The first annual BAM: Beer and Movie Fest closes this Thursday, Feb. 25, with a screening of A Night in Heaven at the Mission Theater. WW Screen editor Aaron Mesh asked his co-curator, Jacques Boyreau, to make a case for the movie.
In 1983, John G. Avildsen, the director of Rocky, made A Night in Heaven, and it bombed like a nuke. His male-stripper rendition of Xanadu was hated; rejected on grounds of being stupid, sleazy and bad-funny. The career of boy-toy starlet Christopher Atkins was terminally humiliated. Avildsen got wise to the goo-gloss agenda of the '80s and came back with the definitively immature and incredibly popular The Karate Kid. Just a month ago, I finally caught up with A Night in Heaven, and it changed my world.
A good field for argument is whether it is better for a movie to consume an audience, or to be consumed by an audience. Most product is pandering, permitting meager room for a voyeur to be taken off to some new place. I prefer being taken to being given to. What a movie gives might be its genius but is definitely not its power, because a generous movie will always take more than it gives. Movies with a power that is unconsumable are not necessarily uncompromising. They may be the most accessible, easy-to-get-into movies you've ever seen, except that at some level they are totally fucking with you. It happens during that one scene that is the raison d'être. Not some pivotal plot point, not some gorgeous bit of acting, not some masterful technique, but all of these things with an add-on of something so perversely empathetic that it stops time—not just real time, but also movie time. So, I like that.
What are some raison d'etre scenes? The ending of The Wild Bunch…the first close-up of Orson Welles in The Third Man…the chest rip in Alien…the split of the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments…the "You fuck my wife?" in Raging Bull. And in A Night in Heaven, there is a major raison d'être. It is the scene in which frustrated Lesley Ann Warren discovers her student Rick is the ecstatic, Tron-costumed king of male stripperdom. The combination of Warren's molten shame, the club's juicy decor, Jan Hammer's soft '80s metal and, above all, Christopher Atkins' hermaphroditism (he makes Gary Oldman in Prick Up Your Ears look straight; he makes Travolta in Saturday Night Fever look gay; he makes Schwarzenegger in The Terminator look unfocused) makes A Night in Heaven a powerful color of hell.
screens Thursday, Feb. 25, at 10 pm at the Mission Theater.