Saturday, August 27, 2011

I Survived A Hurricane And All I Got Was This Lousy Cutters T-Shirt: Revisiting Breaking Away (1979)

(Well, my friend got the t-shirt. I was stumbling on the trivia questions. Read on.)

With Hurricane Irene bearing down on D.C., my mind is flashing back to when I was 12 in 1979 in Louisiana.

This kind of weather was nothing new down there. And while it's best to be safe and take the necessary precautions, it's worth remembering that the D.C. area is full wimps. A Category 1 hurricane here is the equivalent of a tsunami, at least in the minds of the locals.

We got this kind of rain all the time in Louisiana.

Back then in 1979, my buddy Steven and I would tool around the subdivision on our bikes and survey the rising water from the torrential late summer rains and hurricanes on the Gulf Coast.

I didn't learn to ride a bike until I was 11 when my stepsister taught me. Growing up in an apartment in the D.C. area didn't give me too many safe places to ride anyway so I never bothered to learn.

Once I learned, and once my family lived in a safe subdivision in Pearl River, Louisiana, Steven and I started to ride our bikes quite a bit in 1979. We still found time for comics and Star Wars-stuff but we were making being outside and riding more and more of a priority.

When Breaking Away (1979) came out in 1979, there was quite a nice buzz about the film and I'm pretty sure I had heard Siskel and Ebert raving about it on the old "Sneak Previews" program on PBS as I was a loyal viewer as a kid.

The film was one of the first non-sci-fi or monster movies that I really latched onto and Steven and I rode around even more after that. I think Steven, being the musician of the two of us, even took the trouble to find records of some of the opera pieces used in the film.

So today I braved the beginnings of Hurricane Irene to meet two other good friends in Silver Spring, Maryland at the AFI Silver Theatre for a revival showing of the film.

Seeing the film on a big screen -- and it was on the big screen at the Silver! -- for the first time in 32 years was an emotional experience.

Breaking Away (1979) remains one of those rare films that works on both intellectual and emotional levels. Additionally, it also recalls the films made a few years earlier in the 1970s when dramas were character-driven, before Star Wars (1977) changed everything and every flick tried to be a blockbuster.

When I was 12, I think I liked the scenes with Cyril (Daniel Stern) the most but now I really think that the scene between Dave (Dennis Christopher) and his father (Paul Dooley) on the campus of college at night is the one I always look forward to.

After suffering disillusionment and crushing defeat, Dave seems to become his own person in that scene. The snobs vs. slobs device still propels the final moments of drama in the big race scene, but Breaking Away (1979) isn't really about that.

If Mike (Dennis Quaid) is stuck in the past, and Cyril (Daniel Stern) is smart but unfocused, and Moocher (Jackie Earle Haley) is choosing love, then Dave is starting to grow up and focus on his future.

Even if he's not quite sure what it's going to be.

As someone who worked for a few years after dropping out of college a few times, I can say that I never really appreciated college until I wanted to go.

(My friend won a Cutters t-shirt by answering a trivia question about the two names bestowed on the family cat in the film.....

....Jake and Fellini!)