inexorably moved on in the direction of adult responsibility. For many of the success is pleasant and well appreciated but with the suicide of Alex, the one who bonded them together in college taking his life the reality has crashed into them all, those carefree liberated days from a decade ago are gone. The group stays on for the weekend under very tight conditions and as the movie unfolds each one must discovery their one truth; face their personal revelation. As is often the case during a wake great weight of the sorrow can inspire a need to embrace life and celebrate it. One of the most memorable scenes takes place in the kitchen where the reunited friends rise above their grief and embrace their friendship by breaking inti song and dance. The unbridled energy as they recapturing their youth is contagious; readily infecting the audience. This story is one of those films with the cast create such incredible chemistry with each other and can embody their roles, so amazingly well that stands as one of those movies where a remakes futile. The story is such an embodiment of the time and place, the director a filmmaker who helped mold the decade a story that resonates with each of us, not only our generation universal that it stands as a fixed point in cinematic history. Of course with any film presented by the Criterion Collection, great effort was made to retain the original vision of the filmmaker this holds not only for the aspect ratio of the video that the retention of the original mono soundtrack. Some may feel that considering the importance music makes in this movie that should’ve been remixed to the modern audio formats. Any reasonably good AV receiver can remix the audio to emulate not only current surround formats but also place you in any venue you desire including one that can bring you back to watching this film the theater. This part of the mandate for the Criterion Collection, to preserve the movie as close to the original form as possible. Of course, another characteristic of the film in this catalog is the incredible amount of extra material provided. This is not the usual blooper reels, and some scenes scraped off the editing bay floor, this release includes specific content that helps elucidate the process of making the film and commentary concerning it.

bulletNew interview with Kasdan
bulletReunion of cast and crew from the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, including Kasdan and actors Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, and JoBeth Williams
bulletDocumentary from 1998 on the making of the film
bulletDeleted scenes
bulletPLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by written and filmmaker Lena Dunham and a 983 piece by critic Harlan Jacobson.

Posted 07/06/2015        03/09/2017

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