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Acting for America

Acting for America: Movie Stars of the 1980s

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Acting for America
    Book Description:

    A captivating cast of 1980s power and talent--John Candy, Tom Cruise, Robert DeNiro, Clint Eastwood, Sally Field, Harrison Ford, Michael J. Fox, Mel Gibson, Goldie Hawn, Jessica Lange, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sissy Spacek, Sylvester Stallone, Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver, Bruce Willis, and the "Brat Pack"-stars in the drama of this decade.Acting for Americafocuses on the way these film icons have engaged in and defined some major issues of cultural and social concern to America during the 1980s.Scholars employing a variety of useful approaches explore how these movie stars' films speak to an increased audience awareness of advances in feminism, new ideas about masculinity, and the complex political atmosphere in the Age of Reagan. The essays demonstrate the range of these stars' contributions to such conversations in a variety of films, including blockbusters and major genres.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5113-5
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Stardom in the 1980s
    (pp. 1-18)

    Rarely do we perceive the significance of everything thatʹs happening as we live through a given historical moment. While I was aware of major historical events and trends that are mentioned in these pages, it would be misleading to say that I entirely ʺgotʺ the decade of the 1980s as I experienced it. I didnʹt understand all its complex issues or ramifications any more than any of us comprehend fully the period weʹre living in right now. More complete knowledge and fuller understanding are, inevitably, retrospective. But watching the films now that were made at a time we lived through...

  5. 1 Robert De Niro: Star as Actor Auteur
    (pp. 19-35)

    By the time he received the Best Actor Academy Award for his performance inRaging Bull(1980), Robert De Niroʹs critical reputation was firmly in place. He had already been nominated twice, in 1976 forTaxi Driverand in 1978 forThe Deer Hunter, and had won as Best Supporting Actor forThe Godfather: Part IIin 1974. De Niroʹs second Academy Award for playing prizefighter Jake LaMotta also solidified his association with Martin Scorsese, who had directed three of his films:Mean Streets(1973),Taxi Driver, andNew York, New York(1977). While both men enjoyed substantial critical success...

  6. 2 Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger: Androgynous Macho Men
    (pp. 36-56)

    The 1980s witnessed a profound shift in the nature of idealized masculinity and stardom, exemplified by the rise of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger as superstars. The bodies and films of these actors represent the super-sizing of muscles and publicity, and the two engaged in a constant dance of competition with each other for the position of top money-making star. A close look at how and why these two figures dominated the decadeʹs box office is key to analyzing the complex relationship between marketing and gender in creating stardom. Although these two figures are most often associated with hyper-masculinity, their...

  7. 3 Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek: Country Girls
    (pp. 57-76)

    Scholarship on 1980s cinema regularly considers Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek in the same breath (Prince,Pot of Gold177; Palmer 273). Molly Haskell consistently puts the two side by side, characterizing them (with Sally Field) as ʺcountry women who wear spunk the way Sylvester Stallone sports muscles … [and as female] candidates for canonization, superior to everyone else on the screen and remote from the rest of usʺ (From Reverence372–73). Haskell notes that if Jane Fonda, Barbra Streisand, and Goldie Hawn were the decadeʹs most bankable female stars, ʺat a slightly lower rung of bankability, Jessica Lange...

  8. 4 Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise: Rebellion and Conformity
    (pp. 77-98)

    Top Gun(1986) and the first installment of the popularLethal Weaponseries (1987) successfully secured and sustained the marquee value of Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson, emerging superstars whose celebrity has persisted across several decades to the present. Both films are classic representatives of the action film genre that the decade popularized, and both could be described as ʺbuddyʺ films—yet the actors themselves and the reasons for the success they had enjoyed since the start of the decade are widely divergent. If a star persona develops through a series of films and extra-cinematic star texts progressively across the...

  9. 5 Michael J. Fox and the Brat Pack: Contrasting Identities
    (pp. 99-119)

    Construction of these actorsʹ identities occurred in a somewhat different manner than that seen with the others discussed in this volume. Having had varying levels of success earlier in the decade, the actors to be examined here all achieved major stardom in the summer of 1985. Michael J. Fox, already well known for his role as Alex P. Keaton, the archconservative, Ronald Reagan–worshipping son of liberal parents on sitcom television, had a box office triumph as Marty McFly in Robert ZemeckisʹsBack to the Future, the number-one film for the year (nearly $198 million). By the end of the...

  10. 6 Eddie Murphy: The Rise and Fall of the Golden Child
    (pp. 120-138)

    The first twenty-four minutes of48 Hrs. are entirely consistent with the other films that Walter Hill had directed. It opens with the villain, Albert Ganz (James Remar), staging a bloody escape from a prison road gang, complete with the over-Foleyed sounds of gunshots. Cut to Jack Cates (Nick Nolte), a blond-haired, barrel-chested detective with issues. After an argument with his girlfriend, Cates finds himself in a shoot-out at the hotel where Ganz and the man who helped him escape have settled in with a pair of prostitutes. While cops are bloodied and hysterical women are knocked about, Cates is...

