Bad News '70s

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I saw Bad News Bears last night, and while I found the experience enjoyable—largely on the strength of the original material, which a wise man once described as "a movie that did more to liberate a generation than any Underground film ever shown on IFC"—it will still have to rank as yet another re-make that neuters the misanthropic edge out of a '70s classic. Not to spoil too much, but Yankee "program" coach Greg Kinnear opts for camp instead of Vic Morrow's Falling Down-style menace, and (most unforgivably of all) the beer Buttermaker gives the kids after the championship game is non-alcoholic.

The easy explanation is that modern filmmakers (Slacker's Richard Linklater, in this case) simply don't have the nerve to be unapologetically nasty. But the theory I'd throw before the court is, maybe we're just not that nasty a country anymore. Watching pint-sized hero Tanner Boyle punch everything that moves yesterday, while tremendous fun, felt anachronistic. Surly, inexplicably violent surfer-dude eight-year-olds were certainly part of the Southern California landscape in the Decade of Divorce, but nowadays I'd expect childhood dysfunction to manifest itself more as the whiny preciousness that comes with over-protective rearing. The re-make tries, with very mixed results, to update parenting pathologies (my favorite detail is introducing—and making fun of—an Armenian kid, which is the first time I've seen the SoCal Armenian immigration boom acknowledged in popular art), but the first flic's truly uncomfortable punches (Morrow's confrontation with his own kid, Tatum O'Neal's poignant alienation from bad dad Walter Matthau) are noticeably pulled here.

While it makes for a worse movie, and begs the question of why this version was done at all, maybe softening the edges is simply more accurate. We now live in a country where big moments on the professional baseball diamond are no longer automatically accompanied by thousands of half-drunk fans flooding the field to tackle the victors; where power black-outs are no longer guaranteed riots; where inflation is tamed, presidents aren't morose, and Little League is no longer the favorite dumping ground for latch-key parents. Though the latter wasn't yet true when I coached the Bad News Royals in 1990….

UPDATE: Of course, some of the changes were made to keep a PG-13 rating. Commenter Mith points us to this interview with Linklater:

You accept the rules these days and how things have changed. Like for instance, you can't show kids smoking in movies. You just can't. I think the studios can be sued. You just don't depict underage people smoking, in TV, movies, anything. It's just part of our culture now. So, you know, I could have filmed Kelly [Leak] smoking and then I could be beating my chest here and saying, Oh they made me cut this and it's all hypocritical. But why pick that fight? It's just, that's our culture. I'm realistic enough and I'm not so masochistic to take on these fights. […]

one of the [lines that we had to cut] was like, "Hey you better shut up before I tell someone you got all Catholic on my privates." So that exists, yeah. Now it'll be on the DVD.

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  1. I think you’ve got a point, Matt.

    I also think that missing the aesthetic pleasure that accompanied the widespread disfunction of that era is similar to missing the aesthetic pleasure that accompanied (figured our where I’m going yet?)…

    the widespread dilapidation of Havana’s historic district.

    Which is to say, I think it would be bad form to go all prissy and tell people they shouldn’t feel or admit to those things.

  2. Bzzzt! There’s a big difference between missing the *artistic* aesthetics emanating from crappy circumstances, and writing paeans to the crappy circumstances themselves. Just as there’s a big difference between ’70s Southern California and 2005 Havana.

    Also, FWIW, there was a tremendous *upside* to the latch-key days, which is that us dysfunctional tots had a *lot* of unsupervised time to do whatever the hell.

  3. That’s not what “beg the question” means…

  4. The original Bad News Bears was about little Xers, and the style suited the way they were being reared at the time. The remake is about little Millies, who are much more protected and expected to be much nicer, or adults will know the reason why.

    I reared two very strong, smart Xers, one of whom is rearing an extremely well-behaved 5-year-old. John Rosemond’s column set up standard for children that most of today’s adults couldn’t meet, except perhaps a few dear, sweet seniors.

