Monday, March 24, 2008

Movies: Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures

We didn't watch movies much when I was growing up, but we did get a VCR in the early 90s, and I was able to record a few movies off of television (Big Business, Troop Beverly Hills, and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures). I was the kind of kid who could gleefully watch the same movie over and over again, and I probably saw each of these over 100 times. I watched Bill and Ted so many times that, to this day, my sometimes socially-awkward father still speaks to me in Bill and Ted-isms (e.g. "Would you like to taste my stir fry? It's most excellent.") Of course, by high school I had grown out of such nonsense, and started seeing fresh movies at theaters; I hadn't seen Bill and Ted for more than ten years when I saw that it was IFC's midnight movie last week, and decided that I had to go.

I mustn't have caught the opening credits on my childhood VHS tape, because they were completely unfamiliar. As soon as the throned, silver-clad figure announced "It is time," sending Rufus (George Carlin) into the time machine/phone booth, though, everything progressed as I remembered. If you happen to be so unfortunate as to not know what this movie is about, I will tell you (though you really need to see it for yourself): Bill and Ted live in Southern California, where they attend public high school and spend their free time in the garage, rocking out with electric guitars that they don't know how to play. In the future, a highly-evolved society is founded on their music, and so, when they are about to fail history, with the consequence of Ted being sent to military school and their band, Wyld Stallions, being broken up, the people of the future send Rufus back in a time machine, to help them pass their final project and thus evade a less-excellent alternate future. Bill and Ted, after meeting Rufus and 24-hours-into-the-future versions of themselves, pack into the phone booth and start traveling through history, kidnapping such historical figures as Billy the Kid, Joan of Arc, Sigmund Freud, Socrates, Genghis Kahn, Napoleon, etc. They bring these figures to the local mall to get a taste of modern life (where hilarity ensues), and then bring them to school, where they put on a blow-out presentation, causing the auditorium of students to wave their cigarette lighters and their teacher to give them an A, ensuring that the future is protected. It's sort of silly, and it's sort of brilliant, featuring such existential moments as when Bill and Ted meet themselves the first time, and then, go back to meet themselves again and have the same conversation, only this time as the other two selves (remarking afterward that, woah, that conversation made a lot more sense this time around).

A note on the language: Bill and Ted are the first main characters of a film to speak in the stoner/surfer Southern Cal lingo that would later define Pauly Shore. If there had been no Bill and Ted, the future (the present as we know it) would be different; there could have been no Dude, Where's My Car?, for better or for worse (I've always found that film existentially brilliant, but perhaps all that can be blamed on my childhood obsession with Bill and Ted).

A note on fame: Ted, as you likely know, is one of the first serious (ha!) roles played by the now-famous "hearthrob" Keanu Reeves. Bill, as you probably don't know, is played by some guy named Alex Winter (who never had a Speed or Matrix to cement his fame). I distinctly remember being a little girl and thinking Bill was the cute one. So how is it that Ted became the famous one? I thought that maybe my tastes had simply been childish (after all, my earliest childhood crush was on Davy Jones of The Monkees), and yet, upon re-watching, it's clear that, while neither Bill nor Ted is cut out for rocket science, Bill is definitely the smarter of the two (he fixes the broken time machine with a wad of gum and some tin cans, he tends to use the larger vocabulary words in more creative ways ("We are destined to flunk most egregiously"), and, when caught in a Waiting for Godot loop with regard to recruiting Van Halen for the band, and first needing a "most-triumphant video," but not being able to have such a video until they know how to play their instruments, and hence needing Van Halen, Bill's thoughts the more coherent, whereas Ted's are the more circuitous). It does not surprise me that, even as a child, I went for the more intelligent of the two characters (who also happened to be blond, which had to have helped, since I hadn't yet grown into an appreciation of the "tall, dark, and handsome" thing).

A note on watching movies hundreds of times: Yes, I still remembered most of the lines. Brains are amazing.

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