A few months ago, when Star Wars became a smash hit the second time around, the only ”surprise” was the number of Hollywood executives who claimed to be surprised. Audiences, eager to reexperience the collective high of the first mall-era blockbuster, seemed almost destined to turn out in droves. Yet could another movie duplicate Star Wars’ redux success? As the current rerelease of The Godfather has proved, even the greatest movies don’t necessarily stir up a mass hunger to be seen again. They don’t compel us to come back because, in the age of video, they never really went away. My hunch is that only two more films will prove exceptions.
When Saturday Night Fever is rereleased this fall (as is tentatively scheduled), it’s likely to provoke a wave of nostalgic ecstasy — for the young John Travolta and for the spangly hedonism of disco, a music that, in all likelihood, was mocked by many of the people who’ll now look back at the Bee Gees and the Hustle with a fondness they couldn’t have then imagined. And in the era of The X-Files and the Heaven’s Gate cultists, the timing could hardly be more right for a 20th-anniversary rerelease of Steven Spielberg’s eerie extraterrestrial bliss-out Close Encounters of the Third Kind. (Plans for a rerelease in September have yet to be finalized.) It’s seriously doubtful, though, that audiences would line up for many of the other popular landmarks of the last two decades. Jaws? One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? Rocky? Grease? Raiders of the Lost Ark? Top Gun? They’re all too familiar, too there. There’s no mystery to their magic — nothing, indeed, that needs to be rediscovered.
Still, that hardly means the trend is fading. Increasingly, smaller movies are being spiffed up, repackaged, and remarketed on a national level — movies that have no chance of becoming deja vu blockbusters but are simply ripe to be seen again. Movies like Das Boot, the 1981 German submarine thriller that’s opening this month in a ”restored” three-and-a-half-hour director’s cut. Or Pink Flamingos, the 1972 shock-comedy classic that’s receiving a similar major-city relaunch to commemorate its 25 years of midnight-movie mayhem. In effect, rereleases like these convert your local theater — or, at least, one screen of it — into a makeshift repertory house. And that, to me, seems a trend worth celebrating. With all the plastic product around, an evening spent at a film that has, for one reason or another, stood the test of time can prove a nutritiously entertaining event, a reminder of why we all started going to the movies in the first place.
The first time I saw Pink Flamingos, John Waters’ scandalous outlaw burlesque, I was only 15. I thought it was shocking, nauseating, hilarious, and the scariest thing I’d ever seen. During the infamous final scene, when Divine, the transvestite glam-beast heroine, eats dog feces on camera, I didn’t know whether to laugh or to gag. Mostly, I couldn’t believe I shared a planet with anyone who’d make a movie like this.
Twenty-five years after Pink Flamingos was first unleashed, the film has lost none of its danger, its wit, its psychotic exuberance. Part of the shock now is realizing just how much of punk culture John Waters invented. The synthetic hair color, the rage, the ’60s trash-rock nihilism — he was there years ahead of London and C.B.G.B.’s. The rereleased Pink Flamingos concludes with 15 minutes of outtakes, few of which are as funny as Waters’ on-camera introductions of them. (In the best bit, Divine and two comrades skip through a meadow chanting ”We are the filthiest people alive” in pig latin.) But in a world where ”underground” cult films long ago became a cozy genre, Pink Flamingos still stands as the purest, most joyful jolt of outrage in movie history. Divine, looking like Satan in the body of a circus clown, spits out his hostile, teasing rants as arias of camp hatred. In Pink Flamingos, Waters did something subersive and, in its gross way, quite spectacular: He created his own hell-bent, sick-joke Oz, with Divine as its wicked-witch queen. A