Judge Brett Cullum fondly remembers his first visit to Chess King to buy a Members Only jacket. He'll even model it for you, if you ask him politely.
Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
MPI Home video presents…The History of the '80s, a three disc collection that covers ten years of history by presenting ABC News clips assembled in a montage. Each year gets about 45 minutes' worth of short scenes detailing world events, people, entertainment, sports, science, and technology. Not quite the light-hearted romp of which VH-1 seems so fond, this production gives you the serious news and avoids fashion and music (to a degree). There is a narrator who comments over the actual news clips, so at least we're spared the sight of talking heads. But really, it's eight hours of archival footage.
The '80s were a pretty interesting decade—Republicans ruled the White House, and the counterculture seemed to rule everything else. The personal computer, video games, the VCR, and MTV were all born in the ten years which many call "the decade of excess." Yet despite some of the high points, there were incredibly sobering lows as well, including the dawn and peak of the AIDS crisis, the Love Canal fiasco, numerous assassinations, and Chernobyl. I grew up in the '80s, and I was surprised at how many of the stories I remembered, even though I wasn't even a decade old myself when they happened. Each disc brought back memories—like where I was when I watched Live Aid, and who's class I was in when the Challenger exploded. For anyone who was there, it's a great memory jog. For anyone who wasn't there, it's a very accurate portrait of a decade that certainly had its troubles, despite the cozy nostalgia most people seem to have for it.
This release is an impressive package—but not because of its technical merits. Full screen, just like the '80s! Poor video sources were used for most of this project, and the series itself was produced in the Nineties (1991 to be exact). I'm assuming it was a video or television series before it arrived on DVD, and little to no remastering has been attempted. There are no extras, but I'd be hard-pressed to suggest what they could have included. Outtakes from the '80s? A "Making Of The '80s" feature? Commentary from survivors of the '80s? No, this is one where you can sit with your friends and provide your own commentary. Shock and marvel at the bad hair and bad clothes! Giggle at the appearances of a young Bob Dole or Ted Kennedy! Compare notes on the first time you either used crack or heard "crack is whack!" Mourn the loss of your Beta VCR! Gush at the wedding of Charles and Diana! Get confused about which side to cheer for in the Iran-Iraq war! Laugh at New Coke, which now is long gone! (Some things should never change.)
I miss the '80s if only because they seem in hindsight like a simpler time than the one we live in now. Yet this set reminds me they weren't easier; it was me who was young and impressionable. If you really pay attention, the '80s were sometimes bleak and hard for many people. Yet we now seem to be repeating them in an odd way. Back then, there was a George Bush in the White House, terrorism was a major concern, and AIDS was a global epidemic. Yeah…now we have the Internet and DVDs, but it all seems like the same song—just a different verse. So do we really need an '80s revival when the ghosts from that era are still hanging around?
The segments are interesting bits, and the entire thing comes off like ADD History. Nothing is really explored in-depth, but in eight hours nothing could have been so explored if you're dealing with a decade from every angle. People who are fans of the era will revel in the nostalgia, and others may find it akin to watching a videotaped old newscast. The problem is it covers too much, and in the end that makes it daunting for casual viewing. Maybe a better tack would be "Politics of the '80s" or "Movies of the '80s" with interviews from people who defined those topics.
Kudos, though, to MPI for pressing the rewind button on this celebrated decade. It's a good snapshot of these years, and it's certainly interesting to stroll down memory lane. But next time could we get a little more remastering of the image? And maybe a clearer focus? History classes will love it, and news junkies will too. MPI is free to go find more nostalgia trips to take us on, with just a minor citation for raiding the newsroom vaults to do it.
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