Paaaarty time!
// Jonty Davies

“One, here comes the two to the three to the four,

Everybody drunk out on the dance floor,
Baby girl ass jiggle like she want more,
Like she a groupie and I ain’t even on tour”
—J-Kwon, “Tipsy”

Everybody loves a good party, and the world of cinema is no exception. The party movie is a time-honoured cinematic tradition that has been consistent since rock n’ roll first exploded the phenomenon of teenageism into the global consciousness.

It’s plain to see why they’re so popular. Party movies – usually featuring the most raucous good times you could imagine – offering us a chance to live vicariously through the festivities. With the advent of the recent Project X, the question becomes: why do these films keep getting made? Very little in terms of formula has changed over the decades. We usually watch a group of misfits earn their street cred by sheerly out-awesoming the competition, encountering babes, villains, and loveable stereotypes along the way.

Perhaps the reason these movies are - and will forever be – is that they become touchstones for the generation in which they appear. Every great party flick serves as something of a go-to point for current stylistic precedent. They reflect the tropes and fashions of an era, exemplifying the attitudes of their time. Watching these movies is like opening up a time capsule – they show us how kids of yore liked to get down. It’s like a little walk down the aisles of hootenanny history.

1950s: Blackboard Jungle

(1955) – Though there is no genre-standard house party in Blackboard Jungle, it simply can’t go without acknowledgement. With the opening credits kicking off to Bill Haley & His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock”, this was the first movie to capture the lightning-in-a-bottle that was the teen revolution.

Just as the aforementioned track has often been pointed to as the first monumental rock and roll crossover, this movie was the visualization of that sentiment. The landmark film portrays students engaging in anti-social behaviour at an inner-city school in a way that was practically unheard of at the time. Upon release, it ignited a firestorm of public reaction; teenage audiences rioted in the theatres. The public reaction was mental, and it blew open the doors to the millions of parties that would follow.

Honourable Mention: There are none. This movie started it all.

1960s: Blow-Up

(1966) – What a happening decade this was. The 1960s saw the exercising of personal liberties elevated to great new heights on both sides of the Atlantic: on the American West Coast, the hippies were enjoying psychedelic love-ins, while in NYC, the artsy camp of Andy Warhol was trending hard. But perhaps most groovy of all was Swinging London. Ultra-cool Mod fashion ran the streets and Blow-Up was the film that spoke on its behalf.

Though it follows a deeply psychological murder-mystery that highlights much of the inherent narcissistic uncertainties of the era, it also features a comprehensive walk-through of the most far-out spots in the capitol of cool. In an iconic scene, the protagonist finds himself at an underground concert featuring the Yardbirds that sees Jeff Beck and a pre-Zeppelin Jimmy Page smashing the shit out of their guitars and amps on stage.

Honourable Mention: Endless Summer (1966) – A documentary, Endless Summer follows some surfer dudes as they traverse the globe, literally chasing the summertime. The flick actually did a lot to raise awareness of the ultra-laid back lifestyle of surf, and inspired more than a few people to hit the coast – permanently.

1970s: Animal House

(1978) – Toga! This is the Holy Grail of the party flick genre. No other film has seen such drunkenness and such debauchery; quite simply, no other film has had as much fun. In many ways, Animal House set precedents that are standard to the genre (right down to the crusty old dean trying to put a stop to the party).

The film is set at a ramshackle fraternity house  that is being put on the academic kibosh due to legendarily low GPAs. Their battle plan seems to involve little more than extreme amounts of alcohol and as much social disruption as John Belushi and company can cause. This turns out to be a lot. If you are incapable of enjoying this movie, you need a serious fun transplant.

Honourable Mention:
American Graffiti (1973) – Directed by a pre-Star Wars George Lucas, American Graffiti is an American classic. With a great doo-wop soundtrack and a brilliant web of coming-of-age anecdotes, this is one of the greats.

1980s: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

(1986) – Anyone who would suggest that this is not a party film has never encountered the title character. He’s a walking party. All he does is skip class one day, and before too long he’s leading the goddamn Chicago parade to “Twist and Shout“.

The director of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, John Hughes, was the man responsible for some of the most beloved and most '80s films of them all (The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink, etc.), and this is the one. It’s full of pure positive energy and humour, still making plenty of time for genuine edge-of-adulthood meditation. If everyone were a little more like Ferris Bueller, the world would be a much happier place.

Honourable Mention: Fast Times at
Ridgemont High (1982) – This is the party flick that launched a thousand legitimate dramatic careers. It was written by Cameron Crowe, who went on to make Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire, and stars future Oscar winners Sean Penn and Forest Whitaker, as well as a host of other big names. Keep an eye out for Nicholas Cage in his very first role, flipping patties at the All-American Burger.

1990s: Can’t Hardly Wait

(1998) – The 1990s saw what were probably the most teen-centric revelations since the 1950s. With the Baby Boomers (the ones responsible for the first wave of youth revolution) having hit adulthood, they dominated the '70s and '80s. It wasn’t until Generation X took the stage that the voice of youth guided the overarching stylistic consciousness once again. This came in the form of subversive subculture, Kurt Cobain and his ilk, and the slap-happy good times of the '90s party flick.

Enter Can’t Hardly Wait. Talk about party flicks – this entire movie takes place at the party. Like its later contemporaries American Pie and Ten Things I Hate About You, it follows a standard losing-our-virginity-manic-high-school-party tract, but along the way lays claim to heaps of individuality and charm. Suffice it to say, the genre was pretty stacked for the decade.

Honourable Mention:
Dazed and Confused (1993) – By most standards, Dazed and Confused is the best of these pictures. However, the reason it can’t be taken as the decade-definer is that it doesn’t actually take place in the '90s. Following a wonderful ensemble cast on the last day of school in 1976, it runs the gamut of good-time humour and coming-of-age catharsis. It features a dynamite pop-fly time capsule of a soundtrack, and like all great flashback films, it uses the past as a reflection of the state of contemporary ideals. Groovy stuff.

2000s: Superbad

(2007) – The 21st century brought with it an interesting twist in the standards of pop culture: the self-celebration of the nerd. With guys like Seth Rogen and Michel Cera becoming legitimate movie stars, it became cool to acknowledge your love of RoboCop and video games.

You could say that Superbad was the movie that expressed that in the biggest way. It’s the hilarious adventure of a small gang of hapless nerds as they try to win the party. Of course, the adventure is fraught with pratfalls and triumphs (mostly pratfalls) and along the way they realize that they’re crazy to try and pretend to be what they’re not. It's got its share of quality ridiculousness, but balances itself with a fair degree of sweetness.

Honourable Mention: Old School (2003) – Old School is an awesome take on the college party film. Basically a group of middle-aged losers start up their own fraternity to offset their lameness. Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn are at their best, and a pre-Ari Gold Jeremy Piven is the pain-in-the-ass trying to shut them down. How do they win? As usual, it involves booze.

Party on, everyone!

//Jonty Davies, columnist

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