Screengrab Archive #6: Thanksgiving Edition!

[Originally posted 11/27/08]

by Andrew Osborne

I grew up right next door to Thanksgiving Town, USA: Plymouth, Massachusetts, former home of the Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians and future home of Plymouth Rock Studios and a nice big casino.

My next door neighbors used to work at Plimoth Plantation, where docent actors dress up in 17th century drag and mosey up and down the streets of a life-size replica Pilgrim settlement, discussing crops and Calvinism, while modern Native Americans in traditional buckskin attire give their side of the story in a nearby encampment.

So I like to think I know a thing or two about Thanksgiving. And let me tell you: it’s not all about the yams.

In fact, before the Macy’s Day Parade and the advent of that delicious Brundlefly monstrosity known as Turducken, the fourth Thursday of November was all about chowing down eel and corn and celebrating a bountiful harvest. In fact, as I learned on a recent visit to Plimoth Plantation, the name for the annual kick-off to the Christmas shopping season is actually a compound word that literally means “giving thanks”!

And so, as we here at the Screengrab prepare our traditional Turkey Day feast of pretzel sticks, jelly beans, two slices of toast and a handful of popcorn, we’d like to just take a few moments to express our gratitude for the people, places and movies that made us the full-on film geeks we are today.


WHAT’S UP, DOC? (1950 & 1972)

Forget Mickey Mouse: Bugs Bunny was there from the start, teaching me the importance of carrots, proper directions to Albuquerque and a wised-up appreciation of life (for all its feathered frenemies, megalomaniacal Martians and gun-toting Fudds). So I was a bit disappointed when I realized What’s Up, Doc? (the first movie I can remember seeing in a theater) wasn’t a cartoon…but Peter Bogdanovich’s madcap screwball homage soon won me over with its igneous rocks and silly accents and, especially, that endless, blissful car chase through the streets, alleys and staircases of San Francisco (and, eventually, San Francisco Bay). All that (plus a gratifying act three cameo by Mr. Bunny himself!) made this goofy-smart romantic comedy my first favorite movie, and it only got better with time as I grew up and came to appreciate the chemistry of Ryan O’Neal and Barbara Streisand (both at their cinematic finest) and the comedic brilliance of the irreplaceable Madeline Kahn, Austin Pendleton and Kenneth Mars. But the real reason this movie’s on the list is so I can say thank you to my film geek parents for always bringing me to whatever movie they went to go see on a Saturday night (even when it scared the bejesus out of me), thus instilling a life-long love of pop culture that’s guided my cinematic view of the world ever since. (Thanks, Mom & Dad!)

STAR WARS (1977)

I’ve already written an embarrassing number of posts about the life-changing religious experience of seeing this movie as an excitable, impressionable ten year old nerd, but looking back on it now, I can only say…George Lucas, all is forgiven. (And besides, what’s Thanksgiving without The Star Wars Holiday Special?)


Given the embarrassing Baby Boomer reverence for Lawrence Kasdan’s self-congratulatory, navel-gazing Love Generation touchstone of growing up and selling out (not to mention the way the film pretty much ruined all the songs on its mega-hit Motown soundtrack by making them go-to clichés for every subsequent entry in the “Diane Keaton dancing around a living room” genre), this one almost wound up on last week’s Guilty Pleasures list. But despite all the people who deride the film as just a shallow rip-off of John Sayles’ Return of the Secaucus Seven, I have no guilt and nothing but love for The Big Chill. I first saw it after a particularly painful orthodontist’s appointment in my junior year of high school, and though I may not have been the intended target audience, I took the movie instantly to heart, partly for its evocation of the sixties (an era I romanticized desperately in the Just Say No Reagan eighties), but mostly for its celebration of the enduring power of friendship.


Then, after high school, I stopped Saying No and dove headfirst into the psychedelic wonderland of college, that freaky, institutionalized Rumspringa when America’s sons and daughters move away from home and go batshit crazy for a year or three. After spending the first eighteen years of my life as an upright goody two-shoes, I was itching to break bad and take a walk on the trashy side…and when it comes to desperate living, I quickly discovered there was no better tour guide than John Waters and his large and lovely muse, Divine. From Mondo Trasho to Hairspray, Baltimore’s favorite son and fake daughter warped my young adult mind with their glorious bad taste, healthy disrespect for convention and pre-punk aesthetic, while also serving as self-made role models of DIY ingenuity for those determined to live a life less ordinary.