    Autre temps, autre mouers

  5. Pedant — I’ll use it irregardless.

  6. Matt,

    “artistic aesthetics” = interesting characters/quaintly run-down buildings

    crappy circumstances = 70s parenting/Cuban economy

    I agree with you that it would be wrong to write a paean to either of those crappy circumstances. But just as it would be wrong to slag the original Bad News Bears as a paean to the wonders of 70s parenting, it would be wrong to slag appreciation for the quaint appearance of Cuban buildings as a paean for Castroism. Agreed?

    “Also, FWIW, there was a tremendous *upside* to the latch-key days, which is that us dysfunctional tots had a *lot* of unsupervised time to do whatever the hell.”

    Also, FWIW, there is a tremedous *upside* to the Cuban system of government, which is that everyone receives medical care from highly skilled doctors, and there is universal literacy.

  7. The answer is children bicyclists.
    They’re all wearing helmets now. I see it and turn away, embarrassed for them. The risk of dashing your brains out on a curb is sadly no longer an option.
    I miss the bad old days.

  8. joe — Don’t forget, Mussolini made the trains run on time, Kim Jong Il keeps the streets of Pyongyang crime-free, and people felt a sense of purpose under Hitler. Most every dictatorship can claim some similar “achievement,” but to call it a “tremendous upside” is somewhere between hyperbole and obscenity.

    “Everyone receives medical care from highly skilled doctors” is total BS, by the way. And the “crappy circumstance” in Cuba isn’t the “economy” (although this, too, is crappy), it’s the “dictatorship.” And there is an important difference between fiction and non-fiction.

  9. RE: Castro’s Cuba

    I found this pretty interesting.

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/woods/woods47.html

  10. I know, Matt. Cripes, would you like me to write a parallel post about the problems with 70s parenting?

  11. ‘And the “crappy circumstance” in Cuba isn’t the “economy” (although this, too, is crappy), it’s the “dictatorship.”‘

    OK, the “crappy circumstance” in 70s wasn’t the parenting, it was the social circumstances that caused the parenting.

  12. joe — Noted that you didn’t like my post of two months ago (it was actually noted at the time). Maybe some enterprising soul will even link to it. I explained myself there, and I’m done talking about this absurd analogy.

  13. Also, FWIW, there is a tremedous *upside* to the Cuban system of government, which is that everyone receives medical care from highly skilled doctors, and there is universal literacy.

    Is there a reliable source for either of these assertions?

    I mean, I know this is what Castro and his lefty-nostalgist supporters want us to believe, but thuggy authoritarians and their apoligists are generally not well-acquainted with the truth.

    Still, it would be nice to know if I can just dismiss them as the usual lies, or if there is substance to them that needs to be dealt with.

  14. I keep thinking they’re going to get in a bike safety arms race and soon the remaining kids who are still allowed to get their tubby, winded selves on a bike will be sporting not only helmets but knee and elbow pads, shoulder pads, shin guards, gauntlets, goggles, etc.

    Back in my day, we fought over who got to ride in the front seat of my dad’s Camero, and we didn’t wear seatbelts, and we liked it that way!

    I don’t know if contemporary helicopter parenting is better than 70s parenting.

  15. I can’t wait for the remake of the remake in 2025.

    And joe… wtf?

  16. Tim, there was an old post in which Mr. Welch quoted somebody saying that he’s going to miss the quaint appearance of historic Havana when capitalism comes it the dilapidated buildings are fixed up. He tore into the guy for finding beauty in something produced by such a horror as the Castro government’s suffocation of the Cuban economy, accusing him of wanting to see the Cuban people kept in poverty and oppression.

    RC,

    I’m not defending the Cuban government, just going with the “absurd analogy.”

  17. While I’m sure Neil Postman isn’t all that popular around here, I think there’s something else at work – his comments on how TV is dominated by Least Objectionable Programming (a phrase coined by a CBS exec in the 60s) are, I think, now more applicable to Hollywood than to television – particularly as applied to movies aimed at families and pre-teens, which is a sizable chunk anymore.

