Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published January 13th 2019
Good film that still holds up
You know, sometimes what you find in a so-called "Cheap Shop" can be singularly awesome. I recently bought a pile of DVDs – films, documentaries, sports and concerts (nothing if not eclectic) – and some CDs with money I got for Christmas/birthday (yes, I am almost 50… why do you ask?) and have spent too much time just losing myself in what I consider goodness.
I visited said cheap shop again last week and found a great double deal. Well, I consider it a great double deal: Eddie And The Cruisers. And not just the film; it was bundled with the soundtrack album! I already owned both, but in the process of a divorce, I've lost them, so I took the opportunity to replenish the stocks (so to speak).
Now, this film came out in 1983. I was 12 years old, in year eight (first year) at high school and as a kid, it passed me by. Apparently, it passed everyone by, because it bombed at the box office and the critics were, from what I can gather, not kind to it.
Still, it barely registered as a blip on my radar.
Fast forward three years. 1986, I was in year 11, 15 years old, and a mate named Chiz took it upon himself to introduce me to music I hadn't heard. Through him, I discovered early AC/DC albums, a band called Tank, some bizarre heavy metal… and the soundtrack album of Eddie And The Cruisers. I'd never heard of it before. But the opening track – 'On The Dark Side' – hooked me from the word go. This was some fine music.
Eddie And The Cruisers Soundtrack by John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band
The band in the film lip-synched to the music supplied by John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band. They actually did it quite well. But that can sometimes take away from the music. Listening to the album in isolation, it is quite an interesting piece of work.
First, they sound like they come from the same sort of background that gave birth to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, one of my favourites (yes, I know – so many favourites). Listening to the album, that's fine. But when put in with the film… I'm jumping ahead of myself.
The opening track is 'On The Dark Side', also the best track on the album, the song that started this for me. The piano opening into the rocking majority of piece, the profound lyrics, the great delivery – it is a good rock and roll song all on its own.
'Tender Years' is the obligatory ballad, and, once again, the lyrics are quite good and are what brings this up out of the pack.
'Runaround Sue' is the best of the cover songs on the album, but it is just another cover version, really, made above average by the delivery.
'Down On My Knees/Hang Up My Rock & Roll Shoes' is fine, but, really, it's just there.
'Wild Summer Nights' is very Springsteen-like. That's not a slur on it, because it is a fine track, but it does reek of homage, verging on pastiche.
'Boardwalk Angel' is another ballad, but, to me, it is the least track on the album. It's not terrible, it just doesn't grab me.
There's nothing really about 'Betty Lou's Got A New Pair Of Shoes' and 'Those Oldies But Goodies (Remind Me Of You)' to make them stand out. Again, not bad, but just there.
'Season In Hell (Fire Suite)' and 'Season In Hell (Reprise)' close the album out. These sound the least like Springsteen and are interesting songs and a good way to end the collection.
So, the album is a good album. It is filled with fine songs, none are bad, all are at the least listenable, and it is the sort of album to listen to and relax. The original songs are intriguing and quite literate, the musicianship is fine and the singing is great. There's certainly far, far worse out there.
So, here's 'On The Dark Side', the official music video.
Now, back to my story. Chiz had introduced me to the soundtrack, and I thought little of it. Then, at the end of 1986, I was hanging out with some people from my sport, and one of them mentioned the track 'On The Dark Side'. I perked up and mentioned I liked the song. Then someone else said they weren't a fan of the movie. "Movie?" I asked.
The next week, he lent me his copy of the film, on VHS, the first two trailers chewed up a little. I watched it alone and was amazed. I called Chiz. He came over and we watched it together. He said he'd seen it before, hired the video or something, but it was still a great film. To us. I went back to the sport club and the guy said I could keep it. Chiz then went and bought me the cassette of the soundtrack album.
I didn't care what anyone else said – I enjoyed both of them.
Eddie And The Cruisers (1983); Director – Martin Davidson; Starring – Tom Berenger, Michael Paré
This film is an interesting concept for the time, subsequently utilised in many other films. A reporter is trying to work out what happened to rock star Eddie Wilson, and so interviews those who knew him, which gives an excuse to cut back to the past and see the story unfold, and also have another story about the missing tapes of the lost album being sought by band members. Non-linear narrative, flashbacks, documentary/interview style pieces and other non-traditional filmic techniques make it an interesting movie from that viewpoint alone.
