Nowhere is the rivalry more apparent than in the context of film versus reality. Audiences demand that the two feel the same but look completely different. Consequently, it's a nice change of pace when you catch Life and Art accidentally working together in cinema. I've collected five movies that, alone, are mediocre at best, but coupled with the real life circumstances surrounding each film they are catapulted into greatness. It's like seeing a child stand on the shoulders of his handicapped brother in order to reach new heights, or two siblings working together in a brilliant column to beat a dead horse of a metaphor across two paragraphs.
Reunion in France
In the early 1940s, studios hadn't figured out yet that movies could be more visually aesthetic than a filmed high school play. Without believable special effects or a mastery of cinematography, the best movies relied on outstanding dialogue, acting and plot to carry the story. Reunion in France was unique to the era in that it had none of these. The film was such a colossal failure that when the female lead, Joan Crawford was interviewed years later she said, "Oh God. If there is an afterlife and I am to be punished for my sins, this is one of the pictures they'll make me see over and over again."
"Stop it, please!"
The film stars John Wayne as a downed American pilot in occupied France who stays hidden from Nazis with the help of Joan Crawford. Also, they start to fall in love. The movie was made in 1942 and apparently by that point in the war, our country was so used to building weapons they forgot how to make anything that didn't inflict pain.
How Reality Intervened:
John Wayne seemed like a perfect fit for the role of a WWII soldier, fighting alongside the French Resistance behind enemy lines. He was cast partially because he embodied the patriotism and masculinity America yearned for in a hero, and partially because all the other actors were busy fighting in the war. Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable all enlisted during a time when the entire world was threatened by a legitimately evil dictatorship that would have changed the course of human civilization had it succeeded. John Wayne, however, stuck around to make movies. To his credit, he had a few long standing injuries and Washington D.C. also allowed Hollywood actors some lenience in regard to the draft, presumably because America needed the morale boost of movies during one of the worst times in human history. John Wayne was able to defer twice and insisted that he would join up after he made a few more movies but that day never came. A man whose name was synonymous with American heroism for an entire generation managed to avoid the messy business of being a hero.
Why would a democracy need a Duke anyway?
So, watching Reunion in France, knowing that it was made during the Second World War and seeing one of the only actors without any context for the role stumble and sweat his way through it makes it a little more enjoyable to sit through.
In 1979, United Artists released a comedy that took place 20 years in the future. A powerful conglomerate of Native Americans threatens to foreclose on the federal government unless it can raise enough money to stay afloat. The solution is a telethon for America. The movie didn't do very well and quickly disappeared. It bombed because it relied on the absurdly prophesied state of America in the future for most of its laughs. One of the kindest critics of the film in 1979 said, "The premise of Americathon is strong enough to sustain a 15-minute skit, but the movie has the ill fortune to drag on for an hour and a half."
How Reality Intervened:
Over 30 years later, it turns out the movie is better at predicting the future than the Mayan calendar. The ludicrous ideas of what the world could become are eerily true today even though the predictions were written with implausibility in mind. Americathon opens on a United States that's depleted of oil and falling into bankruptcy to foreign lenders; apparently in 1979 there was nothing funnier than the prospect of a devalued U.S. dollar. Also in the movie, one of the biggest corporations in America is NIKE which doesn't seem like much of a prediction except that in '79, NIKE was just a small shoe company in the northwest that hadn't gone public and hadn't aired a single national commercial. On a global level, the film predicts the collapse of the USSR as well as China's rise to a world superpower after embracing capitalism.
Hang on a second, that Chinese girl is freakishly tall.
It's certainly more interesting to watch today if for no other reason than its bizarre accuracy. Still for a movie that's designed to be hilarious, it feels like a cruel mockery of the most significant events of the last few decades. It's like watching a romantic comedy that takes place entirely on a 9/11 flight.
Less Than Zero
It was a customary practice in the 80s to take good, contemporary books and adapt them into bastardized, stillborn movies. So, for anyone who loved Brett Easton Ellis's Less Than Zero, the 1987 movie adaptation probably felt like being hit in the face by a six-pack of Tab. The loose plot for both movie and book follows college student, Clay Easton as he returns to Los Angeles for Christmas. All his friends have become impulsive, drug addled, horny adults who believe in nothing.
"Hey! It's me, Joe! Hey! Where're you going?"