  18. RC Dean — Literacy and health care *were* the Revolution’s crowning achievements, and whatever slim remaining enthusiasm people still have for the project is for the great crusades of the early ’60s when the educated went out to the countryside to teach the peasants to read.

    But from my experience of seven years ago, doctors in Havana (who made $10 a month at the time) are quitting their jobs in droves to work in tourism, and most everybody you talk to complains bitterly about lack of medicine (and by medicine, I mean aspirin). There are terrible waiting lists (where your political status counts), and widespread shortages of most surgical materials (except to rich tourists; medical tourism is a big deal for Cuba, as is health care for export). It’s tough to receive anything resembling medical care when you can’t get medicine. Doctors themselves (who are indeed pretty good) will tell you there’s not much health care they can give without basic supplies.

    And yes, there are studies floating around there, though it takes a while to cut through the usual political BS on all sides.

  19. “Surly, inexplicably violent surfer-dude eight-year-olds were certainly part of the Southern California landscape in the Decade of Divorce, but nowadays I’d expect childhood dysfunction to manifest itself more as the whiny preciousness that comes with over-protective rearing.”

    Can it be that it was all so simple then
    Or has time rewritten every line
    If we had the chance to do it all again
    Tell me – would we? could we?

    —-The Way We Were

  20. The link is here; the most objectionable (to me) phrase by the Slate writer was that he was “perversely glad” that Cuba has *not* “spent the last couple of decades awash in American tourists, Cuban-American visitors, and development-driving entrepreneurs,” because this preserved the capitol’s “gorgeous, tropical decay.”

  21. Yes, Matt, even his statement acknowledgement that the feeling was perverse, in light of the reality of human suffering behind it, didn’t dissuade you from chastising him for noticing the beauty of the physical environment.

  22. joe — Yes joe, that was six weeks ago. Have a nice day.

  23. if you wouldn’t choose the boot for your own face joe, why defend it?

  24. I read an article in the Washington Post a few days ago bemoaning hwo children have gotten obese and its their neurotic overprotected parents’ fault. One woman would not let her 12 year old daughter go to the park alone because “parks are where pedephiles hang out.” Two other 11 year old boys described as “healthy and athletic” could not play with each other after school and instead sat alone in their homes even though they lived less than a mile apart. The reason was that their homes were seperated by a busy street and neither child’s parents would let the boys cross the street alone because it was thought to be too dangerous. God I would hate to be a kid these days.

  25. do the bears still lose in the end?

    that was one of the best parts of the movie.

  26. While I’m sure Neil Postman isn’t all that popular around here, I think there’s something else at work – his comments on how TV is dominated by Least Objectionable Programming (a phrase coined by a CBS exec in the 60s) are, I think, now more applicable to Hollywood than to television – particularly as applied to movies aimed at families and pre-teens, which is a sizable chunk anymore.

    Egg-cellent point.

  27. I’m not defending it, Paul, I’m pointing out the parallel, or lack of one, between this post and an earlier one.

    Matt, I know I get into it with you a lot, but I think you’re one of the best Reasonoids here, and I’m a big Sploid fan. Peace.

  28. “God I would hate to be a kid these days.”

    I don’t know. I think I’d feel like Joe Pesci’s character in Casino, when he moved to Vegas.

    …Virgin territory!

  29. To recap what I’ve learned from above: Billy Bob Thornton plays Castro in a remake of the Bad News Bears with unemployed doctors playing baseball when they’re not teaching the peasants to read. Their skills are put to good use when the local children are harmed by faulty safety gear manufactured in S. Korea for the overprotected, whiny imperialist brats of North America. This gear washed ashore when the ancient shipping vessel sank – the resulting oil slick also destroyed the beaches.

    The movie ends with Elian shouting “Hey Castro, you can take your worker’s paradise and shove it up your ass!”

    Take the family, I know I will.

  30. “The easy explanation is that modern filmmakers (Slacker’s Richard Linklater, in this case) simply don’t have the nerve to be unapologetically nasty.”

