Saturday, February 4, 2012

I Just Wasn't Made For These Times

By: Henry Melville

American International Pictures (lead by the one and only uber-producer Roger Corman) defined the short-lived beach party genre with the 1963 release of Beach Party. The genre was washed out by 1965 with the release of the seventh and last straight-forward beach party film, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. Recently I’ve managed to track down these seven beach party classics and realized the state that the modern comedy is in today. Before I get to that, I’d like to briefly address why the beach party genre is the pinnacle of teen comedies.

Nostalgia is defined as a wistful or excessive yearning for a return to an irrecoverable past or condition. So it is not a personal nostalgia that these movies have such a hold over me because, I feel, it’s impossible for me to feel nostalgic for a time I’ve never experienced. I can’t miss something I've never had.

Is it the aesthetic of a film lost to technology? The magic of Technicolor and wonder of rear screen projection? Partially, yes, it is. The world stands out from reality and creates an unbelievably warm and perfect slice of Americana. In that sense, we all do yearn for the impossible perfection of a replaced, forgotten style. The polka dot, one-piece bathing suits explode, pop. Where’s the wonder, the mystery, the classiness of the now expected, obligatory nudity in a teen comedy? We have become desensitized. Our definition of standard, of normal has changed to the point that what was once attractive and sensual in the 60s is innocent. The attraction, the sexuality still exists, if one’s standards aren’t modern.

Perhaps it’s the innocence of the time that makes the beach party films stand alone in teen comedies. However, the film is chock-full of innuendo and suggestive elements. When did the change occur that took us from playful insinuation to shock-for-shock’s-sake explicitness? In the films, we don’t get Zack Galifianakis getting a blowjob or Seth Rogen making out with a vomit covered Anna Farris. Instead, we get a teen making out with two girls off-screen and returning covered in lipstick. We get Annette Funicello singing about waiting until marriage to the comically bereft Frankie Avalon. A girl knocking guys off their feet with the invisible and unexplained power of her thrusting hips. The cameos were of Vincent Price, Bela Lugosi, not Ron Jeremy or Hugh Hefner. The villains were Beatle’s parodies and the aloof, harmless biker gang, the Rats, led by even more aloof and harmless Eric Von Zipper. Not a flasher, naked Asian man or someone trying to bang the girlfriend. When did male nudity overtake prop gags and double entendres as “comedy gold”? 

Don’t overlook the classic comedies because you think they’re not funny or boring. They’re teens dancing to Dick Dale and the Del Tones, maybe you’re boring. It’s Frankie Avalon using helium in his ski suit to win a ski jump competition for his girl, maybe you’re not funny. 

AIP revealed their strategy for teen exploitation films called “The Peter Pan Syndrome”:

“a) a younger child will watch anything an older child will watch;
b) an older child will not watch anything a younger child will watch;
c) a girl will watch anything a boy will watch
d) a boy will not watch anything a girl will watch;
therefore-to catch your greatest audience you zero in on the 19-year old male”

The formula hasn’t changed.