[16 May 2012]
Before the 1978 release of National Lampoon’s Animal House, a particular entertainment sub-culture for young adults was grossly under-developed compared to today’s standard. Judd Apatow was in grade school, the Farelly brothers were in their late teens, Saturday Night Live was three years old, and MTV hadn’t been created yet. There weren’t many well-made comedy movies about the college experience, or this particular generation of youth, before Animal House.
It’s arguable that this single movie created a sub-genre of film that, for better or worse, is a major part of the motion picture industry today. Just about any part of today’s American entertainment industry that is marketed to young, white, middle-class males between the ages of 18-24, stands on the shoulders of this movie. Before Animal House, the mainstream acceptance of collegiate debauchery that is seen on television, in music, and on the internet today simply didn’t exist.
“In Chicago that night, Lampoon editor John Hughes sat alone in a jammed movie theater watching the film. He’s stood in line for a half hour or so to get in. When the picture ended, he later told me, “I said to myself, I’m going to make movies.”
Fat, Drunk and Stupid re-iterates exactly how one of the most significant films in American youth culture came to be. Often referred to as simply Animal House, most forget about the significance of National Lampoon. This publication is as a much the cultural behemoth of a generation of youth as its later films would become. As noted in the book, National Lampoon was one of the biggest-selling magazines at college bookstores in the 60’s and 70’s. It was the cultural artifact that Animal House was: a time capsule of baby boomer youth angst.
Unfortunately, author and founder of National Lampoon, Matty Simmons reminds us of this too often. “Animal House changed comedy, and attitudes particularly among college audiences, where the movie became a prototype among young people.”
A disturbing trend among stories chronicling a certain era seems to be that they are written with the kind of self-important tone that is often a criticism of the baby boomer generation; a tone that indicates that the youth of the baby boomer market was the greatest generation, un-matched, and not credited enough. This tone eventually overwhelms the book’s ability to just tell the story. The movie is culturally important. The characters are prototypes that would be used for years to come. A significant number of the actors in the movie would each go on to reach some level of stardom. Assuming the reader has a cursory knowledge of the film; the stories told about the making of the film fall a bit short.
Specifically, there’s not as much of an inside story about the film as the title would have the reader believe. There is, however, a substantial amount of information regarding the circumstances leading up to the release of the film; the history of National Lampoon, the vision behind it, and the pre-Animal House climate.
While the cast interviews are somewhat empty, the reader does get some insight into the creative inspiration of the film, and how that inspiration was maintained and crafted into the script. But an in-depth critical examination of the script, the plot, the characters, and cinematography of the film, this is not. For readers who are interested in Matty Simmons’ slightly too self-congratulatory but informative account of the broader context of Animal House, National Lampoon, and comedy of this certain era, then this is the book.