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White Wall Cinema's Top 6 1980s Movies

Posted on April 16 2019

Beyond Retro has recently been teaming up with Brighton pop up cinema crew White Wall Cinema as they put on a series of secret 80s themed film screenings in our Brighton North Laine store to celebrate 10 years of the legendary Brighton 80s party It Is Still 1985.

If you want to celebrate 10 years of 80s dancing each and every Saturday then you can join It is still 1985 weekly at The Haunt nightclub in Brighton, and also you can apply for free tickets to one of their upcoming secret 80s White Wall Cinema film screenings located in our Brighton store. The identity of the movie being screened is kept a secret until it actually starts on the night, there is only one guarantee, it will be VERY 80s.

To explore the decade a bit further we asked White Wall Cinema to pick another six of the best 80s movies that represent the era to them. They might not be the most obvious choices from the era like The Breakfast Club or Back To The Future, but these are White Wall Cinema's picks of six movies that quietly defined the decade.

Das Boot (1981)

Wolfgang Petersen's epic tale of WW2 submariners was originally released in West German cinemas in 1981 and then later became a sensation around the world even garnering six Oscar nominations, an unheard of feat for a foreign language feature. It uniquely allowed viewers worldwide a look at World War 2 from the much lesser seen German perspective. That coupled with its literal visual perspective from inside the confines of a U-boat has made Das Boot a classic of cinematic invention and a virtual byword for claustrophobia and tension.

The 149 minute Theatrical Cut, and 208 minute Director's Cut however are both outstripped by the almighty 'uncut version' (which can also be viewed as a miniseries) which clocks in at just shy of 5 hours, blurring the line between feature film and TV series just as David Lynch did recently when he confirmed he saw the new Twin Peaks, not as a TV series but as a 17 hour feature film. The fact that 5 hours is watchable in one go (it is, we have done it) and that the beautifully nuanced characters can be so deeply empathised with on a human level despite the fact they are literally fighting on behalf of Nazi Germany, shows the brilliance of Petersen's creation. It is this human connection that perhaps makes Das Boot the most effective anti-war statement ever committed to celluloid.

Down By Law (1986)

Whereas the 70s saw the blossoming of young auteurs like Scorsese, Coppola, and Spielberg taking over and redefining traditional Hollywood movies, the 80s perhaps saw an even more rebellious streak from directors that would never truly integrate with Hollywood as the independent movie scene started to truly emerge from the shadows and clear a path for its almost full-scale mainstream acceptance into movie culture by the end of the 90s.

The undisputed king of American indie cinema has always been Jim Jarmusch, one of the defining moments of his career would perhaps be one of the most defining moments in cinema history as Jarmusch took Jim Lurie, Tom Waits (yes the musician) and Roberto Benigni (director/lead actor of Life Is Beautiful fame) and cast them into the American deep south as three escaped prisoners on the run. Shot in cool black and white tones and with it's opening Robby Muller camera pan soundtracked by Tom Waits’ 'Jockey Full Of Bourbon' it's a moment that opened the floodgates for rebellious D.I.Y. filmmakers the world over.

The Terminator (1984)

These days it's easy to forget the simple brilliance of James Cameron's 1984 Sci-Fi flick, and indeed the how vibrant the concoction of familiar elements mixed in a new way would have been. Several decades of Arnold Schwarzenegger playing it more for comedy as opposed to just relying on his brute force (purely as a reaction to the public persona he created in this film) plus his term as governor has diminished the legend of this film, alongside Cameron's own follow up with Arnie in what is now more popular and comedic sequel T2: Judgement Day. Terminator 2 in many ways represented the big box office sequels of the 90s, but the original Terminator film is both a purer and somehow also a more bastardised form of cinema.

It took elements of low budget horror and Sci-Fi, teamed it with a great John Carpenter like concept to create one of those movies with a premise that is brilliant in the way it allows the viewer to imagine a million ideas that lie just beyond the edges of the film's vision. But despite the premise being a certain kind of brilliant, it is also essentially ludicrous, but the way Cameron mixes previously well-trodden B movie territory into a unique new formula the silliness somehow matters not as his unique concoction of old elements remixed for the 80s offers a blueprint for the shape of Hollywood cinema to come. Despite only having a handful of lines (perhaps for the best) Arnie became an instant icon of the 80s overnight and the phrase "I'll Be Back" has been echoed over and over again at all levels of pop culture continuously. The Terminator manages to take something a bit dumb and actually make it very exciting, stylish and even possibly slightly intriguing without ever really pretending it's something more than it is. Deceptively brilliant, it provided the raw materials for Cameron's future productions that would smash all box office records in Titanic and Avatar.

Wall Street (1987)

Oliver Stone is a giant of cinema who isn't oft discussed in the temporary landscape of cinema. Era and cinema defining movies like Platoon, Natural Born Killers and JFK have sort of been lost from the discussion these days. During the series of screenings we at White Wall Cinema have been organising in order to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Brighton's legendary 80s party It is still 1985, we have focussed on 80s movies that have a specifically 80s feel to them. Many truly great movies from any era have a timeless quality to them. If you look at a movie like The Matrix, for example, it actually looks rather dated and very 90s when compared to say Blade Runner, despite Blade Runner is more than a decade older than the Keanu Reeves bullet time bonanza. This is because as fun as The Matrix is, it can't compete with the inspired classic production design of Ridley Scott that can (when watching the restored print) fool you into the thinking the movie could have been made yesterday. In this case of a classic movie, however, Wall Street is that most 80s of movies. It feels 80s to its very core, not just because the theme from the movie is Talking Heads "This Must Be Place (Naive Melody)" which opens the film, but because of its central preoccupation which is perhaps the central preoccupation of American society at the time,... greed. Capitalism dripped from the screen in Hollywood like never before in the 80s, as climbing the economic ladder and the pursuit of money at any cost was seen as virtues in a whole host of movies from the era.

