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Cheap tricks and secret sauce

Photo collage courtesy of Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report
(TOP) Tom Cruise in "Eyes Wide Shut;" (CENTER) Michael Keaton in "Birdman," and (BOTTOM) Brian Backer in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."
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OKLAHOMA CITY – The amazing thing about synchronicity is that you never know where it is going to jump out at you!

This morning I was thinking about the syncs I saw in the 1982 film Fast Times at Ridgemont High, an 80’s classic!

While I was thinking about it, “Our Lips Are Sealed” by The Go-Go’s came on. In fact, I turned on the radio in the middle of the most excellent bridge with the bass and hi-hat just going at it and Jane Wiedlin sings: “Hush, my darling / Don’t you cry / Quiet angel, forget their lies.”

I then thought: “’Our Lips Are Sealed’ would have been an excellent song to have included on the film soundtrack, which already included TWO Go-Go’s songs already – “Speeding” and “We Got the Beat” (which plays as the opening credits appear).

And then I thought about the scene in Fast Times where Mike Damone (Robert Romanus) is trying to scalp some Cheap Trick tickets to some cheerleader taking a break at the high school. The teen girl, however, isn’t having it.

“Are you honestly telling me that you forgot? Forgot the magnetism of Robin Zander or the charisma of Rick Nielsen?” Damone says of two key members of Cheap Trick.

“That’s kid stuff,” she says, dismissively.

Adds Damone, trying to make the sale: “Kid stuff? What about the tunes? ‘I want you, to want me’ ‘The dream police,’ da-na-na-na-na-na.”

Maybe this should have been a scene about going to see The Go-Go’s, rather than Cheap Trick. I like Cheap Trick, but I was on a Go-Go’s high at that moment. And then “Our Lips Are Sealed” ended and Rick Nielsen’s pretty guitar intro begins – they are playing Cheap Trick’s huge 1988 hit “The Flame” at that very moment!

Like magic, Cheap Trick appears. (Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report)

That’s sync for you.

SYNC TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH

So, yesterday, while innocently watching Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which I do once a year or so, I was suddenly noticing things in the Cameron Crowe-written film, and directed by Amy Heckerling (Look Who’s Talking, Clueless).

The film is about different high school teens and their struggles as they approach adulthood. It’s very realistic, as Cameron had spent time undercover in a high school, leading to his book Fast Times at Ridgemont High

There is a character who is somewhat of a minor character, but who keeps showing up and looking a bit baffled. A bit of a nerd, but not. There's something else about him ...

It’s a bespectacled secondary character named Arnold and played by California native Scott Thomson.

In the opening credits, we see Arnold struggling with a milkshake machine and wearing a cowboy get-up at Bronco Burger. Later, Arnold approaches Brad (Judge Reinhold) and asks for him to help him get a job at All-American Burger. There is a brief discussion about the ingredients of the “secret sauce” at both Bronco Burger and All-American Burger (ketchup & mayonnaise and Thousand Island dressing, respectively).

In the film, the somewhat spastic Arnold is actually a bit of a bookworm. He’s reading The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger during a high school pep rally. And later, he’s holding a copy of Arthur C. Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End, while standing by Damone’s locker talking over a sports bet. And while this film is not alluding to aliens taking over Earth, it is about "childhood" essentially coming to an end, as the teens enter a new phase in life, post-high school.

Arnold (Scott Thomson) holds a paperback copy of Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End. (Universal Pictures)

Arnold continues to appear sporadically through the film. He's a bit "clueless" (in fact director Heckerling would find a small role for Thomson in her later film Clueless). Thomson would not go on to be a huge star, like many of the actors in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Sean Penn, Phoebe Cates, Judge Rinehold, Anthony Edwards, Eric Stoltz, Nicolas (Coppola) Cage, Forest Whitaker, etc.). But he was a good supporting actor. 

Here’s where the Stanley Kubrick and The Shining syncs come in. While researching Scott Thomson, I discover that in 1996, he plays storm chaser Jason "Preacher" Rowe in the Oklahoma-set film Twister. When discussing what an F5 tornado would be like, Preacher gets a faraway look and responds, "The finger of God." In fact, as we noted in our Dust Devil Dreams piece "21:49," a major tornado hits a drive-in movie theater that is screening The Shining!

