When a filmmaker has three minutes to transform a hopeless moron/pussy/werewolf into a triumphant hero celebrating a happy ending, there are a couple of options. They could go back and add believable plot points, subtle foreshadowing and nuanced characterization to make the character's success believable. Or, they could just kick out some motherfucking jams, temporarily turn their movie into a music video and hope that the audience is too distracted to notice that they've completely abandoned all reason and logic.
For a short period of time during the 1980s, this technique was elevated to an art form known as the movie montage. Here are our nominations for the '80s Movie Montage Hall of Fame, complete with the categories of each montage, the problematic plot holes that each overcame, the motherfucking jams that each kicked and the improbable happy endings that resulted.
Good anytime you need to transform a loser into a hero in just five minutes, the training montage is among the most common forms, and operates on it' own strange internal logic.
The originator of the training montage, this group of films probably isn't given its proper due for creating the entire genre of film that we now know as the '80s movie. The ridiculous underdogs fighting against enormous odds, the disproportionately evil bad guy, the quiet unassuming love interest who turns out to be attractive when you take off her glasses. But before all of that, the makers of the first film were faced with a quandary. They somehow had to show someone excersising for two months and make it interesting.
"Rocky Theme Song"
These things just kept getting better with each film. In the first two, there are the standard one-armed pull-ups on urban playgrounds and the running up the steps of Philly' art museum:
In the third, there' the "Rocky learns rhythm from a black coach" and "homoerotic wind sprints with Apollo on the beach" training montage:
And then finally, in the fourth and finest film, Rocky' in Russia, substituting rustic farm equipment for his normal training gear, outrunning cars driven by the KGB and climbing a mountain in under a minute:
Rocky! Rocky! Rocky!
The film' main character, Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield) has been paying people to do his homework and take his tests all year, but with an oral exam coming up, he has to learn a semester' worth of information in just one night:
And even though that last sentence describes the finals experience of pretty much every college student we've ever met, Rodney Dangerfield is old so, you know, it' worth making a movie about.
Instrumental hoo-ha. We think it' piano.
The first rule of the training montage is that if you want to learn a skill fast, all you have to do is perform that action in a variety of beautiful or quirky locations. Whenever Rocky needed to get good at boxing, he'd just train in a bunch of different scenic places all over the city of Philadelphia. Whenever the Karate Kid needed to get good at Karate, he'd practice on a bunch of scenic bluffs overlooking California beaches. Dangerfield apparently saw those films, because he knows that all he needs to do to ace his test is study in a bunch of zany locations: while getting a massage, while taking a shower and even at night in the dark:
Not only does he pass, but he is able to win his school' diving competition too, which means that the film gives us the pleasure of seeing a geriatric Rodney Dangerfield in both the shower and in a bathing suit.
The big dance is coming up and Willard (Chris Penn) is a total clod. He' the strong silent type who wears a cowboy hat, gets into fistfights and thinks dancing' for city folk. Lucky for Willard, he' recently befriended a city boy (Kevin Bacon) who loves dancing. In fact, he loves dancing so much that at one point during an unspeakably hilarious seven-minute stretch of the film, he dances by himself through an empty warehouse despite the fact that he has no way of hearing the music playing in his car stereo:
"Let' Hear it For the Boy," Denise Williams
Students of the first rule of training montages, these guys take it outside on Willard' farm, on the football stadium stairs and inside in the school gymnasium:
Actually, it doesn't work. We're not sure if Chris Penn was really just an atrocious dancer, but by the end of the montage he still can't dance for shit and at the dance in the climactic scene he just jumps around like an asshole.
Often the montage was used to gloss over a section of the story that was unbelievable or unwatchable. Here are the three montages that were most deftly used to get the filmmaker out of a jam.
Let' say you're inexplicably making a movie about a teenage werewolf. Unfortunately, rather than playing this ridiculous premise for campy fun, the script calls for you to play it out earnestly and under the premise that for the final half of the film, said teenager becomes the big man on campus despite looking like Chewbacca if he were a '70s porn star.
"Way To Go," Mark Vieha
A series of shots of Scott scoring in some of the most poorly filmed basketball scenes ever (basketball fans have to hate Michael J. Fox after watching him try to play basketball in this film. Sure he' Canadian, but so is Steve Nash):
If that wasn't enough, he goes on to score As in class and score with the hottest girl in school. All of it is set to a terrible song in which a white guy imitates a black blues singer by saying things like, "Take it easy and slow Joe."
This sequence is still pretty painful. However, it passes the time fast enough so you don't start asking questions like: "Why is everyone taking this in stride?" "Why hasn't the CIA captured and destroyed him?" and "Gross! That blonde chick just banged a werewolf. Why do I still find her attractive?"