    Actually, the studio made him do it.

    http://chud.com/interviews/3698

  31. 1976: Pre-teen kids rode their bikes to whatever organized sports they played while their parents stayed at home. Parents knew what the kids watched on TV because there was only one TV in the house.

    2005: Parents strap their pre-teen kids into safety seats and drive them to their organized sports which are all about self-esteem and achievement and the kids are surrounded by adults the whole time. Kids have cable TV and computers in their bedrooms and watch whatever they want and mom and dad leave them alone at home.

  32. Matt romanticized bad parenting just like he romanticizes the vampirism of Romania.

    Just kidding. Seriously, don’t throw sharp stuff at me …

    BTW: That Romania piece rocked.

  33. Jason — Thanks, and keep an eye open for the October or November issue, for more wacky Romania stuff.

  34. Should’ve named the thing “Chicken Shit Bears”.

    I mean, they’re gonna put “Hey you better shut up before I tell someone you got all Catholic on my privates” which no kid is gonna say, instead of the line that was originally written (but not shot for fear of whatever) which was “You better shut up before I tell someone you touched my pecker.” which is a hell of a lot more realistic kid talk.

    So we’re gonna have a DVD with additional-but-still-sanitized dialogue.

    Zzzz.

  35. Matt,

    Regarding SoCal Armenian immigration boom, I think Sideways scooped “BNB” by a couple months.

  36. I hope this dialog didn’t get cut:

    Che: I got a Norton 500 cc. Does that turn you on? Norton 500 cc?

  37. keith — Was the family of the actor-dude’s wife Armenian? If so, I had forgotten that.

  38. Kids don’t say “pecker” anmore.

  39. I mean, they’re gonna put “Hey you better shut up before I tell someone you got all Catholic on my privates” which no kid is gonna say, instead of the line that was originally written (but not shot for fear of whatever) which was “You better shut up before I tell someone you touched my pecker.” which is a hell of a lot more realistic kid talk.

    That’s not what he said. He said they shot the Catholic line in case the pecker line caused problems. But since the pecker line passed through, he didn’t need to use it.

  40. Hey Linklater! You can take your Rationalization, AND your Movie, and shove them up your ASS!

  41. It’s that today, the mean people are in power, banning pain relievers that have no recreational use (Viox), putting people with crushed spines in jail for life for taking “too much” opium, invading countries that pose no threat to us or their neighbors, pounding people in the legs to laugh at their cries to G-d, and taking homes away to make room for the retail arm of the Chinese communist party. Back in the 70’s, it was the saccharine people in charge, bussing kids for hours a day to integrate schools and blaming America for everything. So mean was refreshing, then.

  42. which is the first time I’ve seen the SoCal Armenian immigration boom acknowledged in popular art

    I guess you don’t watch The Shield, huh? They played up the Armenian mob in LA back about two, three years ago.

  43. invading countries that pose no threat to us or their neighbors, pounding people in the legs to laugh at their cries to G-d, and taking homes away to make room for the retail arm of the Chinese communist party.

    johnl, your rant reminded me of this favorite rant of mine…and how prophetically true, considering it was 1998…

  44. largely on the strength of the original material, which a wise man once described as “a movie that did more to liberate a generation than any Underground film ever shown on IFC”

    Another equally true statement is that it and the TV show it inspired did more to ingrain Carmen into kids’ heads than any classical education concert ever. I knew that tune before I knew the difference between baroque and funk.

  45. Capt. Spaulding,

    You may be right. Geez, that was the hardest interview to read.

  46. Matt,

    I think your original point is still valid because the original 1976 movie was rated PG. It’s not like they tried to get a more mainstream rating than the original film.

  47. cdunlea — The Shield, from what I understand, is mostly set within a mile or two from my home (next to Little Armenia), so that would make sense. Keep meaning to watch it…

  48. That’s not what “beg the question” means…

    Pedant — I’ll use it irregardless.

    I would of said, “I could care less.” I don’t believe in towing the line on rules for it’s own sake.

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