Hard to believe the coming-of-age movie was once a class act. At some point in the past 50 years, Splendor in the Grass gave way to the unbearable schmaltz of A Walk to Remember, and Rebel Without a Cause became the witlessness of Slackers. Forget A.D. We live in the A.P. epoch - After Porky's. Teens now spend more money at the multiplex than any other demographic group, so studios feed them overheated drama or undercooked comedy, knowing they show up every Friday anyway.
My advice to the youth of America: Be more judicious with your money at the multiplex. You're being duped. This week on video are two great movies about growing up that don't insult the intelligence of teenagers (or adults) but do reveal what is often lost.
First is Ghost World ($26.98 on DVD), one of the best and least-seen films of 2001. It stars Thora Birch (American Beauty) and Scarlett Johansson (The Horse Whisperer) as best friends whose hipster instincts and smug superiority are threatened after high school graduation by their need to get jobs and enter the mainstream. It's a rarity: an accessible coming-of-age film about ideas.
Second is Breaking Away, new on DVD ($19.98), is a 1979 Academy Award nominee for best picture. Set and filmed in Bloomington, Ind., it tells the story of another group of recent high school graduates dealing with their own ghost world. In this case, they're the ghosts, invisible and struggling to carve their place in a city dominated by richer out-of-towners at Indiana University.
The good news: Both are funny and heartfelt. The bad news: Neither DVD is chock-full of extras. Breaking Away includes only a few trailers. Ghost World has a few extended cast improvisations, short interviews, and one terrific bonus: the full excerpt of “Jaan Pehechaah Ho,” the nutty Indian musical number (taken from the 1965 movie Gumnaam) used in the opening credits. It makes Beach Blanket Bingo look like Ingmar Bergman.
Local boy makes good: Doug Agosti - the guy behind the long-gone Dr. Shock's X-Ray Chiller Theater on WUPW-TV, Channel 36 - just inked a five-year deal with small British distributor Crypt-keeper Films to release videotapes of his low-low budget horror flicks in the United Kingdom. Agosti and filmmaking partner Lance Smith have been shooting gory, goofball shorts around town for the past few years.
Cryptkeeper will release one tape, Dr. Shock's Three Tales of Terror, featuring three of Agosti and Smith's best: The Garden Tool Murders, Demon's Day, and The Town Who Loves Pizza. Agosti hasn't landed a U.S. deal yet, but if you're itching for homegrown camp, Boogie Records carries a few select Agosti-Smith films.
New on video: Captain Corelli's Mandolin (You haven't heard an actor do a bad accent until you've seen Nicolas Cage do an Italian soldier in this awful romance also starring Penelope Cruz); Wit (Emma Thompson stars in this acclaimed HBO feature, directed by Mike Nichols).
Never played Toledo, now on video: Grateful Dawg (Warm, if naval-gazing documentary about mandolin player David Grisman and his friendship with Jerry Garcia); About Adam (Spotty Irish romantic comedy starring the non-Irish actress and daughter of Goldie Hawn, Kate Hudson).
New on DVD: Three classics, all off the beaten path. First, The Bad and the Beautiful ($19.98), Vincente Minnelli's great 1952 drama, stars Kirk Douglas as a bridge-burning movie producer. The disc includes a Turner Classic Movies documentary on co-star Lana Turner, but even better is the glorious black-and-white glow of the film that seems unvarnished by time.
Next, a quintessential 1970s film, Klute ($19.98) is the effective thriller that landed Jane Fonda a best actress Academy Award (not to mention the best remembered shag hairdo of the decade). The disc includes a 1971 short about the film that, considering today's I-Love-New York climate, is curious for how down on New York the filmmakers are and how decrepit Manhattan looks. The trash deserves top billing.
And lastly, a lunatic 1980 comedy, Used Cars ($19.95), is directed by Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away) and stars Kurt Russell as the sleaziest used-car dealer in history. I remember sneaking into this twice when I was a kid, and with good reason: It practically cakes itself in bad taste. The difference between most gross-out comedies today and Used Cars is tone: This is never mean-spirited, and the DVD includes an audio commentary from Zemeckis and Russell that's as much fun as the film.