September 11, 2008

Our Bid for Immortality Turns All Silvery

By Dan Craft

To celebrate the silver anniversary of everybody's favorite made- around-here movie, we decided it was time to revisit what we've been hoping has matured into a misunderstood masterpiece.

In other words: a sleeper ahead of its time. As opposed to: the movie that put us to sleep when it was unleashed to theaters a year later.

We're referring, of course, to "Grandview, USA," that silver- screen milestone we've been milking for newsprint mileage ever since we began covering it a quarter of a hundred Septembers ago this very week.

Along with most of the citizenry of Pontiac, we were in the movie, playing the important-to-the-plot roles of "parade passers- by running down street as bus goes by carrying Jamie Lee Curtis."

Why wouldn't we be hanging onto this sucker like a life preserver? It's our one bid for immortality.

And, no, we didn't mean to type "immorality," even though some of the stories we heard on the sidelines about cast-and-crew shenanigans around town were enough to starch our collars.

To be honest, we've only watched the film all the way through two times over the past quarter century.

The first occurred back in the summer of '84 when we were smuggled, incognito, into an exhibitors' screening of the movie in Chicago, nearly two months before it was set to open.

As a result, this paper became the first publication anywhere to publish a review of the film (not that publications anywhere were beating down the doors to be first).

In retrospect, we probably should have been busted by the secret screening police. But more for our waffling review than our covert smuggling activities. ("Yes, officer, we plead guilty to six counts of felony optimism.") Instead of laying our cards on the table, we hedged our bets by assigning that most bets-hedging of ratings, a 2- star review for non-Pontiac denizens, while bumping it up to a wildly optimistic three-star review for those residing within.

Our rosy-tinted glasses never budged an inch as we extolled every last vestige of virtue we could squeeze out of what was frankly a disjointed and oft-times condescending portrait of small-town Midwestern life.

We waited 10 years before trying it on for size again.

This, time we viewed the film on a VHS cassette someone had made of the movie on a TV screen at Jay's Appliances in Pontiac, in the company of some of the Pontiac movers-and-shakers who were intimately involved in the movie's making, including former mayor Dale Campbell.

"This boy's not doing much now," Campbell observed of the film's credited male lead, C. Thomas Howell, the young actor who, just two summers earlier, had been one of the kids in "E.T.," and then scored teen points in "The Outsiders."

Hot stuff in '83; a fixture on Cinemax After Dark by '93.

Ten years and 90 minutes later, Campbell graded "Grandview, USA" a two-star film.

Another viewer that day was Frank T. Panno, the Pontiac Realtor who arranged living accommodations for Curtis, Howell, Patrick Swayze, John Cusack and other cast members. He was even more unforgiving, assigning the film a spartan 1 stars.

As the only person in the room who could admit to a three-star rating in his past, boy was our face mauve.

Perhaps salvation would come 'round to his way of thinking next anniversary.

As we said, we'd planned on taking in the movie in a third time this week, hoping for The Big Revelation lurking within - the proverbial movie ahead of its time, like, oh, say, Orson Welles' originally loathed, later loved "Touch of Evil," starring Jamie Lee's mom, Janet Leigh.

Alas: after checking with the gatekeepers at video rental overlords Netflix, we were told that "Grandview, USA" is one of the few major-studio movies from 1984 that have never been released on DVD.

So, to make a long column short: guess we won't be revisiting this possibly unsung, misunderstood masterpiece after all.

Be patient, though.

We'll try it again when "Grandview" turns to gold in 2033, and no one, repeat no one, will know what the heck we're yakking about.

(c) 2008 Pantagraph. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.