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Wonderfully Warm Movies

[whitespace] Some words on fall's big-screen re-releases

By Jon Roemer

You live in san francisco and you forget sometimes how the rest of the world lives. Around this time of year, regular but dramatic shifts in weather patterns frequently occur, a standard meteorological phenomenon that more poetically might be called "a shift in the seasons." Elsewhere in this particular hemisphere of ours, this time of year is referred to as "fall" or sometimes "autumn," if you feel you have the kind of academic or monied background that allows you to use language like that.

With sweater weather comes a whole string of "wonderfully warm" movies, as oxymoronic as that may sound. Generally, when a line like "wonderfully warm" shows up in a movie's ad or trailer, I am instantly transported to a vast desert plain, sipping a sun-baked Coca-Cola. Regardless the season, I am not a fan of the "wonderfully warm." But in November, the mother of all warm movies--and still the warmest of the warm--The Big Chill is scheduled to enjoy the sizzling hot attention of a big-screen re-release.

That's right. The Big Chill. Re-released. If you thought re-releases were reserved for W.D. Griffith epics about the KKK and newly colorized restorations of early-revolutionary Cuban masterpieces, you were sadly mistaken. With the re-release of The Big Chill, the message is loud and clear: obviously, our weak, overloaded minds have forgotten how to walk into a video store and rent one of the most ubiquitous tapes around.

And yet, is the original feel-good-movie-of-the-year still warm, still wonderful? Because the first thing you've probably forgotten about The Big Chill is its basic premise: suicide. The laid-back shenanigans of sex, career and family planning--that you remember so well, that defined an entire generation, that really put the boomers on the map--has kind of overshadowed the story's central catalyst. Despite the film's delightful mix of lovable early '80s cultural archetypes, somebody from that crowd felt oppressed enough to want to get the hell out.

Fifteen years later, we can talk about all that now. The Big Chill now has the potential to serve as a kind of cautionary tale. Its re-release is notable if we can walk out the theaters thinking, "What the heck were those people thinking?"

Also scheduled for November release is The Velvet Goldmine, Todd Haynes' installment on the disco era that tries to redefine the whole context that came just before The Big Chill era. And then there's Dry Cleaning, a French film with superstar Miou-Miou that's about a middle-class couple adopting, employing and having sex with the gender-ambiguous dancer from the gay bar down the street. Billed as the next Ma Vie en Rose, Dry Cleaning sounds like a warm-spirited mind-bend that makes The Big Chill's mate-swapping look like junior high.

If The Big Chill dressed up a whole generation of self-obsession, feel-good live-and-let-live attire--and if its re-release introduces a whole season of nostalgia for early yuppie life and that particular code of dress--then this fall offers its share of remedies too. Use The Velvet Goldmine and Dry Cleaning as critical barometers when you walk into The Big Chill again. 'Tis the season for the wonderful and the warm. It's best, I think, to go screaming through streets buck naked in weather like this.

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From the October 5-18, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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