In 1993, my then-girlfriend and I attended an L.A. cast and crew screening of Dazed and Confused (with, if memory serves, my future Screengrab colleague Scott Von Doviak). We didn’t know any of the soon-to-be-famous actors in the stellar ensemble cast (including Matthew McConaughey, Adam Goldberg, Parker Posey and Ben Affleck) when the lights went down, but when the lights came up, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by characters we’d only just met but felt like we’d known forever: hey, look! It’s O’Bannion and Darla! And over there! It’s Wooderson! (All right, all right, all right!) A few months later, I got dumped by the aforementioned girlfriend, but numerous subsequent screenings of Dazed and Confused helped to ease the pain, and today I remember Richard Linklater’s last day of school and first night of summer vacation at least as fondly as my actual high school experience.


Some movies you see and forget just as soon as the lights come up. Pulp Fiction was not one of those movies. In 1994, I spent every last dime I had (and a lot of dimes that I didn’t have) attempting to surf the Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes indie renaissance with my own no-budget 16mm production, Apocalypse Bop (starring the indomitable Mr. Von Doviak), which I’d spent the summer directing back in my home town near Thanksgiving Town, USA. At the time, I was living in Los Angeles, and so when the movie wrapped, I decided to road trip back to the West Coast with a couple of friends from the Bop shoot. Stopping for breakfast in Austin, Texas, one of those friends met a girl and couldn’t stop thinking about her, so when we finally reached California, he called her up and asked if she wanted to go see Pulp Fiction with him on opening night. She said yes, and so he turned around and flew right back to Austin. Meanwhile, my return to L.A. woke me up from my filmmaking fandango to the cold, hard reality that I was unemployed, with no prospects and no money to pay my rent. I had exactly twenty dollars to my name. And I’m happy to say I spent that twenty dollars on popcorn and a ticket to go see the opening night of Pulp Fiction with my pals in the San Fernando Valley, while my other friend was watching the same movie on the same night on his cross-country date in The Lone Star State. He wound up staying in Austin for the next several years, and days after watching Jules and Vincent Vega strut across the screen to the strains of “Misirlou,” my own bacon got snatched from the brink of disaster by an out-of-the-blue offer to go work on a war movie in the Philippines. And so I’m eternally grateful to have once been young and foolish enough to have those kinds of adventures, living in extremis at exactly the right time and with exactly the right people the night Quentin Tarantino got medieval on our ass.


And speaking of Austin, the city of Slacker has been, at different times, my literal and spiritual home away from home for years now, and never is it more glamorous (or crowded) than the middle of March, when the capitol of Texas plays host to the South-By-Southwest music and film festival, a fantastic collision of pop culture, booze and barbecue that makes Thanksgiving look like Arbor Day. Every spring, it renews my faith in the vaunted “indie film” spirit (even though I’m old enough to know better), and then every summer, I take another, mellower sip of the indie Kool-Aid (not to mention the world’s best Bloody Marys) at the Provincetown Film Festival, with John Waters presiding as patron saint in the same way Richard Linklater is the Mayor of South-By…and with all that friggin’ indie spirit washing over me, it was only a matter of time before I succumbed once again to its siren song, so I’ll just wrap up this list with thanks to my collaborators on The Meat City Beatniks, an indie film musical (co-written by me, Scott Von Doviak, Eric Jacobson and Jim Dryden) and starring Elliot Dort, Ben Gallant, Sheree Bass, Matthew Woodward, Rob McKim, Ms. Amar, Joe Gallo, Michael Sesling, Kellianne MacFarlane, Bill Christensen and Amy Jeglinski-Osborne…a production which (thankfully) I mostly managed to wrap in 2008 and which will (hopefully) premiere in 2009…so stay tuned! (And have a Happy Thanksgiving!)


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