High Concept | The Talking Point

A decade of decline or the gold standard of blockbuster bombast? This summer, Picturehouse invites you to decide for yourself by bringing you back to 1980s Hollywood...

Lara Peters

13 Jun 24

If you were to cast your eye over the posters adorning your local cinema, you wouldn't be remiss in thinking you'd travelled back in time – specifically to the 1980s.

1984 alone saw the first big-screen iterations of Ghostbusters and Dune, alongside films from Wim Wenders, Tim Burton and a Coen brother – all things equally at home on Picturehouse screens this year, exactly 40 years later.

Many a cinephile has a complicated relationship with the films of the '80s. It's the era that birthed true-blue blockbuster filmmaking and saw the decline of the firebrand auteurs of New Hollywood, but there was still plenty to offer even the most discerning movie-goer.

To prove it, Picturehouse is popping you in their big-screen time machine this August, transporting you back to the '80s for a wide-ranging look back at the best of the decade's Hollywood filmmaking.

It's a retrospective for all, and one that asks: what is an '80s movie, really?

    "If there's one word that describes the Hollywood films of the 1980s, it's 'energy'."

Nick de Semlyen, Empire editor and author of The Last Action Heroes and Wild And Crazy Guys, is an expert on the decade's swings and misses. "If there's one word that describes the Hollywood films of the 1980s, it's 'energy'," he tells us. "With Vietnam over and Nixon impeached, America was in a better place, and this was reflected in its pop culture – this sudden explosion of positivity and giddy creativity. Cinema no longer needed to be an instrument to help stanch national wounds but could cut loose and have fun, unleashing the likes of Ghostbusters, Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop."

Picturehouse programmer Issy Macleod and the programming team approached the decade's offering with an equivalent amount of zeal, deciding on an approach that's appropriate for the era's excess. "We started off thinking about our favourite films from the '80s – obviously, kind of a mammoth task – but we realised what we wanted was to encompass every genre, not just those action blockbusters. Each film's like a chapter in the story of the decade."

Their selections prove there's more going on than high gloss and high concept. Big names remain. "John Cassavetes, John Waters and John Boorman (and others not called John) drew on increasingly affordable technology to get their off-beat visions onto the screen, working outside the Hollywood system or managing to convince the studios to pay for their projects," de Semlyen notes. "Cassavetes delivered the Golden Lion-winning Gloria, Waters the Douglas Sirk-spoofing Polyester, and Boorman, the gonzo medieval fantasy Excalibur."

Some blockbusters had an edge, too. Macleod cites a pair of Pauls – Paul Verhoeven's RoboCop and Paul Schrader's American Gigolo – who broke the mould, both films becoming box office hits for the iconoclasts behind them.

Macleod and de Semlyen agree the cinema is the place to enjoy it all. "These films are now over 40 years old – some of the people who come to Picturehouse weren't even born! People haven't had the chance to see them on the big screen. That's the way they're meant to be seen, and that's what the season's all about," Macleod affirms.

De Semlyen echoes this. "These movies were vast slabs of celluloid, filling every inch of the frame with grand cinematic spectacle. That uniquely '80s sense of confidence and exuberance still shines through, with iconic images galore that demand to be seen on the biggest screen possible."

So head to your local Picturehouse this August for a blast from the past – and the next time you think of '80s cinema, look beyond the neon, the denim and the cool-guys-walking-away-from-explosions to find a Schwarzenegger-sized passion for the big screen's boundless possibility.   Lara Peters

The best of the '80s comes to Picturehouse this August: tickets start at just £8, and only £5 for Members. Find out more at picturehouses.com/80s.