Tuesday, July 19, 2011
(March 1982, U.S.)
You know what I miss? I miss the so-called "slice of life" youth films that used to grace the screen every once in a while before the the other so-called "brat pack" youth films took over the 1980s for a while. I love coming-of-age films like AMERCICAN GRAFFITTI (1973), BREAKING AWAY (1979) and DINER which focus on a small group of friends approaching the crossroads of adulthood. These stories have often shown the drama, the pain and the humor of leaving behind what you once knew and embracing what's to come in the future. Also, if you were to look up the casting of the three films I just mentioned, you'd find that just about everyone involved went on to bigger and greater stardom (look them up).
So, we have director Barry Levinson's debut film here; it's set in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1959, and tells the story of a group of male high-school friends (look up the cast and marvel at how young they all were once), now in their twenties, who reunite for the wedding of one of their group. The title DINER refers to the Fells Point Diner, the group's late-night hangout. The film explores the changing relationships among these men as they become adults through what is basically a series of vignettes rather than any sort of traditional narrative. It's said that during filming, Levinson encouraged improvisation among his cast to capture naturalistic camaraderie. It clearly shows in many scenes where straight-forward dialogue commands the story. One has to presume that the simple sequence of putting a bunch of men together to engage in ongoing conversation at a table in a diner is likely tougher than once would imagine. I've been writing screenplays myself for many years and I can tell you that dialogue is very challanging in that you struggle to keep it from drying up at any given moment. But for any man in his youth watching DINER, there is almost certainly a character or a conversation that can hit home on a personal level. You sit, you watch, you listen and maybe you even find yourself thinking that you know "someone like that" or have "said something like that" yourself. These are scripts and characters that have been well presented if they can "touch" the viewer in this manner. For myself, there's a part of Daniel Stern's character that I can relate to quite well. The scene where he very passionately describes his record collection to his wife and how each one of them meaningfully takes him back to a certain part of his life hits home for me. I still have a rather large vinyl collection myself. Sure, I own an iPod like every other schmuck out there, but I couldn't live without my records. The experience of buying a new record, unwrapping it, delicately putting the needle at the beginning and crancking up the music for all to hear was an experience that I don't believe anyone who is a product of modern 21st century music technology will every fully understand or appreciate.
I saw DINER in the theater with my family back in 1982. I was only 15 years-old, but I appreciated the film to the degree that I already appreciated the other two films I previously mentioned, released years earlier. It was a simple film that was released by a major studio (MGM) "back in the day". This would not happen today because I'm afraid anything resembling witty and intelligent dialogue spoken by men in a diner who can actually act would not play out very well in today's bullshit digital 3-D. I should also point out, on a much lighter note, that DINER is the only film I've ever seen where people put gravy on their french fries. What's up with that???
Favorite line or dialogue:
Modell (spoken during the end credits): "People do not come from swamps. They come...they come from Europe."