Aug 10, 2022

Going to Movies in the Spring of 1984: Lambert Grunts, Estivez Repos, Guttenberg Goes Down, and Lamar Swishes


In 1983-84, during my second year in grad school at Indiana University, working toward a M.A. in English, I was sharing an apartment in downtown Bloomington with my Viju, hooking up two or three times a week, and going to a lot of movies, so many that I had to divide the list in two.  Here are the movies I saw in theaters in the spring of 1984:

 El Norte: A brother and sister make a perilous journey from Guatemala to el Norte, where they experience all sorts of hardships. They both die.  Supremely depressing, but at least brother (David Villalpando) doesn't meet the Girl of His Dreams.

February: Footloose.  A conservative preacher outlaws dancing in a small town, so the teens rebel.  Coming from the Nazarene Church, I could relate.

: Repo Man: The trailers made it look like this would be about the hilarious misadventures of a repo man (confiscating your car when you're behind on the payments).  Actually it's a surreal, convoluted mess involving aliens, government conspiracies, drugs, and lots of people getting killed.  And Emilio Estivez didn't even show a bulge.

March: The Hotel New Hampshire, because I heard that there was a gay character.  There is, Frank (Paul McCrane), just one of the bizarre siblings who run the Hotel.  He doesn't actually do anything gay, but who has time, with all of the disturbing crazyiness going on?

March: Police Academy, because it starred Steve Guttenberg (sigh) as a ne-er-do-well who is given the choice of becoming a cop or going to jail.  Huh?  His wild antics disrupt the stuffy academy; I particularly liked the scene in which he pretends that he has given the uptight commandant a blow job.  

March: Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.  A new version that tried to stay close to the original novels: after being raised by apes, John Greystoke (Christopher Lambert) has trouble adjusting to human society.  Plus he falls in love with Philippe D'Arnot AND Jane Porter.

Swing Shift: During World War II, Kurt Russell falls in love with two women, one of whom has a husband overseas.

May: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  The one where Indy, the Girl, and their East Asian stereotype kid, Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan) run afoul of evil, superstitious, duplitious South Asians.

June: Ghostbusters.  Who you gonna call?

June: Gremlins, because Zack Galligan (top photo) was cute.  He and the Girl fight cuddlies that turn vicious if you feed them after midnight.  The movie turns out to be far darker than the trailers suggested.

June: The Karate Kid: baby-faced Danny clobbers the bullies with the help of the mystic faux-Asian wisdom delivered by his sensei.

Conan the Destroyer.  Arnold is back, this time with a dead wife to prevent the barbarian hero from falling in love with Grace Jones.  He picks up a male companion (Mako), but doesn't fall in love with him, either. 

July: Revenge of the Nerds: Problematic now, but in 1984 adding limp-wristed, swishy gay stereotype Lamar to the misfit fraternity counted as LGBTQ representation.  Except, why are his fraternity brothers shocked and disgusted when he dates a guy?  Did they think that "gay" means "swishy heterosexual"?

Larry B. Scott, who played Lamar, refused further gay roles to avoid being typecast.  He states in an interview that he is constantly being praised for being a champion of gay rights, but "it was just a job."

July: Purple Rain: Prince's songs were playing constantly in the gay bars in 1984, so of course we assumed that he was gay.  But this biopic is all about the Kid meeting, winning, and arguing with the girl.


  1. I mean, Revenge of the Nerds also has a scene where one of the eponymous nerds rapes a girl from the sorority and it's treated as this awesome thing.

    Footloose always struck me as funny: I assumed these moral panics were calculated to make us forget the religious right began to protect Bob Jones.

    Conan the Destroyer is funny because he'll, in the short stories, Howard actually forgets Conan's love interest the minute he submits the story for print. The Frazetta comics couldn't do that because continuity. Of course, there's also the fact that Robert E Howard was a strident racist even for his time, and would definitely never write Conan with a black woman because he's That Terrible™ and there's a reason Arkham Press, Marvel, and Dark Horse have made Weird Tales stories bearable.

    Funny story about Ghostbusters, when they made a cartoon about it, Filmation already had plans for a cartoon based on their live-action series starring Forrest Tucker. Because the kids love F Troop, right? 😬👍 The cartoon of the movie ended up calling itself The Real Ghostbusters.

    Karate Kid was the movie whole generations watched "and memorized every line", to quote the Ataris' song Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start.

    I first saw Gremlins 2 because I was finally able to stay up past the summer, under parental supervision. Which is probably not winning any parent of the year awards since I was 7. I do remember the drive-in having things like nachos, pretzels, and hot dogs, that I hadn't seen at the regular theater. But all that soda then introduced me to the first basin-style urinal I'd ever seen.

    1. I heard about the Ghostbusters and the Real Ghostbusters, but I haven't actually seen either.

  2. "Footloose" is a feel good musical it has nothing to do with the " religious right" which if anything is presented as the enemy of dancing- or for white kids to break dance. Paul McCrane who had played the ONE AND ONLY gay kid in "Fame" played the gay brother in "The Hotel New Hampshire".

    1. Eh, it's about the moral panics of the era.

  3. That was a good season for fans of handsome hirsute actors: Guttenberg ("Police Academy"), Ed Harris ("Swing Shift"), and Harrison Ford ("The Temple of Doom"). The latter also featured sweaty, bare-chested bad guys in leather. It's my favorite Indiana Jones outing.

    I'm surprised you didn't bring up the moment for which "Swing Shift" will always be remembered by gay men who saw the theatrical version or the original premium-cable edit. Ed Harris, fresh from the shower and wearing only a towel, flops down on an easy chair and gives the camera a brief, thrilling view that would come to be called the Sharon Stone.

    I was a gay teen waiting for this movie to air again and again on The Movie Channel so I could catch this half-second surprise that rocked my world. Forget a Pause button; we didn't even have a VCR. You'd catch these fleeting glimpses and you were uncertain they really happened, and you had no one to ask or they'd call you gay for noticing. (Later edits of the movie crop out Harris' genitals.)

    1. I don't remember the Ed Harris penis shot. I must have missed it.


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