And then, much to my shock, Thomson appears in an obscure 1998 film titled Circles (aka Crossing Paths). His name in the film is, inexplicably, "Dick Halloran," just like the "shining" head cook from the The Shining's Overlook Hotel, played by Scatman Crothers.

In a scene in The Shining, where Wendy (Shelley Duvall) is sitting with Danny (Danny Lloyd) at the kitchen table, she is reading The Catcher in the Rye, just as Arnold would in Fast Times. This novel is often linked to mind control, assassination and political conspiracies (Beatle John Lennon was assassinated by Catcher-reading assassin Mark David Chapman in 1980, just months after The Shining was released), as our friend Adam Gorightly noted in this 1992 Paranoia Magazine article. One wonders if Arnold is an "in-the-know" character, or simply a future, bespectacled "patsy" for some future tragedy?

Both Wendy and Arnold are way into "The Catcher in the Rye." (Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures)

The assassination theme is also driven home when Ridgemont’s football team (red and white, looking like the interior of the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired bathroom in the Overlook Hotel in The Shining) plays the Lincoln High team. Ridgemont team “boosters” sport shirts that say “Kill Lincoln” and “Assassinate Lincoln.” Later, star player Charles Jefferson (Forest Whitaker) is angry over his wrecked car (wrecked, unbeknownst to him, by Spicoli) which he thinks members of the Lincoln team were behind. Jefferson (number 33 – an image of Pres. Thomas Jefferson is near the front door of Mr. Hand’s history class), particularly (and brutally) targets a Lincoln player with the number 42, interestingly enough. And the final score between Ridgemont and Lincoln? 42-0.

An amazing game with Ridgemont High "assassinating" Lincoln, 42-0. (Universal Pictures)

Fast Times at Ridgemont High was filmed in 1981 and earlier that year, Pres. Ronald Reagan was nearly assassinated. 

Later, while Stacy is crossing the street after talking to Damone, a wall painting can be seen featuring a rainbow and a painting of the assassinated Pres. John F. Kennedy.

As a side note, in the 1988 Super Bowl, which we wrote about here, the final score was between the Washington Redskins (42) and the Denver Broncos (10). Also note that Poltergeist premiered in theaters on June 4, 1982, while Fast Times at Ridgemont High premiered on August 13, 1982.

ALOHA

Late and stoned, Jeff Spicoli stumbles into Mr. Hand's U.S. History class. Mr. Hand ( who uses the Hawaiian greeting "Aloha") is not amused.

“This is U.S. History, I see the globe right there," chuckles Spicoli.

Mr. Hand suspects Spicoli is on dope. His assumption is correct. Ironically, in this scene, the students sniff the mimeographed paper, hoping to get a "high" from the Ditto machine of yore. America is all about drugs, essentially. Drugs, following rules and oppression.

With The Shining, we get some U.S. history. Just watch Room 237 for more on that!

Meanwhile, Mark “Rat” Ratner (Brian Backer) is often seen in Fast Times wearing a Popeye movie T-shirt. It's promoting a film that came out in 1980, just as The Shining did. In that film, Shelley Duvall - Wendy Torrance in The Shining - plays Popeye’s gal Olive Oyl, to Robin Williams’s Popeye.

Also, Rat is the assistant to the assistant manager of the Ridgemont Mall movie theater. He’s represents the gatekeeper to “where the magic happens.”

Later, Brad’s AM radio is playing The Ravyns' “Raised on the Radio” in his classic Buick with the dial between 9 and 11 making it look like 9/11.

"Raised on the Radio" is playing on old Buick AM radio Note the "9" and "11." (Universal Pictures)

“Raised on the radio, just an all-American boy,” the Ravyns song goes as he washes his car.

Who is the “all-American boy” in recent U.S. history? Look no further, TV Land fans, than to Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver and Leave It To Beaver. I note this because Damone is watching the 1961 episode of Leave It To Beaver, “In the Soup,” when Beaver climbs on a billboard to see if soup is really steaming in a billboard bowl.