Superficiality was the order of the day, and even movies like Blade Runner which were essentially quite arty in nature had much more of a bent towards the aesthetic. Even France's filmmakers of the day were known as being part of "Le Look", a cinema movement classified as being style over substance. Quite the departure from the French New Wave of the 60s. One of the things that appeal to us about Wall Street is that it's actually a very moral movie, but most famously it's "greed is good" mantra espoused by Gordon Gekko (the movie's central villain played by Michael Douglas) accidentally inspired a generation of city trader types to be even more ruthless than those Stone was trying to portray, because compared to Charlie Sheen's character, who ultimately comes down on the side of morality, and Douglas's character getting his comeuppance in the end, for most of the movie it looked like it was the bad guy having all the fun.

Much like Stone's earlier screenplay Scarface, Stone tried to show (realistically) the bad guy was engaging in these risky immoral behaviours for a reason, the money, the power, and it's perks. It seemed like so much fun in fact that future real-life gangsters both those engaged in the drug trade and the 'legitimate' gangster types known as Wall Street traders were willing to ignore the eventual fall from grace of Tony Montana in Scarface and Gordon Gekko in Wall Street simply because there were big rewards to be had in the meantime. In Wall Street's case, we see it's an evolution into characters like Jordan Belfort, in Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street and ultimately the financial crash of 2008. Very rarely has a movie so vividly held a mirror up to society's ills highlighting the climate of the day and then later become such an extreme case of life imitating art, with Stone's Wall Street essentially predicting and perhaps even partially causing the madness to come.

Batteries Not Included (1987)

The 80s were a golden age for family films, thanks in large part to Steven Spielberg's masterpiece E.T. It's not often a film is both such big a box office success and yet also so full of charm and heartfelt sentiment. Spielberg would go on to try and recapture these elements numerous times by producing (but not always directing) a string of family movies (with varying levels of success) that often had Sci-Fi Fantasy elements like Back To The Future, Innerspace, The Goonies, Hook, Jurassic Park and this 1987 minor family film classic ostensibly about a group of tiny robots from outer space "Batteries Not Included".

Films attempting to recreate that Spielbergian Sci-Fi family touch were rife across the industry at the time with efforts like Short Circuit and Flight of the Navigator seemingly all over the box office, but it was Spielberg produced Matthew Robbin's directed "Batteries Not Included" that perhaps had the most success in recreating that central element that was so important to the formula, in that the movie actually had genuine heart. Despite feeling a bit dated in a number of ways, the film is imbued with a real sense of care and love for its ensemble cast. The virtue of loving and caring for those around you is sensitively imparted in this 80s tale that, in itself, is a kickback against the unrestrained capitalism of the 80s, as unscrupulous property developers attempt to nefariously run sitting tenants out of their old shabby apartment building in order to free up more land for yet another New York City skyscraper.

The film is the screenwriting debut of Brad Bird who later brought us such wonderful family fare as The Iron Giant, the two Incredibles movies, the much loved Ratatouille, the somewhat underappreciated Tomorrowland: A World Beyond and not forgetting his action movie, the genuinely brilliant Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. Bird's script and characters in "Batteries..." are surprisingly touching and heartfelt throughout, and despite the intervention in the property developers plans seemingly coming from outer space, the tiny robots and the human residents of the building are so lovingly rendered and beautifully expressed it feels very much like it's the small acts of kindness between the films different characters that succeed in holding back the evil tide of the money grabbing developers. Even the most cynical of viewers will likely fall in love with the cast of this cheesy but worthwhile 80s family film.

One From The Heart (1982)

Tom Waits makes another appearance on the list as he scores this insanely brilliant and wonderfully idiosyncratic musical... where no one sings. Wait's duets with Crystal Gayle continuously soundtrack the lavish soundstage pseudo musical production that essentially bankrupted legendary Godfather and Apocalypse Now director Francis Ford Coppola. We at White Wall Cinema screened this at one of our secret movie clubs previously and seemingly no one in the room had ever heard of the film, let alone seen it, but it mesmerised the whole audience. It's this sort of hidden gem we aim to dig up at White Wall Cinema screenings and this one really hit the mark. It's a mix of lush music, a brilliant cast of players including Raul Julia (Yes! Gomez Addams!), Nastassja Kinski, Harry Dean Stanton and it's exceptional cinematography, lighting and set design enchants in an off-kilter way that most viewers have never seen before. It plays with the traditional artifice of the classic big-budget Hollywood musicals of yesteryear by adding a contemporary and arthouse feel to its mix and pumping the artifice (and neon) up to 11.

It's a forgotten masterpiece the likes of which only a legendary director breaking away from the major Hollywood studios, totally intent on complete artistic control, and totally hell-bent on bankrupting himself, could possibly create. Coppola was only in a position to make this movie due to the financial success films like Apocalypse Now and the first two Godfather movies afforded him, but Coppola has noted that every movie he ever made after One From The Heart was essentially to pay for the cost of making it! We think it was worth every penny Francis, and so too did everyone at our screening that night.


For more information on White Wall Cinema and It Is Still 1985 please visit and The next free screening at Brighton Beyond Retro takes place on Friday, April 19th (Good Friday).