Last weekend I attended a major reunion of my high school class. I will not divulge how long it’s been since we all graduated from Hamilton High School in West Los Angeles, but there’ve been some serious changes among us: marriages, divorces, births, deaths, expanding waistlines, hair that changed colors or disappeared altogether. Not that my reunion was nearly as eventful as the one portrayed in Francis Ford Coppola’s Peggy Sue Got Married. I don’t think anyone there was time-traveling, and our shindig wasn’t graced by the presence of a one-time dweeb who has now blossomed into a computer zillionaire.
Nonetheless, a good time was had by all. I’ve been to enough reunions to realize that the urge to impress one’s former classmates has long since faded. Instead, we’re all simply grateful that we’re still here, standing on our own two feet (most of us), and happily spinning stories of what we’ve survived and what lessons we’ve learned along the way. Admittedly, my reunion wouldn’t have made for a terribly good movie. The juicy stuff – the diva out to flabbergast, the drunken confessions at the bar, the reuniting of lost lovers who promptly decide to dump their longtime spouses – either didn’t happen or escaped my attention because I was too busy comparing notes about dead parents and favorite teachers. I must say, I didn’t mind at all that the drama of the evening was so muted.
On screen, though, reunions can be potent things. The classic reunion movie, one that remains a touchstone for my generation, is Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill, released in 1983. It’s not about a formal reunion, but rather chronicles a gathering of some Baby Boomers who’d been college chums in the Sixties, and have now gathered fifteen years later to mourn the loss of one of their own. In reviewing The Big Chill for Time Magazine, Richard Corliss wrote, “These Americans are in their 30s today, but back then they were the Now Generation. Right Now: give me peace, give me justice, gimme good lovin'. For them, in the voluptuous bloom of youth, the '60s was a banner you could carry aloft or wrap yourself inside. A verdant anarchy of politics, sex, drugs and style carpeted the landscape. And each impulse was scored to the rollick of the new music: folk, rock, pop, R&B.” Corliss’s description fits my classmates and me as well. We vividly remember the politics of our high school and college days, the loss of JFK, the fear of being drafted, the music by which we lived our lives. One of Saturday night’s highlights for me was the moment the deejay put on the old tunes and some of us bravely bopped to everything from “The Stroll” to “Unchained Melody” to “Honky-Tonk Woman,” in defiance of the passing years.
The Big Chill always puts me in mind of John Sayles’ 1980 indie, The Return of the Secaucus Seven.. Because Sayles broke into movies via the Roger Corman Graduate School of Film, I spoke to him at length while researching my inside bio, Roger Corman: Blood-Sucking Vampires, Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers. With $40,000 in the bank, the use of someone’s house, and a gaggle of non-SAG actors all turning thirty, Sayles chose to craft a story about former college friends gathering to commemorate the day, ten years earlier, when they all got arrested en route to a D.C. protest march. The film, Sayles’ directorial debut, beautifully fulfills an important Corman maxim: take advantage of what you’ve got.
I’d like to think that my Hami High classmates have done the same.