A couple of years ago the 1987 film Dirty Dancing enjoyed a resurgence in popularity and was capturing a new generation of fans (Millennials) who finally realized just how bad the movies of their generation really were. So they focused their attention on the iconic films of the previous generation (Generation X) and latched onto films like Dirty Dancing, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and others.
So, one day in 2015 some of the younger worker bees on my staff were discussing ‘80s films with a few of the old heads, myself included. One of them asked a question along the lines of, “What was the movie that Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey were in together? You know, the famous one that launched their careers.”
“Red Dawn,” I answered almost instinctively, and the room went quiet for a moment. A couple of my fellow old heads suppressed chuckles while the Millennials just sat there in stunned silence.
“Um, no,” one of the offended snowflakes replied after she Googled the answer. “It was Dirty Dancing.”
“It was after Red Dawn,” I insisted-correctly. “Swayze and Grey were in that movie first.”
Well, they didn’t argue further. Probably because I was their boss and they seemed to like their jobs. But the doubt was etched unmistakably on their faces. Thinking fast, I decided to turn this little incident into a leadership exercise and possibly bridge the generation gap in my office. Five days later, instead of holding the usual dull monthly staff meeting, I brought my entire staff down to the auditorium and screened Red Dawn in all of its glory.
A couple of hours later the Millennials on my staff, without exception, came away having loved the movie. In time, they would become superfans of the movie almost to the point of annoyance, and find themselves initiated into the universe of Red Dawn fandom.
For the readers out there scratching their heads at the moment and wondering just what the hell a ‘Red Dawn’ is, the remainder of this series of blog entries will answer all of your questions.
Red Dawn is a motion picture from 1984 that centers on an invasion of the United States by Soviet bloc forces, and the transformation of a group of young Americans from teenagers to partisans. The group witnesses the start of the war, their hometown being occupied, and family members rounded up for political reeducation by the invaders. If this brief plot summary seems familiar, it is because this plot has been the inspiration for a number of novels, and movies created afterward. Tomorrow, When the War Began probably has the most parallels to Red Dawn, only it is set in Australia, which has been invaded by an unnamed foreign power. So essentially, it is Red Dawn: Down Under. Instead of “Wolverines!” as their battle cry the Aussies probably use a more congenial “G’Day, Mate!” before raining fire down on their enemy.
The cast of the film included a number of actors and actresses who became quite well known in the years after its release. Aside from Swayze and Grey, Charlie Sheen, Lea Thompson, and C. Thomas Howell also starred in Red Dawn. A cadre of already-established veteran actors such as Harry Dean Stanton, Lane Smith, Ron O’Neal, and Powers Boothe helped to round out the cast. In retrospect, it was a diverse, and talented group that at the time was underappreciated by critics. John Milus directed the film. He was already an established director in the early ‘80s with some military-themed films to his credit such as Apocalypse Now. In the years after Red Dawn, Milus worked on The Hunt for Red October, and directed Flight of the Intruder. Milus is an unapologetic patriot and militarist. In the liberal Hollywood environment, he’s essentially considered to be Satan incarnate. Or at least he was back in the 80s. President Trump holds that title now. Anyway, Milus was selected to direct the movie by MGM, and given a $1.25 million salary and the gun of his choice. ‘Murica! 😊
The setting for the movie was Calumet, Colorado, a fictional town located at the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains. Filming took place in the small town of Las Vegas, New Mexico and surrounding area. Geographically, the town fit the bill, and filming in New Mexico actually helped enhance the realism value of the movie in some small, but important ways. I’ll discuss that more in the next post.
Author’s Note: The Red Dawn series will include 3-4 posts and run through the end of the holiday weekend. Initially, I wasn’t expecting it to be so big, but there’s a lot to discuss about the film and the impression it has made on American culture.