A.M.A.D.: SERIAL (1980)
These are exciting times, aren’t they? Gas is over a dollar and it’s okay to be an asshole.
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
If you thought yesterday’s Sean S. Cunningman thriller by way of John Hughes movie THE NEW KIDS was about as ‘80s as you can get then you’re in for a surprise with today’s broad comedy SERIAL.
Which is odd because THE NEW KIDS was made smack dab in the middle of the decade, whereas SERIAL kicked it off. Hell, it was shot in 1979, but I think that transitional time is what I most closely associate with the ‘80s.
The late ‘80s was where I began really interacting with society, so I have a lot of fond memories of that time, but my earliest memories are what I saw in SERIAL. The ugly-ass brown wood architecture especially. What a drab color palate that era had, especially coming off of the crazy multi-colored ‘60s and early ‘70s.
It also helps that this film is set in and around Mill Valley and San Francisco. I grew up just south of San Fran, not moving to Austin until the early ‘90s, so all the foliage, buildings and style were in my earliest memories on this earth.
SERIAL is a comedy, but one that’s aiming to be biting satire. The focus is on the new age/hippie ridiculousness, with a special fuck you to cults of the era. Martin Mull plays Harvey, a businessman who is patiently trying to put up with his wife’s indulgence in New Age spirituality (sparked by her crazy friends, especially Sally Kellerman’s Martha).
What’s interesting about this character is he’s nearly alone in his straight-thinking. He’s the sane head in a town of insane people. His only ally is Bill Macy’s Sam Stone, who is, in fact more of a regular guy than even Mull. Macy scolds Mull in the first scene we see them in because Mull isn’t allowed to drive his car to meet the ferry that takes him into the city. His wife won’t let him, making him ride a bike… in his business suit… amongst about 2 dozen other men in business suits and helmets.
Macy gives him shit for it, and rubs the fact that he can eat a hamburger into Mull’s face.
Mull’s Harvey’s job is standard 9 to 5 office shit and he just can’t get a leg up. In fact, he goes to see the big boss, played by the great Christopher Lee, who is about the polar opposite of the New Agey township of Mill Valley, calling Mull a loser because his age has surpassed his yearly salary. If Mull let that happen, he’s not worthy of being promoted, essentially.
What we come to find is that everybody has a ridiculous side, an escape. The people the film criticizes aren’t people who believe in weird shit, who let loose once in a while and indulge their inner freak. No, that’s everybody. What the movie does make a statement about is the people who over-indulge, who get lost in that, losing sight of reality… taking a dip off the deep end.
That’s what is happening around Mull. His wife is falling in with people who don’t get married, who only seem to get divorced… and then have togetherness ceremonies, presided over a guy called Reverend Spike (played perfectly by Tom Smothers) who joins in on the kiss at the end, then asks for the check.
The lovely Tuesday Weld (PRETTY POISON and ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA) plays Mull’s wife and she acts as the catalyst for putting Mull into a tailspin. Her actions directly leads to their daughter joining a Hare Krishna-like love cult which in turn results in splitting up her marriage.
That’s when we get to see Mull indulge his inner-freak, hooking up with a busty ditzy supermarket sexpot and joining orgies with his secretary. At the same time he witnesses his only compatriot, Bill Macy, lose his independent spirit and, ultimately his soul. The light goes out, his very reason for living is extinguished.
Those two things combined give Mull the strength to stand up to the bullshit, call out these pretentious ass-nozzles and take an active role in his life.
Now, upon first viewing I thought the movie was okay until the last 25 minutes, which really kicks the satire into high gear… It’s watching Mull take control of his life, finding out Christopher Lee’s “secret form of expression,” and watching the house of cards being demolished. That’s when the movie gelled for me.
Upon writing this review and reflecting on what the movie is actually about, I’ve gained even more respect for it. I don’t think it’s the best made movie in the world, but it’s unapologetically its own thing. The satire is still biting today, even though the material and actions being satirized are very much dated. I think that’s because pretentiousness isn’t locked into one particular era.
