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Drafthouse Hosts a Class of 1984 Reunion

He who controls the past controls the future of Alamo programming

By Richard Whittaker, Fri., April 4, 2014

<i>Purple Rain</i>
Purple Rain

Two years ago, when the Alamo Drafthouse launched its Summer of 1982 series, the challenge was to re-create the highs and flow of the blockbuster season, from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Now it's time for the class of 1984 to graduate, but instead of a whole yearbook, it's cum laude only.

Picking four of the year's best is no small challenge, since 1984 was a top-notch time for American cinema. Amadeus and The Killing Fields found mainstream success and then divided the Oscars between them. Sergio Leone shot mean streets through an epic lens for Once Upon a Time in America. Meanwhile, the multiplexes were rocking to the theme songs of Ghostbusters and Footloose. But none of those made it past the tough scrutiny of the Drafthouse booking crew. With only a quartet of titles to work with, some tough choices had to be made. Even Alamo chief booker and Girlie Night curator Sarah Pitre's beloved Sixteen Candles didn't make the list. She blames herself for its omission ("I couldn't wait, so I screened it in January.") but thinks Prince's overblown rock odyssey/autobiopic Purple Rain will soothe broken hearts. "I love me some Prince," she said, and she's not ruling out that people may go crazy at a lace-glove-wearing, speaker-humping special show. She said, "If you just want to experience the purity of the original release, we'll be screening that, but if you want more of an interactive experience, there's the Action Pack."

Joining the Twin Cities sex god is a less welcome figure in any bedroom, the dream-stalking slasher Freddie Krueger, as the original A Nightmare on Elm Street ensures audiences never sleep again. As for two-fisted adventure, there'll be George Lucas and Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Aside from a regular screening, there will be a quote-along and a four-course feast – and, yes, there will be chilled monkey brains. But not really. "I don't know how many people would want to eat that," said Pitre, so a strawberry semifreddo with ginger consommé will substitute for capuchin cerebellum.

As always, there's one real mind-bending ringer in the list, and this time it's the super-bizarro The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, starring Peter Weller as the titular neurosurgeon/particle physicist/rock star and John Lithgow as his alien-possessed rival, Dr. Emilio Lizardo. "It's very beloved by the programming team in Austin," Pitre said, and they believe that it's time the world remembered its lost genius. "People who have never experienced it are going to come out loving it and aware of why we put it in the schedule."

This strange team-up of a hip-shaking Minneapolis rocker, a child-murdering nightmare, one guitar-slinging scientist, and the world's only bullwhip-wielding archaeologist are just the core of what the Drafthouse hopes to see on its screens. Pitre said, "We've encouraged all the markets, including Austin, to supplement the list with local favorites." That means the 512 gets a screening of the Coen Brothers' terrifying debut, the neo-noir Blood Simple, "and not just Police Academy, but an entire Police Academy marathon."

Blame Pitre's fellow Drafthouse booker Greg MacLennan for bringing all seven chapters of the franchise – from the 1984 original to 1994's Mission to Moscow – to Austin audiences. The idea bounced around the booking team for years, but was written off as too crazy to ever fill a theatre. But when the Class of 1984 was being assembled, MacLennan remembered the golden rule: "The stupider the idea, the better response we get." He said, "If you grew up in the Eighties, the Police Academy movies grew up with you. They delivered the same thing, every single time, and you didn't have any concept of whether they were good or they were bad; you just loved them." Their good-hearted slapstick was summed up in the decade-defining charm of Steve Guttenberg as the laconic Mahoney. "The Gute and me are very good friends," said MacLennan. "Not in real life, but I love Steve Guttenberg movies. He was always the cocksure fun guy who doesn't have a lot to back it up physically, but he's an affable dude."

So now the Drafthouse has resurrected the greatest cinema of 1982, 1983, and 1984. Will the past keep coming back, one summer blockbuster at a time? Totally, dude. Pitre said, "As long as every year provides three or four titles we're excited about, we're going to keep doing it." For those of you planning ahead, she said, "1985 is shaping up really well."


The Class of 1984 reunion kicks off with a screening of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom on Thursday, April 3, 3:50pm, at the Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz. Visit the Drafthouse website (www.drafthouse.com) for complete details and ticket information.

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