Critics’ Picks review - Fast times and excellent adventures

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Book cover  Fast times and excellent adventures : the surprising history of the '80s teen movie / James King.
Fast times and excellent adventures : the surprising history of the '80s teen movie / James King.
Fast Times and Excellent adventures: the surprising history of the ‘80s teen movie by British journalist and presenter James King is an eye opening and affectionate study of the rise of the teen film.

Waiting for the velvet curtains to open after scrambling for the best seats (at the back) in my newly neoned and multiplexed local Sydney suburban cinema, 80s teen me was not contemplating the vagaries of “how did we get here?”  Was Back to the Future 2 going to sustain the magic? Could I pull off the Marty McFly parka vest? Am I sitting in spilt Coke from the previous session? (The answers are: yes, no, and probably). These were my 80s concerns.

Starting with the ascent of John Travolta circa 1977 and his transition from TV star to film star, the book clearly and entertainingly places the ‘80s teen film phenomenon in the context of the wider film industry. It was a time when upstart auteurs such as Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg – and most importantly for the teen film genre, John Hughes – were ascendant. These directors almost radical treatment of teenagers as three-dimensional people allowed the audience to see themselves reflected on the big screen if not for the first time, but in the most authentic way to that point.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the intricacies in timing, casting, and charisma that lead to people like Sean Penn, Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Winona Ryder, and Keanu Reeves to become permanent A listers. Others were slung in with the hard-to-dispose-of ‘Brat Pack’ tag, or simply became one-hit wonders or forever seventeen like the The Coreys. (That’s Corey Haim and Corey Feldman to those of you who did not spend their leaf-raking pocket money on three-month-old copies of Tiger Beat).

The book ends with the bleak 1986 landmark film Rivers Edge as a first signpost of the end as it rendered the relative minor concerns of, say, Some Kind of Wonderful naïf in comparison. Grunge and the coming of Tarantino further served to all but kill off the ‘teen film’ until its revival in 1999 with American Pie. That’s another story, and one I hope King explores further.

Fast Times and Excellent adventures is well referenced, and King’s style walks an engaging line between retelling and discoursing. When thinking about 30 years of filmmaking subsequent to the events if the book, you can’t help but be reminded of what a great man once said: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t look around once in a while you could miss it.” Highly recommended.

Reviewer: Susan Mercer, Librarian, Information & Access


[I]ts enthusiasm for its subject is palpable and the least that can be said for it is that it's a fun read.” – Sydney Morning Herald


Mark Kermode calls James King 'one of my favourite film critics and he writes with wit, flair and schoolboy-ish enthusiasm.' King has presented movie shows for BBC Radio 1, 5Live, ITV and Sky and is an ambassador for BAFTA's annual Rising Star award. Matthew Broderick once signed his VHS copy of Ferris Bueller's Day Off.