And that's where the similarities end. The film adopts a weirdly insistent anti-drug message that didn't exist in the book and as movie ends with the three main characters learning lessons and saving one another from the depravity of Los Angeles, you can't help but scan the credits for a DARE logo. The movie certainly has good moments, specifically any scene with Robert Downey, Jr. as he plays a self-destructive addict who's slowly killing himself.
How Reality Intervened:
Robert Downey, Jr. became a self-destructive addict who was slowly killing himself. In fact, he credits Less Than Zero as the inciting moment leading to all of the heroin using and passing out in children's beds he would do for the next decade. "Until that movie, I took my drugs after work and on the weekends. That changed on Less Than Zero, the role was like the ghost of Christmas future. The character was an exaggeration of myself. Then things changed and, in some ways, I became an exaggeration of the character." Knowing that as you watch Less Than Zero, you are witnessing an actual addiction form, it's hard not to stay riveted.
A perennial theme in sports movies is victory for the underdog. Universal tried to capitalize on that theme with the 1977 movie Slap Shot about an amateur hockey team in small town in Pennsylvania. It starred Paul Newman as the coach/captain of the Chiefs and their hunt for the Federal League championship. The team is motivated to win after a rumor circulates that the manager is threatening to move the Chiefs south. Unlike some of the other movies on this list, it actually follows a cohesive story and has some good moments. In the last few years it has become a cult classic and Slap Shot owes a significant amount of its success to the horrible circumstances surrounding the actual city the movie is based on.
How Reality Intervened:
Steel towns throughout the Midwest and Northeast tend to have insanely loyal sports fans, presumably because the collapse of the steel industry in the 1970s means there's literally nothing else to be proud of in the area. Slap Shot was a movie designed to inspire and touch the heart of the working class man in the rust belt, but Mother Nature stepped in and said, "No, fuck that. He gets nothing." The film, released in February of 1977 was a thinly veiled homage to the Johnstown Jets who were a phenomenally good team despite their economic circumstances. Then, in July of 1977 massive floods killed 85 people in Johnstown and destroyed the ice rink, causing the team to collapse. For anyone who's not good at math, the team was destroyed just four months after the movie came out honoring them. And it gets worse.
In 1988, Johnstown founded a new hockey team which they affectionately named the Chiefs based on the 1977 movie. Despite the enthusiasm of fans, the team has never been a strong contender in any league and doesn't draw enough money to support itself.
The name is just cursed.
The solution? As of March 2010, the team is actually moving south, and Johnstown gets kicked in the ribs one more time by circumstance. Watching this movie with all the current context makes the story that much more heartbreaking and even people indifferent to hockey can't help but root for the success of Paul Newman and his Chiefs.
The 90s are responsible for some of the worst martial arts movies ever made and yet none of them are as life-changingly-bad as Kickboxing Academy. The story follows a young teenager who apparently attends the only high school in America where competitive kickboxing is a legitimate afterschool sport. He quits the team after almost killing someone and then spends the rest of the movie vacillating on whether or not he should come back to defeat a rival team (OK, there are actually two schools that condone children kicking each other in the face). From script development to final product, there is nothing redeemable about this movie save its own earnestness. The story is easier to anticipate than the flimsy punches and kicks of the main characters and the only violence the actors seem capable of is the vigilant way they mutilate the plot and then drag the body around to new locations.
How Reality Intervened:
Fortune shined in 2007 when the female lead, Chyler Leigh joined the cast of Grey's Anatomy and the Internet started to wonder where the hell it had seen her before. TheAtrox.com made the connection to Kickboxing Academy and then discovered an outstanding fact that had somehow gone unnoticed for 10 years.
Chyler Leigh is the costar and love interest to Christopher Khayman Lee and throughout the movie they share a handful of intimate make-out scenes culminating in one awkwardly long kiss at the end. The beauty of these otherwise forgettable moments is that Christopher and Chyler are actually brother and sister.
Yes, the romantic leads are siblings. Why they would cast a brother and sister in these roles makes about as much sense as someone green-lighting a project called Kickboxing Academy without any real fight sequences. Still, the movie instantly becomes tolerable and even fun to watch given the knowledge that no matter how much you're suffering, the leads are suffering infinitely more. I can't think of a better or more literal way for the Art and Life siblings to join forces than a brother and sister making out in a kid's movie... unless maybe one of them was crippled.