Yawning in the Aisles by Stephen Macaulay


Stranger Than Paradise; A film by Jim Jarmusch; Samuel Goldwyn.


Stop Making Sense; A film by Jonathan Demme and Talking Heads; Cinecom/Island Alive.


All the praise that has been heaped on these films might lead you to suppose that Jarmusch and Demme — and the assembled Talking Heads, under the direction and supervision of David Byrne — have created cinematic texts of the first order. But the best that Stranger Than Paradise and Stop Making Sense can say for themselves is that they are, to use a phrase that will identify the group to which I am referring, “talkin’ about my ge-ge-gen­ generation.” If they are as good as it gets, then the Baby Boomers ought to stick to Trivial Pursuit.



Stranger Than Paradiseis a cut above art movies — the type of thing the same people are now making with their VCR equipment. Here we have a collection of vignettes about two New York hipsters and a Hungarian immigrant, the cousin of one of the bebop­ pers. As we watch the banality of life lived in a run-down, one-room apartment-sleeping, drinking beer, watching the Yankees play on the small black-and-white set-another title for the film begins to emerge: Welcome to America? The question mark is vital. The only thing that could be more yawn-inspiring would be a trip to Cleveland in the dead of winter-and sure enough, Jarmusch provides one. To be sure, Stranger Than Paradise is one of the most un­ pretentious films to make it beyond small college auditoriums and coffee­ house backrooms, but so what?


Stop Making Senseis a concert film. It shows the once avant-garde and now quasi-mainstream Talking Heads in action. Unlike Gimme Shelter, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Concert for Bangladesh, or any of the others, Stop Making Sense concentrates on the performers instead of the woman in the front row shakin’ it, or the paramedics carting out limp bodies. David Byrne, stumbling around like a spastic, is the thing. If Stop Making Sense is cinema verite, then it’s no longer a sin to tell a lie.           cc



Long Ride Home by Herbert London


Lost in America; Produced by Marty Katz; Directed by Albert Brooks; Written by Albert Brooks and Monica Johnson.


Whatever happened to the “dropped out, turned on” Captain America of Easy Rider, who for a brief time captured the hearts of Hollywood moguls and the minds of hip urbanites longing for a life free of convention and restraints? In the age of Reagan, this mythological figure reappears as a yup­ pie in Albert Brooks’s Lost in America. This guileless tale of two urban professionals attempting to drop out of the proverbial rat race reveals another side of the Easy Rider experience.


Albert Brooks is an advertising executive with a major firm. He is responsible — a word perceived as a pejorative. He is imaginative, as his boss readily concedes. He is on a fast track, as his dreams of a Mercedes with dark brown exterior and tan interior suggest. But one day he finds himself derailed. Instead of getting the vice presidency he was almost sure of, he is asked to relocate to New York for a minor position. Incensed at the suggestion, he quits his job to relive the exploits in his Easy Rider fantasies.


But this is the 80’s, and Brooks is a yuppie, not a yippie. He buys an elegant motor home to cross the country (Harley Davidsons don’t have indoor plumbing). He cashes in his assets for a “nest egg” — no need to live off the land or depend on his friends. But life on the road isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. At his stop in Las Vegas, his wife discovers a compulsion for gam­ bling. By the time he awakens, she has blown their nest egg at the roulette table. This dream of carefree travel among the indigenes is shattered like the hippie vision of an unrestrained social paradise.


It quickly dawns on our hero that he and his wife had better find jobs. But opportunities in a small Arizona town are not what they are in Los Angeles. The   $100,000 a year executive is obliged to become a school crossing guard and his charming wife, who used to be a personnel director, is tickled pink to find employment at a fast-food stand. By now, husband and wife have begun to realize that their dream of discovering America is a fraud. Instead of driving out into the sunset, destination unknown, they speed as quickly as their motor home will permit to New York. The adventurer has had enough of adventure to know that if he must eat crow to regain his position, so be it. The grass isn’t greener on the other side of bourgeois America; those who have been there know.


Brooks’s comedy reveals more about contemporary life — I believe — than its writers may have intended. For one thing, the dream of wanderlust hasn’t vanished; it has been remodeled to suit ambitious, acquisitive executives. For another thing, the 60’s are now as alien as the 30’s. If anything, Lost in America is making fun of the Big Chill generation, who cling to their interred visions with all the passion of necrophiliacs.


Most people finally realize that you don’t have to travel or undergo analysis or divest yourself of possessions to find yourself. The search is coming to an end because the Eden Express always returns home. There is no magic  in the search; there is only the hard and sometimes unrewarding work of being all you can be. Life’s trials aren’t always conquered, nor can they be avoided.


Our hero in Lost in America was lost for only a short time, long enough to realize that his fantasy wasn’t compatible with the actual.  The value of dreams is that they don’t have to be tested. Albert Brooks, however, tried to make his fantasy into a life. But like all the refugees from the overheated decade, his psyche crashed on the perilous rocks of empirical evidence. He, at least, has the good sense to reject his bogus fantasy and return to the world that provides him with re­ wards and satisfaction.


The 60’s cultural convulsion has finally passed. The life of escape has been replaced by bourgeois verities. Clearly, the marketers have changed the bourgeois image so that the aspiring middle class can now be yuppies. But it hardly matters. The yellow brick road to contentment is paved with hard work, imagination, and middle­class conventions. As the Buddha (especially the Buddha preached by Irving Babbitt) said, there is no easy way to nirvana, only unremitting effort. cc