August 3, 1978 [National Lampoon’s Animal House]

While Saturday Night Live’s cast carries on a grandly grimy tradition--sharp as Mr. Mike spikes inserted into the eyes of Tony Orlando and Dawn--Animal House feels more like the Lampoon’s magazine and radio show--and no wonder, given the overlap of writers, performers, and bits--mostly straight out of their high school yearbook parody.

It’s a rough ride with these folks. They meticulously recreate the past--here, early '60s college culture--simply to take it apart then reassemble it so that the jokes can fit in. It works, of course--especially John Belushi’s silent-comedy expressiveness, his cartoon-physics trajectories--skittering around the cafeteria, boner-propelling from ladders, swashbuckling across the Main St. Armageddon. But the college stuff has a sharper bite: the evil fraternity--“Please sir! (whack!) May I have another!”--the stifling pink and hairspray-encrusted platinum of the sorority, the venal Dean Vernon Wormer intoning, “No more fun of any kind!”--and that’s the real target here, not any socio-political villain--after all, all they want is to work on their golf game and drink. The Delta boys are tomorrow’s privileged class--but before they get there (and the freeze-frame epilogues tell us they certainly will some day, divorces and politics, gynecology and parts unknown) they just want to toe-GAH, toe-GAH, toe-GAH.

Like the magazine, the movie has decided that we’re all assholes; it’s just that some of us know it. In the end, it’s more than a little cynical--but irony is the Lampoon’s constant diet, setting the tone for the American Things to Come, self-awareness not a California-Dreamin’ bliss-in but an opportunity to snicker at lesser breeds. Somewhere in there is a kind of snobbery, but we’re having too much fun to notice.


Popular Posts