Just a few weeks ago I was conversing at work with some of my fellow co-workers. During the course of the conversation I dropped a “Buffalo Bill” reference. To provide some context, the recipient of my reference was creepily whispering over our employee radios and trying to be as off-putting as possible. So, I told him he was pulling off a “Buffalo Bill” vibe.
There was silence.
Then the following exchange took place:
Creepy Employee: “Who is ‘Buffalo Bill’?”
Me: “Have you seen The Silence of the Lambs?”
Creepy Employee: “No”
Other Employee: “Do you mean Buffalo Bob from Joe Dirt?”
Yup. That actually happened. I don’t want to specifically pick on millenials, but hey, if the shoe fits.
My unenlightened co-workers are both in their early 20’s, so it occurred to me that there must be tons of movies that I grew up with that permeated the popular culture during my young adulthood that have never been seen by a younger generation. I think each generation has those movies that shaped their lives as they grew up but eventually fade away as a new generation grows up with their own pop culture staples.
Since my childhood consisted of the 80’s and 90’s, I like to count myself fortunate to have enjoyed a plethora of popular cinema that still hangs on today. So great was the movie culture of my childhood that the era has become the coal mine of many new Hollywood reboots, sequels and re-imaginings.
So this is the impetus of this new (hopefully) weekly column. I want to highlight a great film from my youth that a younger generation should see and be able to acknowledge its influence. The hugely popular films, such as Back to the Future, Beverly Hills Cop, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, John Hughes flicks, etc, will not be featured on here. Those movies exist in an impenetrable sphere that transcends generational boundaries. If you haven’t seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, that’s your fault. You know it’s there. Act like an adult.
For my first entry I feel compelled to illuminate Jonathan Demme’s, The Silence of the Lambs. It saddens me to have to start with such a great movie, but….kids these day, man.
- A quick note: If you have seen these movies, don’t give me crap like “Are you kidding me? Of course I’ve seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High! You’re an idiot!” To the people who would say these things I will respond with this: believe me, there are people who haven’t seen it. And in a perfect world, everyone has seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High, ok?
#1 The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Why It Needs to Be Seen: For starters, it won all the major Academy Awards in 1992 (Actor, Actress, Director, Picture, and Screenplay). Everyone involved with this film will forever be defined by it. Anthony Hopkins will be remembered forever as “Hannibal Lecter”, Jodie Foster as “Clarice Starling” and Ted Levine as “Buffalo Bill”. It also stands as Jonathan Demme’s lone great directorial effort.
The movie was so powerfully crafted that images, songs, and phrases will forever be ensconced in the pop culture vernacular. Skin lotion, fava beans, and “Goodbye Horses” immediately spring to mind.
Why It’s Great: It is plain and simply an incredibly crafted film that tells an amazing story with complex characters and performances.
On a film nerd note, it also employs a unique framing technique that we rarely see these days, even if it’s not noticeable to a casual film viewer. Pay attention to dialogue scenes and how they make you feel. The back-and-forths, particularly between Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, are so engaging and incredibly acted. The majority of these scenes are framed directly in front of the actor so, essentially, they are speaking to the camera and they are staring out of the screen. Like this scene:
This effect is used to both engross and unsettle the viewer at different points of the film. It definitely adds up to a more unique lens to watch the happenings of the story. I’m glad we don’t see much of this in other movies, as the effect of this technique adds a sense of menace that few films are capable of delivering on. This one does.
Also worth noting is the focus on sexism within law enforcement. Demme peppers it in throughout the film, often putting Jodie Foster in awkward and disadvantageous positions due to her gender and her role within the FBI. It just adds another layer to Foster’s performance and to the story, itself.
Pop Culture Identity: As was previously mentioned, “Buffalo Bill” was spoofed in Joe Dirt, Clerks 2, “How I Met Your Mother”, and many more. “Hannibal Lecter” has been the subject of numerous bits in culture and has spawned Halloween costumes that are still worn these days. This is all before mentioning the character appearing in other Hollywood films (Hannibal, Red Dragon) and his own cult-fave TV series, “Hannibal”. Trust me, if this film isn’t as great and as popular as it was it would never have had this much far-reaching influence. How about this scene:
I’m not putting the “Goodbye Horses”scene in there. If you haven’t seen the movie, get to it.
That’s all from me. I’ll continue this next week sometime with another flick people need to see.