Scenes of Teens

B eing a pseudonym and all, Dewitt has no scruples about admitting his fervent love for the teen sex flick

Being a pseudonym and all, Dewitt has no scruples about admitting his fervent love for the teen sex flick (TSF). Sex is better than violence, of course, and the glut of films featuring pasty-faced male adolescents getting their weenies in an uproar over outrageously mature-looking 15-year-old femmes fatales has left Dewitt standing in line with any number of pre-pubescent townies to slap down a fiver for this particular pleasure.

It is not enough to say that post-Animal House TSFs have been bad. They have been frightfully horrid. But to stop at that smug conclusion would be snobbish, and Dewitt has been trying for years to understand the culture of kitsch.

For some reason, purely prurient I'm sure, the teen flick genre has been outrageously successful, not because the movies are so bad, but because their essential badness in itself serves as a powerful but unwitting critique of middle-class mores. The movies' phallocentricity allows them to literally epater la bourgeoisie. And that, as avant garde flick fans know, is radical and bitchin' to the max.

Scholarly cinema fans should rewind their Bergman and Eisenstein and grab ahold of some textual analysis of this year's crop of TSFs. BETTER OFF DEAD (Sack Charles) is truly a watershed TSF, a self-referential picture that turns the genre on its head like nothing since David Smith. Students of pretentious but largely irrelevant allusions remember that David Smith made his sculpture by piecing together already recognizable objects and proved that sculpture needed to be no more than the sum of its pre-formed parts. Likewise, Better Off Dead tosses on the screen a collection of objets trouves from past TSFs, woven together in a style that both draws on early TSF work (cf: Risky Business, Hot Dog) and yet sculpts a unique and, I believe, ultimately transcendent vision.

The TSF plot, like Kabuki, has become stylized. Boy with zits and chutzpah lusts after girl with good complexion. Girl becomes infatuated with Vitalis man, who is dumb but fulfills basic elements of the Eisenhowerera American dream.

Boy learns to believe in himself (because if he doesn't, he's nobody, and doesn't deserve to make it with the clean-skinned dumb blonde). Girl number two, who though insanely beautiful has been ignored for more than an hour of the film, comes to his rescue (cf: Secret Admirer). He humiliates Mr. Vitalis and they go on an old-fashioned date.

Better Off Dead uses this plot line not as a primary force, but as a cinematic exoskeleton under which the filmmaker can pit dueling concepts of American culture against each other. His tools are the carcasses of TSF's past, and the eagle-eyed student can detect flairs of John Hughes' best absurdist work, a soupcon of Risky Business's self-knowing psychological slant on civilization and its discontents, and a brief but illuminating pillaging of Woody Allen's treasure trove of neuroses (cf: post-tennis scene with Diane Keaton on her terrace in Annie Hall).

GREGORY'S GIRL (Harvard Square, Sunday) may have been Scotland's answer to the TSF, but its unrelentingly upbeat tone draws more on the pre-libido period in American cinema than from the id-crazed rantings of the genre's second R-rated period.

Gregory, one of three excellent John Forsyth offerings to hit this shore in recent years, has so many people saying "great" and "super" in quaint Scottish gurgles that one wishes Porky would pop in and mutter some indescribable obscenity. Forsyth is to be commended, however, for his ability to remain bemused at all times, even when the urge to mutter pseudo-profundities about self-respect becomes almost unbearable.

The same cannot be said about BEVERLY HILLS COP (Harvard Square Friday), Eddie Murphy's star vehicle thinly clad in the guise of blood-drenched cop drama about bad people killing good people and good people killing bad people. There is nothing subtle about this movie. In fact, we are so painfully aware of utter disposability of the plot that we wish Murphy would just step out of the screen and dish out his lines stand-up style. If you need to see people kill each other, go hack up your dormmates.

After seeing modern movies edited so tightly that scenes change before the actors even finish their lines, and the protagonists' characters developed to the sophistication of early Mickey Mouse cartoons, it is sometimes disorienting to see movies like 1944's GASLIGHT (Harvard's Carpenter Center, Sunday). Gaslight is all mood and atmosphere, as scenes unfold slowly and tension builds so unhurriedly that you're squirming by the beginning of hour two.

Gaslight comes complete with an Academy Award-winning performance by Ingrid Bergman, a wonderfully oily turn by Charles Boyer, and Angela Lansbury as a teenager in an early role. Bergman is haunting as a naive young maid who is duped by primo sleazebag Boyer, who wants to steal her family jewels. The ending is so trite and stylized that one half expects a knight in shining armor to stride up the stairs of Bergman's London townhouse. But this is mere Kabuki '40s style, so just lap up Bergman, who hits some real highs during her (and our) two-hour angst-holiday in hell.