Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Nothing Lasts Forever (1984)

A surreal, thoroughly original comedy about a young man who goes to New York City to make it as an artist, only to discover that the Port Authority has hijacked the city into a repressive, function-oriented dystopia. Zach Galligan from Gremlins plays the lead, an amiable, fresh-faced small-towner who is determined unfit to be an artist, and is forced to work the tollbooth at the Holland Tunnel. He attempts to break through the art world by proxy, only to find it is a dense, insular subculture where absurdism is mistaken for poignancy, and superficiality dominates. Eventually, he discovers a society of divinely-wise homeless people, and is tasked with saving the moon. Oh, and the entire film is presented, in style and tone, like a Frank Capra film from the '40s.

The film was written and directed by Tom Schiller, who contributed many short films to SNL over the years, and this film is somewhat in the style of his more bizarre, surreal work for that program. Although clearly well-versed in classic Hollywood, Schiller is not content with merely aping the era, but rather using it to portray his bizarre story in a way that carefully treads the line between camp and sincerity. If the film was an empty excercise in style, it would not warrant a feature film, but Schiller and Galligan provide enough genuine, irony-free substance that the narrative is simultaneously completely silly and thoroughly engaging. There is a climactic musical number by Bad Santa's Lauren Tom that achieves an obscure, fragile poignancy that very few films of the era evoked, especially the mainstream comedies. The presence of Dan Aykroyd and another classic SNL alum (he's credited, but I refuse to specify who due to the perfection of his opening moments) ensures some familiar, straight-laced comedy, but mostly, the laughs are in the sheer absurdism of Schiller's storytelling methods and 1940's sensibilities. It is a fantastical, dreamlike film, and warrants a greater appreciation than it currently receives from academia (though that is most likely due to its lack of DVD availability).

Highly Recommended for fans of more original, anarchic comedy, or of old 1970's SNL. The film can be seen here, or can be downloaded off of a VHS copy on Bittorrent. There is genuinely nothing quite like this movie; a true lost classic.

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