Sunday, June 29, 2008

I Might Like You Better If We Slept Together (Reckless)

Reckless (1984, James Foley)

There's a great scene about halfway through 1984's Reckless (which you can view via the above link) in which Aidan Quinn's Brando-like punk puts on Romeo Void's post-punk anthem "Never Say Never" and struts his stuff with goody goody cheerleader Daryl Hannah.  Nothing else in the film really equals this moment, but it's still a far better film than most critics gave it credit for upon its original release.  You can watch Siskel and Ebert's amusingly scathing review below:

The first feature film from director James Foley, who would next go on to direct one of the best films of the 1980s, At Close Range, Reckless is essentially a 1950s j.d. movie updated for the 80s with the requisite doses of sex, language, and pop music.  That being said, Foley, d.p. Michael Ballhaus, editor Albert Magnoli (who directed Purple Rain), production designer Jeffrey Townsend, and composer Thomas Newman inject enough style and artistry into the proceedings to make up for the deficiencies in neophyte writer Chris Columbus' screenplay. Quinn plays Johnny Rourke, a star football player who's become an angry misfit since his mother deserted he and his father (Kenneth McMillan), a worker in the local steel mill.  Daryl Hannah is Tracey Prescott, a popular cheerleader from the right side of the tracks who has become bored with her jock boyfriend (Adam Baldwin).  Naturally, she gravitates to the dangerous Johnny who just might be open to the idea of taking her with him when he blows town.

Making his film debut, Quinn effectively channels Method heroes Brando and Clift and exudes a potent mixture of toughness, sensitivity, and sexuality as town outcast Johnny. Underestimated by critics throughout most of her career, Hannah is adequate here. She and her character, Tracey, are consistently overwhelmed by the strength of Quinn's performance.  As Tracey, she is appropriately scared of Johnny and what he represents.

However, the screenplay does not afford her character the same weight and roundedness which it does Quinn's Johnny.  Her attraction to Johnny is never quite as convincing or fully explored as it should be.  Despite her misgivings about the role and the nudity involved (which Quinn has elucidated on in at least one interview), Hannah, along with Quinn and Foley, imbue the love scenes with an uncommon level of sensitivity and believability. 

Foley ably directs a stellar supporting cast, which includes McMillan as Johnny's chronically drunk, and, ultimately, tragic, father, Baldwin as Randy, Tracey's jilted boyfriend, Cliff DeYoung as the egomaniacal football coach, Dan Hedaya as Randy's well-meaning father, Lois Smith as Tracey's equally well-meaning mother, Billy Jacoby as Tracey's little brother, Toni Kalem as a a girlfriend of Johnny's, and Jennifer Grey, Pamela Springsteen, and Haviland Morris as Tracey's cheerleader pals.  All manage to leave an impression, with veteran character actor McMillan registering most strongly in spite of the cliched nature of his character.  Along with the aforementioned school dance scene, McMillan's verbal jousts with his rebellious son represent the film's most strongly realized scenes.  

On a side note, Quinn and Hannah would both appear in Hector Babenco's star-studded adaptation of of Peter Matthiessen's At Play in the Fields of the Lord and Quinn and Hedaya would reunite years later on the controversial television series The Book of Daniel. Morris (of Sixteen Candles fame) still acts and is also a licensed real estate broker.  You can see her listings page here.

Foley really shines in his utilization of the film's depressed, Rust Belt locations.  Accused at the time of its release, of ripping off the blue collar milieu of 1983's All the Right Moves, Reckless was, in fact, produced in late 1982, before the release of All the Right Moves. Under Foley's direction and Ballhaus' gaze, the towns of Weirton, WV (site of The Deer Hunter) and Steubenville, OH (birthplace of Dean Martin) become strangely alluring in spite of their dead-end qualities and Johnny's never-ending quest to "get out of here!"  Foley, Ballhaus, and production designer Townsend use dramatic lighting, a deliberate red and black color scheme (said to be based on Edvard Munch's palette), some pictorially interesting locales, and a lot of smoke to create a distinct and stylized version of the working class Midwestern environment. Editor Magnoli, who would direct not only Purple Rain, but also a number of seminal 1980s music videos, provides the film with a punchy pace and a particularly effective montage sequence set to INXS' "To Look at You."