The only two-category entry, Rocky IV gets mentioned here for a totally different kind of montage. 20 minutes into the film, Rocky is speeding in his Ferrari whilst contemplating the most common of moral dilemmas: on the one hand, he' a married man with a family to think about, but on the other, he wants to fly to Russia and get into a fistfight with a dude who just beat someone to death.
Unfortunately, Stallone, who' directing himself in this scene, knows that he only has two gears as an actor: 1) Struggling to correctly pronounce words and 2) Getting punched in the face. Neither of those will suffice for a man being torn apart by inner turmoil. What' a director to do?
"No Easy Way Out," Robert Tepper
Rocky goes avant-garde to show what' inside the boxer' head. The film cuts back and forth between extreme close-ups of Rocky' face, a bunch of recycled clips from the first three films and a bloodied Rocky falling in slow motion in front of an annoying strobe light.
Film scholars have argued that this scene is meant to take us inside Rocky' head, and if that' the case, then the inside of Rocky' head looks a lot like a German snuff tape. Luckily, the lyrics communicate everything there is to say about a man in turmoil: "There' no easy way out, there' no shortcut home!" Well, that' true, if you don't count a montage as an "easy way out."
Crisis averted: Rocky makes the rash decision to fight a murderous Russian and, more importantly, no one has to watch Sylvester Stallone try to act.
Todd Barrett is a poor-yet-enterprising college student who owes mucho dinero to a badass loan shark named Cactus Jack. He' about to become just another statistic in the long line of college students physically threatened by angry loan sharks in '80s movies when he devises a clever, albeit amusingly homoerotic, plan to raise cash: create a beefcake calendar! But the filmmakers have a problem of their own: this movie is supposed to be a slacker comedy and not gay soft porn. What to do about the actual photo shoot?
"Future' So Bright," Timbuk 3
Todd takes photos of muscular men, develops said photos and publishes them in calendar form, all in the span of a couple minutes.
Without the montage, we'd be watching details like the makeup guy re-taping the model' sack to the back of his leg. Instead, they use one of the greatest songs of the '80s, have their main character literally wear the shades that Timbuk3 talks about in the song and the audience' brain has been shut down long enough to make this thing happen.
Todd' calendar is a huge hit, he pays off Cactus Jack and learns the valuable life lesson that you can't take a picture of a sweaty dude straight on or you'll get something called "pec glare."
A combination of the previous two categories, this type of montage usually glosses over the early rounds of a tournament, but is especially necessary when the tournament being depicted is completely ridiculous.
Lincoln Hawk is a battered truck driver with one thing on his mind: winning the Arm Wrestling Championships and getting custody of his effeminate teenage son. Somehow, he can get custody of his son by winning the Arm Wrestling Championship. But how to get through the first few rounds without putting anything on screen that will make the audience laugh out loud?
"Winner Takes It All," Sammy Hagar
The only way this film could have been anything other than laughable is if they had made the entire thing a competition montage. However, the tournament itself almost makes the first 75 percent worthwhile.
Lincoln and his five o' clock shadow smash through the competition, and you pay attention to Sammy Hagar's rasp instead of the fact that a coliseum full of people is cheering for two guys holding hands like they're a Def Comedy Jam audience.
Lincoln wins the tournament and his son! And thus marks the birth of the famed Hawk & Son Trucking Company.
Daniel, a 98-pound weakling and the films protagonist has to karate fight his way through a tournament if he' ever going to get Elizabeth Shue to let him feel her up. The only problem is that the guys he fights in the early rounds spent the first half of the film convincingly and mercilessly kicking his ass:
Since those ass-kickings, the only thing that has changed is that Daniel has learned how to do a slow motion interpretive dance known as Kata, and the bullies have grown angrier.
"You're The Best," Joe Esposito
The experience of the final montage can be summed up as follows: Wow, Daniel has to successively fight every single guy who's ever beat him with an inch of his life, one after the other.
Daniel's going to get his ass k... "You're the best, arou-ound!"
For some reason I now find it believable that Daniel just dropped him with a single feathery punch.
But still, why are there 30,000 people at an amateur karate tournament? "No one' ever gonna keep you down. You're the best!" You know, I AM the best! And it' about time someone sang a fucking song about it and stopped asking me so many questions.
The song is so effusively congratulatory that it makes you want to believe anything. They should play this before amateur magic shows, or at church before the priest turns the crackers into Jesus' body.
Daniel hugs Elizabeth Shue with one arm, Mr. Miyagi with the other. Giddy film audiences leave theaters, trying to figure out what just happened to them.