The story is set in 1983, and in 1963. Eddie disappeared in March 1964, and now a media organisation wants to investigate what happened to him and the tapes of the last album, that have also disappeared. In 1963, the band gets Frank Ridgeway in to help write songs, and he ends up playing piano. Eddie uses him to push the band to new territory, but they don't think they can do it. In 1983, the reporter brings up old memories and the band members get together for the first time in a long time, and old jealousies are reignited, and the tapes are sought by everyone. I won't give away what happens to the tapes, and the final denouement, just in case you haven't seen it, but it is not the most satisfying of endings. At the very end a documentary is made and released, and the closing scene, of a group of people watching TV in front of the TV store (remember doing that? I don't… did it still happen in 1983?) is odd… and I'm not sure about it. But, watching the film again, I think it fits. It fits the whole Arthur Rimbaud theme. It's actually a hell of a lot more literate than most people seem to give it credit for, and something I didn't pick up until I was in my 30s.
The acting is actually well done. Doc (Joe Pantoliano) as the guy trying desperately to get the past back is great, and – having watched a lot of music documentaries – his whole thing rings all too true. Sal (Matthew Laurance) as the old rocker now making a living doing covers of his own songs with a knock-off Cruisers is all too real to life, especially his "mad at" speech to Frank. But there is a reason Michael Paré and Tom Berenger are billed as the stars – their performances are wonderful. Berenger's turn as Frank, going from wide-eyed starstruck kid to muso to professor is really well done, and you would believe Michael Paré was singing and a rock and roller. His lip-synching is almost flawless, and his attitude is spot on. And his frustration at wanting to break out of a traditional rock system is very believable. More than that, his voice and the singing of the band he is mining to match almost perfectly.
Even the romance between Frank and Joanne (Helen Schneider) is actually done well, building up from the poetry of Rimbaud, though writing songs, to their kissing at Frank's old college, and then her singing after Wendell's death with Frank on piano… And then 20 years later and what happens then. Not forced, but quite… you know, the word I want to use is "sweet", is that the right one? He knows he is second choice after Eddie; she knows she accepting second-best. Satisfice personified. However, her character is a lot more peripheral than I think the story needs, though; she needs to be more prominent.
There are flaws. And the biggest is the music. As I've said above, the soundtrack is really good. But (and this is a big but), it is not the music of 1963. It is the music of 1973. It does not fit the pre-Beatles era of rocking America. Girl groups, the start of the folk boom, stars like Del Shannon and Roy Orbison, the start of the Beach Boys – Eddie and the Cruisers and the music they play in the film was not on the landscape back then. And the looping was not a part of music before The Beatles. It does stand out. Unfortunately.
Some of the scenes are too convenient – writing the song 'On The Dark Side' on the roof is one, the whole castle in the junkyard, and it still being there 20 years later, is another – and the character of the reporter (Ellen Barkin) feels very much like a cipher, not a character, even though she is the tie of the film. Some of the direction is also odd – the freeze-frame after finding Wendell's body for one, dogs at the junkyard just barking and howling for another. Little things, really. But…
So… Quote of the movie:
Eddie: "I want something great. I want something that nobody's ever done before."
Sal: "Why? We ain't great. We're just some guys from Jersey."
Eddie: "If we can't be great then there's no sense in ever playing music again…"
That's the dichotomy of the film. Eddie's vision versus the reality of the world.
Look, it's not a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination. It would appear in very few people's top 10 films (it's not in mine… sorry) and it certainly didn't win any awards. But it was still a fun film. And, I have to say, it was an enjoyable 90-odd minutes I spent watching it again.
Movie poster (from Wikipedia)
So, there you have it. The movie and soundtrack are not award-winning brilliant pieces of art, but they are definitely not terrible, not at all. This is something from my younger years that (much like St Elmo's Fire) has actually held up to scrutiny as an adult. Watching it now, for the first time in a very long time (maybe 15 years?), I actually picked things up that I'd missed before, like Eddie hugging Joanne goodbye, and not kissing her. That was a real "goodbye". And I found I enjoyed the tracks 'Tender Years' and 'Season In Hell' a lot more through adult ears.
Look, you can certainly do worse than find these. A lot worse.
I loved Eddie and the Cruisers saw it a number of times in the 80's. Wish I could find an old opshop copy somewhere.I know I've forgotten so much about it including the ultimate ending. Interesting review.