This brings us to the music, which is especially strong and stands up much better to the test of time than a lot of other soundtrack-heavy teen-oriented films of the era.  Newman's electronic score (which remains unreleased) is propulsive and appropriately New Wave in tone (which makes sense since Newman was previously keyboardist in California New Wave band The Innocents).  In addition to the score, Newman wrote a great song for the opening of the film, "Understanding Gravity" performed by the Children of 13, which remains unavailable.  It can heard here in the opening sequence of the film, along with Newman's original score:

INXS' 1982 album Shabooh Shoobah plays prominently in the film with three tracks, "The One Thing," "To Look at You," and "Soul Mistake" appearing in the film.  The soundtrack also includes the aforementioned "Never Say Never," Kim Wilde's MTV staple "Kids in America," and Peggy  Lee's "Is That All There Is" (arranged by Newman's famous cousin Randy).  Check out the original videos for "Kids in America," "The One Thing," "Never Say Never," and "To Look at You, below: 

Reckless is an aesthetically strong film, if nothing else, and it's a shame that Warner Home Video has not seen fit to release it on DVD where its photography and compositions could be truly appreciated. As it stands, the out-of-print VHS cassette from MGM is faded and riddled with dirt.  The late 1990s dub I have from HBO comes from a newer master and it is cleaner and the colors are much more vibrant than the VHS.  It has been shown recently on TCM Europe, but the website does not indicate whether these airings were in widescreen. As of now, the American counterpart has no plans to air the film.

It's not a favorite of either Quinn or Hannah (along with Summer Lovers), but Reckless deserves a second look and a decent home video presentation.

Reckless (1984) Complete Songs and Score (Ripped from DVD).  

This is Thomas Newman's first score.   The predominantly electronic score is relatively brief and does a fine job accompanying the New Wave pop songs (INXS, Romeo Void, Kim Wilde). The score melds particularly well with the 3 INXS songs on the soundtrack.  Newman's prior experience in a New Wave band is evident in the score, which is a product of its time, but one that I believe holds up extremely well. Unlike the many generic and lazy electronic scores of the mid to late 1980s, Newman's exhibits a good deal of texture, using a combination of synth and guitar, and effectively captures the angst and restlessness of the film's protagonist.The opening song, "Understanding Gravity" credited to Newman and the Children of 13 has never appeared in any other format. It's not clear if the song even exists in a complete form:


Nostalgia Kinky said...

Nice post on a film I didn't think anyone else remembered...I would love to see a DVD release of this as I adore Daryl Hannah in this period. Great post and terrific clips...

Ned Merrill said...

Thanks for the feedback, Jeremy. You're right about it not being very well remembered at all. Probably has something to do with the fact that neither star is very high profile right now. Daryl is very underrated, I think, and she is wonderful when utilized correctly (i.e. SPLASH, ROXANNE).

C said...,default,sc.html

reckless is on dvd now.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this! Reckless has been one of my favorite films for many years!

suzy andrea said...

reckless is a great film. I thought they were both great in it, yes she seems a bit emotionally detached, but I think it comes from not being sure where she is in life. quinn shows vulnerability and cockiness all in a single moment, and yes kenneth mcmillan is so believable and natural. I watch it often, simply out of enjoyment. i tried posting the romeo void dance scene on my fb account and had barely any comments, i don't know how i can be nearly the only one who sees the strength and "coming alive"=ness (for lack of better words) in that scene. great write up, thanks!

Feelthe80s said...

PLEASE reupload!

Anonymous said...

Delighted to find your review of this film. Have only just discovered the movie some 30 years later and simply adore the Romeo Void dance scene and the movie as a whole. Best "unwound" movie dance sequence ever. Can't believe I missed this in the 1980's as saw Quinn a few years later in Desperately Seeking Susan and immediately became a fan. Aidan Quinn is simply one of the best actors around, and his ability to make characters so three dimensional should be utilized far more by producers of series such as Elementary.