Final Thoughts: The filmmaking isn’t great, but Mull does a fine job carrying this film with the support of a lot of likable people, including a fascinating turn by Christopher Lee. Who doesn’t like making fun of crystal worshipping loopy New Age nutters? Especially from the late ‘70s.
Here are the final run of A Movie A Day titles:
Wednesday, December 31st: THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1970)
Thursday, January 1st: IRMA LA DOUCE (1963)
Friday, January 2nd: THE PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE (1974)
Saturday, January 3rd: THE GOODBYE GIRL (1977)
Sunday, January 4th: LOST IN YONKERS (1993)
Monday, January 5th: THE SUNSHINE BOYS (1975)
Tuesday, January 6th: CALIFORNIA SUITE (1978)
Wednesday, January 7th: A BRIDGE TOO FAR (1977)
Next up we follow the man, the myth, the f'n legend Christopher Lee over to Billy Wilder's THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES where he plays Sherlock's more brilliant brother, Mycroft. See you for that one!
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies
November 1st: Black Widow
November 2nd: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
November 3rd: Flying Tigers
November 4th: Executive Action
November 5th: The Busy Body
November 6th: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
November 7th: Libeled Lady
November 8th: Up The River
November 9th: Doctor Bull
November 10th: Judge Priest
November 11th: Ten Little Indians
November 12th: Murder On The Orient Express
November 13th: Daniel
November 14th: El Dorado
November 15th: The Gambler
November 16th: Once Upon A Time In America
November 17th: Salvador
November 18th: Best Seller
November 19th: The Holcroft Covenant
November 20th: Birdman of Alcatraz
November 21st: The Train
November 22nd: Gunfight At The O.K. Corral
November 23rd: Mystery Street
November 24th: Border Incident
November 25th: The Tin Star
November 26th: On The Beach
November 27th: Twelve O’Clock High
November 28th: Gentleman’s Agreement
November 29th: Panic In The Streets
November 30th: The Hot Rock
December 1st: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
December 2nd: The Day of the Dolphin
December 3rd: Carnal Knowledge
December 4th: The Cincinnati Kid
December 5th: Pocketful of Miracles
December 6th: Mikey & Nicky
December 7th: Two-Minute Warning
December 8th: The Sentinel
December 9th: How To Steal A Million
December 10th: What’s New Pussycat?
December 11th: Being There
December 17th: The Party
December 18th: Casino Royale
December 19th: The Stranger
December 20th: Brother Orchid
December 21st: The Petrified Forest
December 22nd: Moontide
December 23rd: Notorious
December 24th: The Inn of the Sixth Happiness
December 25th: The High Commissioner
December 26th: The Silent Partner
December 27th: Payday
December 28th: A Stranger Is Watching
December 29th: The New Kids
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Dec. 31, 2008, 9:11 a.m. CST
From Australia and New Zealand at least.
Dec. 31, 2008, 9:16 a.m. CST
I have less than 15 hours to go.
Dec. 31, 2008, 9:21 a.m. CST
by Major Hockshtetter
This was a pay cable staple for a while back in the mid to late 80's and I tried to catch it every time it was on. Everything about it, screenplay and performance-wise, is perfect. As you said, the filmmaking is pretty standard but it was directed, I believe, by a TV director, hence its pedestrian trappings. But my God, have you ever seen our culture skewered better? I love the wedding ceremony prayer... "you-ness.... me-ness... we-ness"
Dec. 31, 2008, 9:32 a.m. CST
by greigy just wanted to say
Apart for the hysterical and pompous "I've chosed HD-DVD and here's why" debacle (or was that 2007) the movie a day column has been by far the best read in 2008. Sincerely appreciated man, keep it up.
Dec. 31, 2008, 9:32 a.m. CST
on some indy channel several years ago and my reaction was "Why the hell haven't I heard of this before???" Great quirky time capsule of a movie, if anything for Christopher Lee's unexpected turn at the end.
