Fast Track from Ridgemont High
Dan Friedman

In our postmodern and Internet-enabled age, the intertextuality of film is more readily apparent than ever. With IMDB (the invaluable Internet Movie Data Base) and Google, the networks of relation between films become as easy to discern as Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. The wealth of human storytelling bubbles up like so much champagne at my upcoming wedding.

Last week, for example, the paltry investment of $4 and just over 3 hours gave me the opportunity to watch an excellent film work by Amy Heckerling (perhaps better known for Clueless, Look Who's Talking Too, and Look Who's Talking) and Cameron Crowe (Vanilla Sky, Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire) that I'd never never quite got around to seeing before.

Although it was only on a 26 inch screen, I thoroughly enjoyed the performances of Sean Penn (whose other work includes I Am Sam, Before Night Falls, Sweet and Lowdown , Being John Malkovich, Thin Red Line, Dead Man Walking, & Carlito's Way), Vanessa Redgrave (also seen in The Three Kings, Girl Interrupted, Cradle Will Rock, Deep Impact, Mrs. Dalloway, Smilla's Sense of Snow, Looking for Richard, Mission: Impossible, Ballad of the Sad Cafe), Judge Reinhold (Beverly Hills Cop I-IV, Gremlins), Jennifer Jason Leigh, (Proof-on Broadway, Road to Perdition, Anniversary Party, eXistenZ, Washington Square,Bastard Out of Carolina, Hudsucker Proxy, Short Cuts,Single White Female,Backdraft, Last Exit to Brooklyn), and that other idol of adolescent yearning Phoebe Cates (Anniversary Party, Drop Dead Fred, Gremlins 1 and 2, Bright Lights Big City).

That was Fast Times at Ridgemont High, in case you didn't know. Fast Times is a well-known IMDB node, with dozens of future-famous actors playing high school age misfits. According to films about films like The Player, Hollywood movies are yea'd or nay'd based on short conceptual pitches that explain the movie concept in terms of other movies: M*A*S*H meets Dangerous Liasons, 2001 meets Rock & Roll High School, etc. I wonder if producers have ever used IMDB. The Fast Times matrix alone yields fertile possibilities. Anyone for Lethal Weapon 3 meets Girl Interrupted?

Fast Times at Ridgemont High, on its own, is a medium-paced, short-scened, precursor of the John Hughes films of the early 80s (The Breakfast Club, 1985; Sixteen Candles) that shed a much-needed light onto the tumultuous final years of High School. There is not one clear star in Fast Times but rather -- despite the attention the film pays to Jennifer Jason Leigh -- a series of important characters played by relative unknowns. Apart from being a pleasant trip back to the era of puffy hairdos, thin ties, and cordless phones the size of small briefcases, Fast Times deals with some issues in ways that we have come to associate more often with soap operas, but without dwelling excessively long on them.

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September 2002

jay's head
josh ring