Film, OldVenue

Decades of Film: 1990s

“Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television”. Possibly the best opening of a film to grace the 90s in the shape of gritty Scottish crime film Trainspotting. Enter a skinny Ewan McGregor, a revolting toilet scene and plenty of heroin into the equation and you have a decade-defining film which still stands the test of time with its message to enjoy life to its fullest. The film is beautifully directed by the then relatively unknown director Danny Boyle (later responsible for Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later and the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony). The surreal sequences such as the overdose scene accompanied by Lou Reed’s Perfect Day, the subsequent recovery montage set to a techno track climaxing with the eerie dead baby crawling on the ceiling, and Renton’s bizarre trip down the toilet into an ocean of tranquility are all iconic moments from this 90s classic. Sick Boy with his James Bond trivia, Spud and his loveable dopiness, Tommy’s innocence which ultimately leads to his downfall, Begbie as the pure psychopath and our protagonist Renton who goes through the biggest journey, all tell the tale of the bleak Scotland in the 90s that nobody wanted to acknowledge.

A 90s crime classic with a brilliant soundtrack and a very modest budget of just over $1 million is Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, which marked the start of a long and successful career as one of Hollywood’s most prestigious directors. The film focuses on a failed diamond heist that is never actually shown, a device Tarantino originally used to save money but which ultimately made the film the phenomenon it is today. Like Trainspotting, the film thrives in having a strong ensemble cast who are given code names leading to conflict, as ‘Mr Brown’, played by Tarantino in what would go on to be the first of many director cameos in his movies, claims his code name is “a little too close to Mr Shit”. The quotable dialogue ranges from discussing the true meaning of Madonna’s Like a Virgin to why exactly we should (or shouldn’t) tip waitresses in the iconic opening scene at the café. This film also proved that film soundtracks could be cool, with George Baker’s Little Green Bag providing the slow motion shot of the ensemble cast at the beginning, the recognisable Hooked on a Feeling making a guest appearance (recently used in Guardians of the Galaxy which also uses hit songs from the 70s) and the infamous Stuck in the Middle with You which contains one of the most gruesome scenes with the focus being on what we can’t see, as the camera ignores Mr Blonde ripping off a cop’s ear.

Silence of the Lambs however makes the other two films look like a PG compared to the goriness that it revels in, from Hannibal biting a man’s face to Buffalo Bill’s signature killing technique of skinning his female victim’s corpses. But let’s face it, the reason this film will go down as a 90s classic is due to Anthony Hopkins’ chilling performance as everyone’s favourite intelligent serial killer/cannibal Hannibal Lecter, for which he was rightly awarded an Oscar. It is incredible to note that in a film which is nearly two hours long Hopkins is only in it for under 25 minutes, but when he’s on screen it is impossible not to watch with a mixture of horror and fascination similar to Heath Ledger’s show-stealing performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight. The film does not have so much as an infamous quote, instead more a noise that everyone at some point has attempted to imitate which is Hopkins’ sinister slurping noise after he tells Clarice about the time he had “liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti”. All these films mark a golden period in 90s cinema which is not afraid to deal with gritty topics, proving that films could still be thought-provoking, controversial and relevant to audiences. Dan Struthers

What happens when you take a dash of jock, a pinch of high-maintenance cheerleader, stir in some geeky misfits, add a splash of prom queen rivalry then firmly whisk in a guy-bets-guy plot twist, set in the sunny surroundings of an American high school with an extra helping of cheese? A perfectly formed archetypal 90s Teen Movie.

These fundamental ingredients are what formed the majority of American 90s teen films. Whether it be through a house party setting complete with red plastic cups and sound systems or the blasting of Third Eye Blind and The Rockafella Skank by Fatboy Slim, these ‘hangovers’ of 80s teen films encapsulated the trials and tribulations of dating, awkward teenage sexual endeavours and the struggles of fitting in.

The social hierarchy of American High Schools was essential to 90s teen movies. Heightened stereotypes and a formula often involving the introduction of an outsider into a crew of ‘popular’ kids was familiar among the teen movies and almost always resulted in character makeovers, romantic complications and socially awkward encounters. Clueless was the first of the quintessential American-High-School films with The Muff’s Kids in America blaring across establishing shots of school grounds complete with US Flags and yellow school buses. It sparked a whole wave of teen films and is now regarded as a cult film in its own right (note: Iggy Azalea’s music video for Fancy is a pretty impressive homage). Cher (Alicia Silverstone) was the epitome of the desired stereotype; a pretty, popular, wealthy girl who always had her way.

Standardised plots such as ‘geek gets the girl’, ‘ex-Prom Queen is disgraced’ and ‘the jock’s ultimate choice between his reputation and his new love interest’ (the original bros before hoes) provided the make up for 90s teen movies. She’s All That is the typical jock-bets-he-can-date-any-girl-chooses-the-geek-ends-up-falling-for-her-and-it-goes-tits-up-when-she-finds-out film. School president and jock Zak (Freddie Prinze Jr.) is dumped by Taylor Vaughn the ‘every girl wants to be her and every guy wants to nail her’ popular girl and is propositioned by his friends to replace her by turning arty geek Laney (Rachael Leigh Cook) into a prom queen. 10 Things I Hate About You, the modern re-working of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew is another prime example of naive, horny teenage males making business deals with each other for the attention of girls. Popular girl Bianca is not allowed to date until her ‘insane head case’ of a sister Kat (Julia Stiles) does. A baby-faced Joseph Gordon-Levitt approaches a mysterious foreign student (Heath Ledger) to date Kat in exchange for money, double crossing the High School ‘big man’ Joey. Can’t Hardly Wait, a film that takes place entirely at one graduation party was using the motto YOLO long before Drake. It takes all the best stereotypes and standardised plot twists and compiles them into an hour and a half. The ultimate feel-good ending: jock loses his scholarship to an alcohol problem, becomes overweight and ends up working at a car wash and geek invents a multi-millionaire computer company and dates supermodels.

What’s so unique about these specific films is simply their American-ness, 90s teen films consolidating a vibrant representation of American youth culture. American Pie, now a cultural phenomenon was responsible for spawning an entire plethora of slap-stick comedies. Everything from the fashion, cars, music and even food is forceful in its attempt to represent ‘Americanism’. Amy Lee


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August 2021
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