setsuled: (Frog Leaf)


Let's just embrace synthesiser with lots of fuzz, let's not call it an 80s nostalgia thing, let's just have it because it's good. That's one of my main thoughts after finishing the first season of Stranger Things yesterday, a show I found to be uneven but with some very good qualities.

Spoilers after the screenshot



It really put me in the mood to watch Gremlins and E.T., among other things. I wish it had hewed a little closer to 80s style, actually. The monster design felt a bit modern, particularly its sounds which seemed to basically be the same velociraptor noises that've been used again and again since the first Jurassic Park movie. The colour tinting and the lighting started to feel more and more 21st century as the show went on, maybe just because I was getting used to the things that were distinctly 80s.

The imdb pages point out lots of anachronisms in their "goofs" pages, some of which I spotted myself, like how none of the Star Wars toys are from the early 80s. But for a lot of these things it's important to keep in mind the limited time and money the creators of the show had. Doing a period NetFlix series is ambitious, in some ways moreso because it's a period a lot of viewers actually experienced so it's harder to get away with things. However, one of the final scenes of the series has the kids playing Dungeons and Dragons again and seems to directly make the point that people should learn to appreciate a story instead of being caught up in the details, which is something I agree with, as much as I enjoy details.

There were some problems with the show I really can't excuse, like its tendency to end dramatic scenes with a jump cut that doesn't explain what happened in the interim. This is done both for action sequences and scenes with important character development. I'm not sure how fast the monster is but there are several shots of the thing just about to grab Will (Noah Schnapp) or Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and we never find out how they evaded the thing when we see them later. Then there are scenes like the first time Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) uses her powers in front of the kids, causing a door to slam shut, and it cuts away without showing us what the boys said to her.

Other times, I felt like the Duffer Brothers and the other writers were intentionally invoking some of the problems typical in 80s kids adventure screenplays in order to show how, as children, we watched these movies and made these problems meaningful in our automatic childhood interpretations. One of the key aspects of the show is in how it divides up the characters--everyone's basically investigating the same thing but no-one's communicating. There are many times in 80s films where it really would be reasonable for the kids to talk to the cops or an adult of some kind but that of course would spoil the basic fun of the thing. Stranger Things takes this and uses it to say something about human nature, how people isolate themselves and divide into factions when it's unnecessary or even counterproductive.

The story of Eleven is an interesting blend of 80s story devices. She's both Lisa from Weird Science and she's E.T. She's the fish out of water female character that makes the young boys feel safe interacting with a girl for once, allowing particularly shy boys to advance towards sexual maturity, and she's the alien who is really just as important to the adult world as the child world, unlike Dungeons and Dragons which the kids are often told just feels important.

Among all the 80s American film references, I thought Eleven floating in a tank while Matthew Modine looked on seemed like it came from Neon Genesis Evangelion and Gendo watching Rei in the LCL tank. Maybe it was really a reference to Luke Skywalker in a bacta tank but Elle's relationship with Modine's character was much more like Rei's relationship with Gendo, though the motives of Modine's character were never as fully developed. Anyway, I thought it was kind of funny, intentional or not, that Eleven looked kind of like Vincent D'Onofrio in Full Metal Jacket when she did her power glower. If only she'd called Modine "Joker".

I like that she's given more of her own story than the 80s fantasy girl tended to get. Her difficulty communicating makes the moments where she doesn't meet social expectations more effectively painful. One thing the makers of the show maybe didn't intend but I thought was interesting was the fact that Eleven and Will are never in the same dimension at the same time. Throughout the show I nursed a fantasy that Will and Eleven were alternate reality versions of each other. I felt pretty sure the show wasn't going that way but I liked thinking about the implications if it would. How would Mike (Finn Wolfhard) handle that? Holy shit, I just looked that name up, his last name is "Wolfhard"? And I thought "Wolf Blitzer" was over the top. Why didn't his parents just go all the way and call him "Dirk" or "Steel" or "Rage"?

