Sunday, April 3, 2016
May the schwartz be in the children's section
I don't remember a lot from seeing Spaceballs only once, when it first came out nearly 30 years ago (even though my list of movies seen multiple times says I've seen it again since then). But I do remember being taken aback, even at that time, that a movie that was rated only PG had the word "fuck" in it.
So you can imagine I was even more taken aback by finding Spaceballs in the children's section of the library this past week. You know, next to Shrek sequels and compendiums of episodes of Barney & Friends.
However, as it being located in this section was the thing that ultimately allowed me to borrow it, and finally see it for the second (or possibly third) time, I'm grateful enough for that gross error in judgment and taxonomy.
See, I was with my kids on just a brief visit to the Docklands library, which has a glorious harbor location and a full three floors stocked with state-of-the-art awesomeness. This branch has a great movie collection and I would have loved to visit the one intended for adults, but it's two floors up from the kids area, and every time I go up there with my kids, they act like lunatics and disturb the hushed, studious environment. The only solution I've found is to toss them in this neighboring room that's enclosed off from the rest of the area by glass doors, and features a ping pong table, to let them run around for ten minutes while I make my selections. Lately, however, there've actually been people playing ping pong in that room, and leaving a five-year-old and a two-year-old to get up to their shenanigans while these people are taking a break from studying has seemed like too much of a burden to saddle them with.
So I was just as glad to come away with a couple choices from the "kids" movies, among them Labyrinth (which I still haven't seen, though David Bowie's death has made it seem more important to do so) and Spaceballs.
I watched the movie Sunday night with almost a certainty that I had misremembered the "fuck," but with numerous drops of the words shit, asshole and bitch, I knew it was coming. And indeed, in the waning moments, George Wyner does unleash it, but in a more offhanded way than I had remembered.
I guess the placement in the children's section, if even intentional, is just another example of Australia's generally lax attitude toward language. After all, this is a country where people call each other cunts and mean it affectionately, and the cool radio station plays unedited gangsta rap with little more than a brief language warning before each song.
Setting aside the question of language, though, it's funny to think that someone would think this was really a movie intended for kids. Even a passing familiarity with the works of Mel Brooks would send off warning signs of its adult content, primarily sexual puns and other wordplay. Spaceballs even contains a couple shots of cleavage, one of which involves actual nuzzling -- though it's a pretty chaste form of nuzzling. I mean, the very title itself is designed to conjure images of testicles in the mind of the person hearing it.
The only thing I can conclude is that the classification was the brainchild of one of those extremely old and out-of-touch librarians straight from central casting, who balance pointy reading glasses on their noses while saying "It's one of those Star Wars movies, just throw it in the kids section." Its science fiction subject matter was certainly far more responsible for where it ended up on the shelves than the people making it. Just imagine someone putting Blazing Saddles or Dracula: Dead and Loving It in the kids section.
Sad to say, Spaceballs didn't bust my gut like I'd remembered it doing back in 1987, though thinking back now, I'd say that it probably didn't really bust my gut then either. The amount that I wanted to love this movie was definitely out of synch with how much I ended up loving it. Even then I suspect I found much of the humor limp, and 29 years has not done much to improve that, you won't be surprised to learn. I also remember finding Bill Pullman and Daphne Zuniga, both of whom I was encountering for the first time in this movie, a very poor man's version of Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher -- which is of course what they were, but intentionally so. I didn't see it as intentional, and I definitely didn't think John Candy made a very good Chewbacca substitute.
So even though I wasn't really laughing at Spaceballs -- with a few notable exceptions -- I did sort of enjoy being in its company, both as a pleasing enough way to unwind after a night camping where I didn't get much sleep, but also just as a refresher on all these jokes that have come to be enshrined as classics. It ended up being full of moments I like or remember -- even though most of them now feel pretty obvious in their comedic mechanics.
And as for shelving it next to Ben Ten and Barbie's First Christmas ... well, fucked if I know.