Like to hear your opinions…
I prefer Bill Landis to John.
I don’t know, Blue Velvet is, among other things, satire – the 1950s in the ‘80s, with darkness hidden underneath. "It’s a sunny, woodsy day in Lumberton, so get those chainsaws out."
The 50s in the 80s theme doesn’t begin or end with Blue Velvet, though, and doesn’t always play as satire. The theme is actually fairly prevalent in music and film of that era.
He aims at a limited social class but I think Whit Stillman just nails his target. “Last Days of Disco” is quite masterful in actually making you involved with that group. It’s the best social satire of Manhattan bourgeois since Annie Hall.
I always think of Dante and Landis in the same group as Zemeckis and Howard, in that they all came about around the same time in the late 70s/80s however unlike Zemeckis and Howard, never seemed to have much success once the 80s ended. I always associate these guys as underlyings of Spielberg, because Spielberg produced or supported them but who was always much more successful. I like The Burbs and Gremlins is one of the defining genre flicks of the 80s but it’s hard for me to get too excited over either of these directors. Landis maybe could have become something and it’s a shame what happened to him. But hey, at least he has Thriller!
I think Dante is incredibly underrated as a satirist (his skills as a director are questionable… very much like a Frank Oz or Penny Marshall- technically sound to a degree, but nothing to distinguish them individually… but as far as satirical subject matter, he’s actually quite impressive).
Take into account ‘Gremlins 2: The New Batch’. Dismissed in large upon its release, the film holds up rather impressively with age. A big, ridiculous sequel making fun of the concept of the blockbuster sequel. Dante is fully aware of how unnecessary and pointless a sequel to ‘Gremlins’ is, and skewers all the standard practices of the Hollywood sequel (it even shows clips of ‘Rambo: First Blood Part II, possibly the most horrendous sequel ever, and a representation of masculinity in which Gizmo fashions himself. This is meant to be juxtaposed to the film Gizmo emulates in the original, ’To Please a Lady’… If the decline from Gable to Stallone as the paragons of cinematic masculinity isn’t an indicator of what the film is getting at, I don’t know what is).
I could cite numerous moments where the sequel intentionally cheapens the original, but my favorite is where Phoebe Cates’ character starts rambling on about an inane moment about Lincoln’s birthday (an empty alternate to her truly horrific Christmas memory in the first movie).
But the movies most stunning satirical achievement is how it saw where our television culture was heading. The idea of poking fun of the possibility of cooking and fishing channels was probably a few years ahead of its time, but dead on.
As for the rest of Dante’s output, he stretches a bit at times in his attempts to commenate on things (‘Small Soldiers’ was a noble failure as a send-up to war films). ‘Homecoming’, his ‘Masters of Horror’ episode was interesting. But he has nothing else of the caliber of ‘The Burbs’ and ‘Gremlins 2’.