For a while, the American road-trip film was steeped in cynicism and fear of the unknown frontiers of the nation. Sure, the open road was a thing of beauty and wonder. But take one wrong turn and you might find your free spirits blown to bits by a redneck with a double-barrel à la Easy Rider and end up hanging from a meat hook in some Texas slaughterhouse or a radioactive mutant's cave.
With the filmic revolution of the late '60s and '70s in the rearview and the world becoming more interconnected, the early '80s demanded a new kind of road-trip flick, something that tamped down the regional paranoia to a punch line and turned the open road back to a celebration of the flawed modern American family. After The Muppet Movie and The Blues Brothers, road-trip comedies crested with National Lampoon's Vacation.
An R-rated studio comedy about the misadventures of a family on a cross-country trip was actually fresh back in 1983, before the Griswold clan turned into a multifilm franchise, complete with last year's reboot. While the formula has been repeated ad nauseam since European Vacation, almost everything here still clicks, from the children's angst at their parents' near-psychotic drive for nostalgia to Lindsey Buckingham's "Holiday Road" repeatedly blaring on the soundtrack.
While many films of this ilk are dinged for being episodic, here it just feels like stops on the map. As the film bounds from Chicago to L.A., we get the sense of an actual, lived-in trip, including the long stretches of nothingness punctuated by cloying family idiocy and highway hypnosis. There is cringing racial insensitivity at an early stop in the ghetto and Clark geeking out at a tourist-trap Western town. For those who have endured their own cross-country memory road, it all rings true for good or ill.
Vacation laid the groundwork for everything from Pee-wee's Big Adventure to We're the Millers and Road Trip, but has never been bested for its sheer perfection in cramming an entire family's dynamic into a station wagon and sending them down the highway. Road trips these days are modern affairs where tech takes over from games like "I Spy," The Griswolds' version of a family trip still hits home. Watching Vacation, like the road trip itself, is a summer tradition.
GO: National Lampoon's Vacation opens Tuesday, May 24, at Mission Theater.
Like "1999" at weddings and "Sexy MF" on fuck-buddy mixtapes, Purple Rain should henceforth have a permanent place on Portland theater schedules. Select screenings are sing-alongs during this run, though, let's be honest, every screening of this movie is a sing-along. Mission Theater. Opens Wednesday, May 18.
Pix's Movies at Dusk series makes the logical move of linking adorable French desserts with adorably twee French art cinema with Amelie. Pix Patisserie. Dusk, Wednesday, May 18.
Stand By Me gets its first resurrection of the summer, no-doubt leading to new parents misremembering it as a kid-friendly coming-of-age movie and blushing for a full two hours. Mission Theater. Opens Wednesday, May 18.
Reel Jazz does its monthly thing with As Time Goes by in Shanghai, which is essentially the Chinese jazz equivalent of The Buena Vista Social Club. Clinton Street Theater. 7 pm Thursday, May 19.
Actor-turned-director Charles Laughton got one shot at directing a film, and it turned out to be a dud with both audiences and critics. 61 years later, Night of the Hunter is considered one of the revolutionary and genuinely creepy chillers of all time, with Robert Mitchum's monomaniacal reverend somehow more intensely unsettling than the actor's foray into calypso music. Laurelhurst Theater. Friday-Thursday, May 27-June 2.
Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene is called the father of African cinema, and his startling 1966 debut, the 65-minute Black Girl, is a powerhouse drama in which a young woman from Senegal loves to France, dreaming of a life of privilege while the ghosts of Colonialism loom large over—HEY GUYS! Somebody should do a French colonial themed crepe restaurant on Mississippi! NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium. 7 pm Friday-Saturday & Monday, May 20-23.
Back in 1973, some scrappy kids from New York named De Niro and Keitel and Scorsese made a microbudget movie about crime and thug life in New York. And while those guys all went on to bigger things, Mean Streets remains one of the most important and entertaining films of the era. Academy Theater. Friday-Thursday, May 27-June 2.
The NW Film Center's "Through Their Eyes" run of Native American films continues with 2005's Trudell (Wednesday), a doc about activist and poet John Trudell; 2013 Canadian revenge fantasy Rhymes for Young Ghouls (Thursday); 2009 drama Kissed by Lightning (Saturday); and more. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium. See NWfilm.org for full listings.
There are grimier, uglier, more misogynistic takes of the "women-in-prison" genre, but 1983's Chained Heat—featuring a post-Exorcist Linda Blair plopped into yet another battle for her soul, among other things—is the ultimate, if only because it features legendary supporting douchebag John Vernon as a warden who installs a hot tub in his office. Hollywood Theatre. 7:30 pm Tuesday, May 24.
The Reel Science program pairs Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory with a talk by Charley Wheelock of Woodblock Chocolate, who might be considered Portland's Wonka, if only he was a prolific child murderer and slaver. OMSI. 6:30 pm Tuesday, May 24.