Twitter Sonnet #1011

Immerse, eject, repeat the swimming song.
Engage, egregious box of rocket juke.
Elope, elliptic lily pad sarong.
Return, resplendent, thin, and diamond duke.
Eclipses climb to troubled times to wait.
Convening vapours rise and now collude.
A haunted council sets a guileless bait.
In moving woods the horses have accrued.
Awake, alight, in trees from eggs to roots.
Arise, afloat, suspicion's hollow ship.
Align, enlist, elicit arm to boots.
Asleep, assuage, uncertain word to lip.
An eyelid sky defends the tender beech.
A wounded rider's carried to a leech.
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)


Contemplating the lack of a new Twin Peaks to-night, I finally started watching Stranger Things a few days ago. Two episodes in I'm enjoying it, though I feel like Scottie in Vertigo when he keeps thinking he's spotted Madeleine only for it to just be a woman who looks like her because the massive Twin Peaks influence I see at work in Stranger Things made me jonse for the original even more. But, I realised, that's not fair, Stranger Things draws from a lot of other influences, too, to create its own virtues.



I'm sure all the stylistic echoes from 80s films have been picked over plenty by now--the John Carpenter-ish synthesiser soundtrack, the general ode to 80s kids domestic adventure movies like E.T. and Gremlins, the fact that Natalia Dyer looks like Mia Sara.



I love her outfits, too, and their recollection of a time when women chose clothing that stood in low contrast to their skin.



This compliments the wonderful, shadowy visual style that recollects a time when filmmakers really liked to show darkness in movies, though the lighting on Stranger Things still has the modern care to keep everyone's facial expressions visible most of the time. It's the look that more than anything else made me feel like I wanted to be a kid again. Though the kids on this show are slightly older than me--I was born in 1979, the show takes place in 1983. But I remember how pervasive this type of film was, so much that I remember really looking forward to being twelve years old because so many movies were making it seem like a great time to be alive.



From Twin Peaks, the show takes the concept of a small town reacting to the loss of a child with an emphasis on how marvellous it is, even as it's sad, that an entire town takes notice of and can grieve for the loss of one person. The announcement for an assembly being held at the high school for the missing child, Will, recalls the principal's announcement in the Twin Peaks pilot. The creators of Stranger Things, the Duffer Brothers, had previously worked on Wayward Pines, a show that was unabashedly modelled on Twin Peaks, so I wonder if all the Twin Peaks echoes on Stranger Things were intentional or if the Duffer's heads had just been so in the Twin Peaks thought space for so long. Winona Ryder as Will's mother, Joyce, calling around to find out where Will was also couldn't fail to remind me of Sarah Palmer.



I think this might be the best Winona Ryder performance I've seen. Francis Ford Coppola's version of Dracula is one of my favourite movies but I understood the ruefulness with which he comments, on the DVD commentary, on how Ryder had told him she'd already basically done most of her scenes in Edward Scissorhands. Her portrayal of Joyce in Stranger Things is the most engaged I've seen her be with a role, I get the sense that she's fighting tooth and nail to prove she can do it.



I like the kids, the lead characters on the show. I like how they were cast to recall 80s casting trends. All of them seem to have big lips and excess saliva. They're not exactly like 80s movie kids; they're not as cruel, for one thing. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) being forced to stretch his arms by a couple bullies doesn't have the nervous and discomforting quality of Chunk in Goonies pressured to shake his large belly by his friends. But who would have the creative clout besides David Lynch to do something that extreme now? And should it be done? I'm not sure myself, partly because I remember not liking Goonies, the main reason I haven't watched it since the 80s. I probably ought to revisit it.

I will say that in contemplating the value of the show's nostalgia I got to thinking about the value of nostalgia filmmaking/tv making. I think Stranger Things might rise to being more than a collection of stylistic callbacks eventually but I would like to see some of its choices simply taken as good for themselves, regardless of the reason for they're being there, like the darker visual style.

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