Friday, July 27, 2012

Nothing Is Over

The three most influential films of the 70s were American Graffiti, Star Wars (both by George Lucas) and National Lampoon's Animal House.  The first taught Hollywood you didn't need a score, or an original song--you could pick a bunch of hits and play them wall-to-wall for your soundtrack.  The second taught Hollywood you could make mindboggling amounts of money with a mythical story well told mixed with state-of-the-art special effects.  And Animal House showed how raunchy and outrageous the public could take its comedy.

Maybe that was the wrong lesson, since most of the Animal House knockoffs that followed were vastly inferior.  The secret of AH was its three smart writers--Doug Kenney, Harold Ramis and Chris Miller, who didn't know from screenplays but knew how to be funny--and a fair amount of others who took their raw material and turned it into something special.

There's been a fair amount written and spoken about the making of the film, and now, finally, someone's put it in a book.  Matty Simmons, who published National Lampoon and produced the film has just put out Fat, Drunk, And Stupid, his recollections of the whole story (including a lot of backstory about the early days of National Lampoon magazine, which he wrote about in his previous book). Perhaps in his mind he's more centrally involved than in real life, but happily most of the book deals with the contributions of others such as people like John Landis and John Belushi.

It's a short book, not especially well written, with plenty of filler.  Still, it's nice to have all these stories in one place.  It's easy to forget how improbable the whole things was.  Almost everyone involved had next to no experience with movies, but Universal was willing to take a chance because National Lampoon had a reputation and the budget was small.  What they ended up with was the biggest comedy hit up to that time--a film that, adjusted for inflation, grossed close to half a billion dollars domestic.

It also changed college life.  It helped revive the ailing Greek system (alas).  Also, for a few years anyway, every campus hosted tons of toga parties and food fights.  (Have you watched the film recently?  The food fight lasts maybe two seconds.)

Simmons has one chapter where he goes over what was cut.  The first raw cut of Animal House was close to three hours.  Too bad it was shot in the pre-DVD days or we could see what were probably some very funny scenes that just didn't fit into the story.


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2:07 AM, July 31, 2012  

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