  11. 7 Sigourney Weaver: Woman Warrior, Working Girl
    (pp. 139-159)

    For Sigourney Weaver, the 1980s were golden. Heartthrobs like Mel Gibson, William Hurt, Michael Caine, and Harrison Ford partnered her onscreen. She worked with top Hollywood directors, among them Ridley Scott, Mike Nichols, and Ivan Reitman. She earned three Academy Award nominations: Best Actress forAliens(1986), Best Supporting Actress forWorking Girl(1988), and Best Actress forGorillas in the Mist(1988). Her face appeared on magazine covers. She did photo shoots forVogueandHarperʹs Bazaar, modeling outfits designed by Karl Lagerfeld, Giorgio Armani, and Valentino Garavani. Her supporting performance inGhost Busters(1984) helped make that movie...

  12. 8 Harrison Ford: A Well-Tempered Machismo
    (pp. 160-179)

    Harrison Ford today remains a top Hollywood star of exceptional longevity, yet the 1980s are arguably the decade with which his star image is most strongly bound up, the era of some of his greatest industry successes. While the actorʹs image early in the 1980s was in many ways that of a relatively conventional masculine action hero—principally as a result of his successes inStar Wars(1977), its sequelThe Empire Strikes Back(1980), andRaiders of the Lost Ark(1981)—it significantly began to modulate by mid-decade in such a way that strongly distinguished it from those of...

  13. 9 Sally Field and Goldie Hawn: Feminism, Post-feminism, and Cactus Flower Politics
    (pp. 180-200)

    Sally Field made celebrity history during her 1985 speech at the Oscars ceremony. Accepting her second Best Actress Academy Award, forPlaces in the Heart(1984), she declared, ʺAnd Iʹve wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didnʹt feel it. But this time I feel it. And I canʹt deny the fact that you like me … right now … you like me. Thank you.ʺ (Her speech soon morphed into a catchphrase that emphasized weakness over strength: ʺYou like me, you really like me.ʺ) A woman who was not afraid to expose her ʺneed to...

  14. 10 Meryl Streep: Feminism and Femininity in the Era of Backlash
    (pp. 201-222)

    In a December 1988 cover story inMs., film critic Molly Haskell remarked that Meryl Streep ʺmade a fetish out of not giving the public what it wants and expects from a starʺ (ʺMeryl Streep: Hiding in the Spotlight,ʺ 68). This assessment suggests the specifically feminist stakes of her stardom in the 1980s that saw Streepʹs rapid ascent to fame and acclaim followed by gradual decline in popularity and reputation. In a period characterized by bitter backlash against feminism, the media bristled with contentions about femininity, changing gender roles, and the new figure of the superwoman who tantalizingly balanced family...

  15. 11 Clint Eastwood and Bruce Willis: Enforcers Left and Right
    (pp. 223-242)

    By the end of the 1980s, Clint Eastwoodʹs career as a Hollywood star appeared to be in sharp decline. AfterDie Hard(1988), Bruce Willis was widely regarded as his most viable replacement, an action-movie star for the new generation. A comparison of the two throws into relief some of the key trends of the 1980s. Eastwood resisted many of the most significant of those trends, trying to preserve his established star image in a time when its currency was passing. In an era when the culture of images expanded into new domains—with the rise of home video, corporate...

  16. 12 Steve Martin and John Candy: Penny Wise and Pound Foolish
    (pp. 243-262)

    There is a scene inPlanes,Trains and Automobiles(1987) when Neal Page, the snobby, uptight businessman played by Steve Martin, attempts to contribute to a passenger sing-along during a long highway bus ride. Neal begins to sing the opening lines of the 1954 Jule Styne–Sammy Cahn song ʺThree Coins in the Fountain,ʺ but no passengers join in; instead, all heads silently turn to stare at the pompous fool who would know such an arcane tune. His traveling companion, Del Griffith, a loud, buffoonish salesman played by John Candy, saves Neal by quickly launching into the TV cartoon theme...

  17. In the Wings
    (pp. 263-270)

    Among the stars whose 1980s films served as a prelude to more significant appearances in subsequent decades, Johnny Deppʹs career began inauspiciously, as one of Freddyʹs short-lived victims in the firstNightmare on Elm Street(1984) and a horny teenager inPrivate Resort(1985). His first significant role was as a translator in Oliver StoneʹsPlatoon(1986). (In the DVD commentary Stone says he knew Depp would be a star after taking one look at him.) Television work as a cop in ʺ21 Jump Streetʺ (1987) introduced Depp to a youthful audience that would eagerly seek out his films. He...

    (pp. 271-278)
    (pp. 279-280)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 281-300)