Dec. 31, 2008, 10:43 a.m. CST
by Goon Bighead
that eventually became the book by Cyra McFadden. Pissed off a lot of people in Marin County.
Dec. 31, 2008, 10:57 a.m. CST
Adding this to my Netflix Q
Dec. 31, 2008, 11:23 a.m. CST
by Pope Flick
...you are remiss in one of the funniest pieces of dialogue if you don't mention it. Boy: "In a sane society a sane man appears insane." Mull: "I like that, where'd you hear that?" Boy: "Star Trek." Mull: "God I miss that show." Although the fact that it's just after his breakdown at a funeral makes it all the funnier. A lost classic, nicely found.
Dec. 31, 2008, 12:25 p.m. CST
...just wanted to say, i second that assessment. best. thing. on aicn. EVER!<p> and especially because it does recapture lost demi-classics like this. ms. weld has never been more fetching and yeah, chris lee TOTALLY owns ("pwns?" no...OWNS!!!!) this film ("we are NOT pansies!!"). looking forward to more exegetic reflections in the '09. <p>peace, y'all
Dec. 31, 2008, 12:26 p.m. CST
I know, because I lived in Mill Valley during that time. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see the movie in the theatre when it came out, since my parents wouldn't let me see R-rated movies... although my dad went. (Yeah, we were one of the few square families living in Mill Valley.) But when I finally caught this years later, I both laughed and cringed. You're right... the filmmaking technique is TV-grade, but the look of the period and the attitude of the characters is exactly the way I remember it. But then, Mill Valley was the kind of place where a 13-year old like me could read The Joy of Gay Sex in a local bookstore without anyone else raising an eyebrow. Even the Hare Krishnas dancing outside were considered normal.
Dec. 31, 2008, 2:42 p.m. CST
comedy go-to-guy, and Martin Mull is doing voice overs for food wrap. Hope his paintings are still selling.
Dec. 31, 2008, 3:20 p.m. CST
Dec. 31, 2008, 3:41 p.m. CST
by Guy Who Got A Headache And Accidentally Saves The World
Can't see em all dumbfuck
Dec. 31, 2008, 4:36 p.m. CST
I will try and locate "serial" sounds a bit like"semi-tough" The Best performance that Burt Reynolds ever gave ! anyway you have my favourite. Comedy of all time coming your way you lucky lucky bastard. Enjoy I hope.
Dec. 31, 2008, 4:41 p.m. CST
Mostly because of how it used to be playing constantly on cable and TV when I was growing up. I always considered this movie ubiquitous. <p> In fact, the only good joke in the movie PCU is when the guy writes an essay on how there is always a Gene Hackman or Michael Caine movie playing at any time, and uses "A Bridge Too Far" as his final argument.
Dec. 31, 2008, 5:12 p.m. CST
by Grammaton Cleric Binks
I won't watch this. I just never cared for the guy.
Dec. 31, 2008, 6:35 p.m. CST
Cinemax used to show this a lot in the early to mid 80s, me and my friends watched it everytime it was on. I was in love with Sally Kellerman. Martin Mull was great, and I agree, it's a shame we don't see him more stuff, but I don't think he ever got into the Hollywood bullshit.
Dec. 31, 2008, 8:24 p.m. CST
by Bob Cryptonight
In every freakin' movie...they sort of just hang there. Has she ever worn a bra? What a woman!
Jan. 1, 2009, 12:58 p.m. CST
by Napoleon Park
Singer-songwriter, surrealist pop artist, actor, commercial spokesperson. Multi-talented renaissance jack of all trades - amazing that acting was his third career.
Jan. 2, 2009, 10:19 p.m. CST
by Leafar the Lost
I haven't checked their respective film careers, so Mull may have been in a film with Bacon. The guy, Mull, has been in a lot of movies and TV, and he could be invisible for all I care. He will soon be appearing in S&M, hardcore porn.
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