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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014

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In Movies & TV

Mark Metcalf (right) and Stephen Furst then...

In Movies & TV

... and now.

In Movies & TV

Taking a ride back in time? Use the Deathmobile.

In Movies & TV

"Animal House" cast members reunite ocassionally, like this event for the 25th anniversary.

Life on a movie set forges long-lasting friendships


I spent last weekend with five old friends.

They are friends that I spent time with 30 years ago. I have seen them only intermittently in the three decades since we shared a specific experience. I hardly saw them at all during the first 20 years. The occasion of our first meeting was the making of the movie "Animal House."

The experience of making a movie is a unique one. Usually, you are on location, away from the comfortable surroundings of home. On the road, some of us feel a bit like an outlaw, with no history and no certain future in the town we rode into, connected to a few people through the literary lie that is the story the movie is trying to tell.

The relationships are instant and dictated by the script. The degree of intimacy is also determined by the story and nurtured by the talent of the actors and all of it is supervised and conducted by the director, who is both parent and priest.

This was 1977, so there was a bit more liberty of every kind than there may be now. And we were all 30 years younger, so we felt the freedom even if it didn't really exist.

The character Flounder, played by Stephen Furst, says near the end of the film, "Isn't this great!" We all were living the bubble of excitement that he projects with that line. And then, after 32 days, shooting was over, we were handed our last paycheck, asked to turn in our props and driven to the airport -- some with tears all over their faces, some with a profound look of bewilderment, some with a stoic look as though we knew all along such an experience could not, would not last.

It never does.

Ecstasy happens and then you spend a lifetime remembering, recalling, reliving and searching for it. Sometimes, you fall in love again, and then again, and the lucky few experience it anew each time, and they are the storytellers we most like to sit with around the fire.

After 25 years of stumbling through the itinerant life of an actor, those of us who lived came together to celebrate that initial experience, and in the five years since that first coming together we have met with some frequency; some of us have, at any rate.

Each time we meet, the same stories are told, with some added detail, with a different, more intense feeling. The specific gravity of the relationships in the script takes over and the community is reformed.

Otis Day entertains, Katy and Boone talk seriously in the corner, Babs giggles, laughs and reforms us all, Flounder astounds with his still perfect innocence. We all go to the bathroom a little more frequently. No one drinks quite so much anymore. We couldn't. We barely could then. Everyone goes to bed before 1 a.m. We never used to go to bed at all. And, there are cell phone breaks for contact with the real world of home, or work, children and doctors or contractors.

The experience of making the movie, a once in a lifetime thing, has become the experience of communally reliving the experience of making the movie, and reliving it repeatedly for an audience of fans, of people who "grew up" watching it, who "went to college because of it," who went to see it "on their first date," who "got engaged at a screening," who have "raised their children" on its philosophy of chaos and joy, who have "seen it 100 times, at least," and know the lines better than any of us.

It is the audience that brings us all back together. It is the people who love us, and love reliving and sharing the experience again and again. It is those fans that crave more intimacy, who want to sit around the fire with us again and again.

And I, for one, and the five friends I was with over the weekend in Chicago, are happy to be there, happy to tell the stories again, happy to hear how it changed lives, happy to hear how much joy it has brought. I learn from it every time. And, I grow fonder of the friends I made way back then.

Over the next few weeks, I will post interviews with each of them so that you can get an idea of the experience of being connected to what seems to be a moment in American history that will not go away.


Talkbacks

CoolerKing | Feb. 28, 2008 at 7:49 a.m. (report)

A great film not just due to casting great talent, but also thanks to great National Lampoon veteran writers Chris Miller and Doug Kenney as well as Second City's Harold Ramus. That to me was peak for National Lampoon. After that, the Lampoon pretty much faded away in regards to both films and the magazine itself.

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LegallyBlonde | Feb. 28, 2008 at 12:08 a.m. (report)

Ohhhh Maestro.....

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dickdave | Feb. 27, 2008 at 4:58 p.m. (report)

Animal House was one of my favorite movies saw it about 30 times. I was a Sophpmore in college in upstate NY when it first came out. We had food fights and I went to frat parties never as much fun. Many years later I visited the movies location in Eugene, OR. Well done Neidermeyer.

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