And because Rat interrupts Damone watching this then-20 year old rerun, Damone gets off the phone, annoyed, and says, “What happened?” This was after Rat forgets his wallet as he takes Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) on a date to a German restaurant.

I sense that Amy Heckerling, in her direction, may have been thinking about Stanley Kubrick, although subconsciously.

After Rat makes out (briefly) with Stacy in her bedroom, Rat suddenly leaves and exits her house (24124 is the address) and looking depressed, having left too soon. Behind him are Christmas lights on the house, reminding me of Tom Cruise in 1999's Eyes Wide Shut and, this past year, Michael Keaton in Birdman: Or( The Unexpected Virture of Ignorance ). The similiarity is uncanny.

BACK TO SCHOOL

Mr. Hand spends a lot of time talking about Cuban-American relations and the Platt Amendment, which had to do with returning control of Cuba to the Cuban people after Spain’s exit from Cuba and the end of the Spanish-American War. (Side note: the U.S. "leases" Guantanamo Bay from Cuba conencted to the workings related to the Platt Amendment, syncing with events of today).

Or, as Hand says: “Now, in 1898, Spain owned Cuba outright. Think about it, Cuba owned by a disorganized parliament over 4,000 miles away. Cubans were in a constant state of revolt. In nineteen hundred and four, the United States decided to throw a little weight around and …”

One suspects that the film is subliminally referring to present-day America throwing its weight around under the hawkish Reagan administration. The Shining predicted it, while reporting the history of it as well. It's all there. And there's a lot going on in Fast Times that is under the radar as well. It will take repeated viewings to unearth it all.

Note the ever-present American shield (for "All-American Burger") behind Brad's right shoulder. Later, a thief robbing Brad has an image of "terrorism" over his right shoulder. (Universal Pictures)

BACK ROOMS

When Brad arrives at his new job at Capt. Hook Fish n’ Chips (he was fired from All-American Burger), his manager insists he deliver food “to those boys at IBM who ordered a stack of those ‘Catch of the Day’ boxes.”

IBM, of course, is a sync/wink to Kubrick, HAL and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Back to The Shining, we see Brad changing out of his Capt. Hook’s pirate uniform in a back room where stacks of canned food and ingredients are visible. This is quite similar to the cans in the Overlook Hotel pantry, which includes Calumet Baking Powder, Tang and more. 

Brad has a delivery for the IBM boys. Note cans of food, reminiscent of Overlook Hotel storeroom. (Universal Pictures)

With Brad, another Shining sync is noted, right at the end, when Brad takes on a job as a clerk at the Mi-T Mart convenience store. The shot of the front of the store highlights a stack of 7-Up soft drinks in a display. This reminds us of the 7-Up soft drinks in the Overlook Hotel storage area, where Wendy is later chased as she holds a knife.

Top image shows The Shining's Wendy with knife, passing stacks of 7-Up. Below are the shelves of 7-Up in the Mi-T Mart in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

In The Shining, we first see the 7-Up while the family is on a tour of the hotel. It's placement foreshadows the violence that is coming. The same can be said in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, where Brad is working his shift after we see the 7-Up display. After Spicoli comes in to use the bathroom and buy a few items, a scruffy character comes in the Mi-T Mart wielding a gun, trying to rob the place. During this scene, we see a rack of magazines behind the thief. There, over his right shoulder, is a December 21, 1981 issue of TIME Magazine.

The cover story is "Libya's Hit Teams" and features a large image of Col. Muammar Gaddafi. The subhead reads: "The Specter of Terrorism." In fact, while researching this TIME cover, it appears that sublimnal message "sex" and "kill" can be seen in Gaddafi's face in the image, as this website notes.

This "specter of terrorism" was starting to gel as Reagan's first term clicked along and we funded the future terrorists to fight the Soviets. Of course, this syncs with the findings by Joe Alexander in Back to the Future Predicts 9/11 and the Libyans and terrorism.

I detect a theme of American supremacy being deconstructed a bit in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, while tipping the hat to Stanley Kubrick in the process. Plus the film is a helluva lot of fun with a great soundtrack.

(Universal Pictures)

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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